World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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4 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 6

Majority rule may not always be right for an organisation so diverse in theology and culture as the World Council of Churches, its General Secretary told Assembly delegates Friday (4 December). The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser suggested that it was time to try making decisions by consensus.

The tradition of "parliamentary decision-making" is a particular problem for Orthodox members of the Council, who "find themselves locked into a structural minority situation" as more and more Protestant and Anglican churches join the Council, he told the WCC's Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

This is "essentially a model derived from political life and is not necessarily the best way to express the self-understanding of a "fellowship of churches'," Raiser said. "Not only Orthodox churches, but also many churches in Africa and other parts of the southern hemisphere, follow different models which emphasise dialogue and consensus and the respect for hierarchy and authority."

Raiser also noted that many important partners of the Council, including the Roman Catholic Church, Christian world communions and regional ecumenical organisations, have only limited influence on WCC activities because they are not members.

A proposed amendment to the WCC constitution that will come before the delegates acknowledges that membership "must not become an exclusive category for participation in the common ecumenical endeavor", Raiser said. The Council has proposed the formation of a "Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organisations". "This term "forum' is deliberately chosen in order to suggest that participation is more important than membership," Raiser said. The forum would be open to all Christian bodies.

Raiser's remarks came as a part of his report to the delegates, who are meeting in Harare until 14 December. The choice of venue is intended as a signal of the WCC's commitment to look forward into the 21st century, Raiser said. "The future of Christianity and of the ecumenical movement is likely to be shaped and influenced more in regions like Africa and Latin America than in the northern regions of historic Christianity," he said. "By the early part of the 21st century, Africa promises to be the continent with the largest Christian population."

The WCC's presence in Africa is also a sign of the Council's solidarity with African peoples as their struggle for liberation continues. "The memory of the crisis caused by the 1978 grant to the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia is still alive," Raiser said. At the time, some member churches and critics of the Council felt the grant by the WCC's Programme to Combat Racism might have been diverted for violent purposes rather than the educational and development programmes for which it was intended.

"The decision to go to Harare for the Eighth Assembly expressed our determination that the ecumenical fellowship of churches would not weaken its solidarity with African churches and people as they search for new foundations upon which to affirm their identity and reconstruct viable forms of community life," Raiser said.

Four thousand international representatives and visitors are meeting in Harare for the two-week Assembly, which meets every seven years to set policy goals for the WCC and to provide a multi-cultural celebration of the Christian faith.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.