World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Global trade and HIV/AIDS first priorities for new Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
A unique, broadly ecumenical body launched in Geneva on Saturday, 9 December has pledged itself to tackle issues of global trade and HIV/AIDS. For each issue, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance will develop an educational approach as well as a specific strategy.
Participants in the founding meeting of the Alliance vowed to "speak out with one voice against injustice, to confront structures of power, practices and attitudes which deprive human beings of dignity and to offer alternative visions based on the Gospel".
Participants noted in their final communiqué that the Alliance "will be a flexible and open instrument enabling participating organisations from the broad ecumenical family to work strategically on priorities identified as common to our witness and work".
The founding meeting included 40 people from all continents representing the World Council of Churches (WCC), regional ecumenical organisations and fellowships, church agencies, specialised networks in the South, Christian world communions, international ecumenical and Roman Catholic organisations. The meeting was convened by the WCC.
Speakers present challenges
Speaking to representatives from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Pacific, Raiser said the past ten years have seen not only the dismantling of the communist system and the end of the cold war, but also the rapid expansion of globalisation - with dramatic effects on the lives of people all over the world, particularly in the South. "The gulf between rich and poor is widening both within and between countries and we witness the spread of a [...] culture of violence. The number of refugees has increased dramatically and prospects for containing or reversing ecological degradation are vanishing."
"Advocacy" is a relatively new name for what earlier generations would have called the churches' prophetic ministry, Raiser noted. The Alliance is designed to strengthen the prophetic voice and impact of ecumenical witness on the crucial social, political and economic issues of the day. It will do this by pooling the resources and experience of its partner bodies. It is also expected to depart from "the institutional logic of most ecumenical organisations, based on church or community membership and, instead, seek to encourage voluntary participation based on commitment to certain issues."
Mr Bertrand Ramcharan, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke of an historic link between churches and the UN. The churches' role, he said, was to be "transmitters of the aspirations of the people" to international governing bodies.
Responding to the presentations, Sr Celine Monteiro of Franciscans International called participants to be in true solidarity in witness. Mr Baffour Amoa of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCCWA) reminded participants of "our collective desire [...] for a world in which the rights of children, youth, women and men are protected and opportunities equitably distributed".
Common action priorities
The meeting's final communiqué noted that global trade is dominated by a few economic powers: transnational corporations, governments and multilateral institutions. This makes it extremely difficult for many countries to access world markets equitably. "Advocacy work [...] is particularly needed at the level of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union," participants said.
The communiqué identified the HIV/AIDS pandemic as one of the gravest challenges to health and also "to prospects of social and economic development and global security". HIV/AIDS' impact is a symptom of "systematic economic problems such as under-investment in health and unequal access to effective treatment". It is thus a particularly appropriate issue for churches, the communiqué said; while governments and private companies need to be involved, "churches need to speak out on causes, prevention, treatment and consequences".
The meeting stated that peace and conflict resolution are also urgent concerns. The new Alliance will thus encourage strategic partnerships in this area, particularly through the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010.
"The Christ we follow tells us that when we minister to the sick, the hungry, the stranger and the prisoner, we are ministering to Christ himself. His identification with the marginalised, his rage at the moneylenders and his willingness to challenge established social boundaries in view of the Kingdom of God lead us to a life of confronting unjust structures of power in solidarity with the excluded. With this conviction and with trust in the grace of God, we launch this Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance", states the final communiqué.
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.