number 4, december 8, 1998

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A day of hearings

It's a global challenge, but staff are needed

The world of religious plurality requires of World Council of Churches (WCC) to adopt a "global view of things", assembly participants recommended yesterday at a hearing session.

They expressed regret that despite the reality of a multicultural and multireligious world, WCC maintained an understaffed department dealing with inter-religious relations.

The concern was expressed during the second session of a hearing on the general secretariat, some participants contended that Indian religions were neglected by the department due to its understaffing. This also prevented it from giving Christian-Muslim relations their deserved attention, they said.

Others were of the view that inter-religious relations tended to be related to local political policies and should therefore be addressed by local churches.

But the concern about understaffing came up in another hearing, when Professor Larry Rasmussen, a social ethicist from Union Theological Seminary in New York (and co-moderator of the WCC program unit on peace, justice and creation), spoke of an explosion of ethnic conflicts and confrontations in recent years.

The Churches’ Commission on International Affairs had been deeply involved in addressing these issues, he said. "Nonetheless, the evaluation is that the WCC overall lacks coordination of its work on ethnicity, though its urgency continues to grow."

He also said Unit 3 efforts on youth issues had been modest, even though young people were "not only the future but the present of the council". "For example, the 20 per cent youth membership in assemblies, committees and meetings has not been met.

"The style of ecumenical work developing in Unit 3 is highly amenable to creating a new generation of ecumenically formed and committed youth. But the failures of the Canberra to Harare period cannot be denied, despite the ecumenical energy of youth in these years."

But the hearings gave strong support for two programs.

One was the Indigenous People’s Program, which Professor Rasmussen said had received major impetus since just before the 1991 assembly. Land and self-determination were major issues. Others were the consequence of the destruction and denigration of indigenous peoples, their ancestral values, their spiritualities and even their languages.

"That denigration and destruction continues," he said, "in part as a consequence of globalisation, in part as a consequence of political structures."

Also supported was the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. It earned a glowing tribute from the participants during the first session of the hearing. The institute, currently training 45 graduate students from 3l countries and representing 28 denominations, was hailed for the impact of its courses to societies around the world.

The appreciations were expressed following a presentation on the work of the institute.

Participants were particularly impressed by its course on leadership formation in today’s world. One of the delegates pointed out that a group calling itself Friends of Bossey has been formed in Germany to raise funds for the institute and suggested churches elsewhere should follow suit.

Bishop McKinkey Young from Vinton Anderson Ecumenical Leadership School in US said the school and his collegues had drawn plans to raise funds for scholarships for the benefit of the institute’s students from Africa and the diaspora.

Two current students at the institute affirmed that the institute helps students to live with their cultural and religious differences, necessary in today’s divided world.

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Read other articles in this issue:

A day of hearings
Attention! Debt to be chained up
Padare' to showcase vitality of ecumenical movement
Harare liturgy marks growth of Orthodox Church in Africa
Invest in human rights education, church told
Assemblies: Nelson has seen them all
Church doing well in Africa
Decade plenary reveals consensus and division
The topic was sin

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor