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

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 36

An African theologian invited participants at the WCC Eighth Assembly Thursday (10 December) to take home the "African gentility and humility found in our culture and which has been demonstrated by South African President Nelson Mandela as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission".

Professor Jesse Mugambi of Nairobi Univeristy suggested: "The spirit of the [South African] Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be the assignment for the next millennium for the international Christian community."

He was speaking at one of the Padare presentations at the Assembly, which is being held at Harare, Zimbabwe. The Padare, the Shona word for meeting-place, is a programme of events promoted by various Christian groups independently of the official agenda.

"Wouldn't it be good to start a new millennium with a public acknowledgement of our sins in this century, followed by forgiveness?" asked Professor Mugambi. "If this could happen between Koreans and Japanese, if this could happen in respect of slavery, if we could hear forgiveness and reconciliation in Vietnam, China, United States and elsewhere?"

President Mandela, despite serving 27 years in jail, did not lose the African culture of reconciliation, he said at the meeting hosted by the World Student Christian Federation's Africa office.

Professor Mugambi, author of several theology books, said the issue of women in the Church was never a problem in pre-colonial Africa or in the African independent churches: "In the past history of Africa, women were founders of religion."

Referring to Africa's contribution to the development of knowledge, he said that "in the time of the shaping of Greek philosophy, some 500 BC, Africa was the centre of learning". Noting that Christianity was now acknowledged to be several centuries old in Africa, the professor, whose address was on 500 years of colonisation of Africa, said that there was no war on the continent between Evangelicals and ecumenists: "The war is elsewhere, where it has taken on ideological undertones."

He expressed regret that prominent non-African Evangelicals have been known to support colonialism and apartheid in Africa. They included Africa Evangelistic Enterprise, which fought against sanctions imposed on apartheid South Africa, and others who supported the former colonial ruler in Zimbabwe, Ian Smith.

Mugambi, a professor of religious studies and philosophy, said that globalisation has triggered a process of reconsolidation of confessional families. This will affect the ecumenical movement at a time when churches in Africa are experiencing a withdrawal of some support from their traditional partners, who are redicrecting support to the former eastern Europe.

He noted that in the coming century, pan-Africanism is likely to embrace Africans in the diaspora. "Pan-Africanism in the next century will be [a movement] in which the largest African nation will be Brazil," he said, referring to a country where blacks make up three quarters of the population.

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

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, 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.