World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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5 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 8

The World Council of Churches intends to propose the cancellation of debt to the world's poorest nations, but not without a dialogue with borrowers and lenders, the WCC General Secretary told a press conference Saturday (5 December).

"Modalities of relief are to be determined together," said the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser. The Council will also propose that "the use of the funds to be released" will be discussed so that the citizens of poor nations will reap some of the benefits.

The debt cancellation proposal will come later in the WCC's Eighth Assembly, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December. The proposal is inspired by the Council's 50th anniversary this year, which invokes the ideal of the biblical year of jubilee, under which Hebrew law stipulated the cancellation of debts every 50 years.

Raiser and the Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, His Holiness Aram I, met reporters a day after their reports to Assembly delegates. Raiser's comments responded to a question as to whether the WCC would press "to reduce corruption in African countries" as a part of its debt cancellation proposal.

Aram responded that corruption was hardly unique to Africa. "Corruption is omnipresent," he said. "It is in all countries, all nations, in all sectors of society, including in our churches."

Raiser explained that while the WCC "is not an organisation to put pressure on or propose conditions to governments", he hopes the process will "include a search for a new ethical borrowing and lending mechanism". The fault, he said, "is not only on the side of borrowers but also on the side of lenders. There has been unethical lending."

The journalists' questions ranged widely and touched on the WCC's commitment to human rights, the Council's relationship with its Orthodox members, the call for an ecumenical forum and the WCC's ability to openly discuss controversial issues such as homosexuality.

A reporter asked Raiser which groups he hoped to invite to the "ecumenical forum" that has been proposed to include Christian bodies not now members of the WCC. The General Secretary cited Pentecostals, Evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church among others, all of whom have signalled an interest in considering the idea.

"The forum is not necessarily envisioned as a major meeting, or a meeting at the world level," he said. "Perhaps it will take place at the regional level. It is too early to say what it will mean for future Assemblies."

In response to another question about the Council's difficulty in discussing controversial issues such as homosexuality, Raiser said: "Some churches find it difficult to accept this as a legitimate agenda and therefore we will not receive much help from these churches. I would hope that this Assembly will give us a mandate to begin a dialogue on moral and ethical issues, including human sexuality, (but) I do not feel that we have been inhibited in these discussions so far."

Both Aram and Raiser responded to a question about the role of Orthodox churches in the decision-making processes of the Council. The concern of Orthodox churches, Aram said, is that their relatively small numbers should not be allowed to impede their ability to influence those decisions.

Raiser said that he understood Orthodox concerns. "If you have a 25 per cent minority and you are faced with a 70 per cent majority . . . of liberal Protestant representatives, there is a tendency (for the majority) to say, OK, this is the Orthodox point of view but our point of view is a different one and we will go the way we think the Council should go without considering the Orthodox perspective." In his report Friday, Raiser suggested a consensus model of decision-making to involve all perspectives.

A question from a US journalist asked Raiser to expand on his admission Friday that the "memory of the crisis caused by the 1978 grant to the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia is still alive". At the time, some critics claimed that 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."

"I have never had doubt about the propriety and advisability of the grant," Raiser said. He added that the advisability of the grant was affirmed two years after it was made when Zimbabwe became independent. "Today Zimbabwe respects the rights of its white minority while giving equal rights to its black majority," he said.

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.