World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
29 January - 6 February 2001
Churches can play vital role in reducing racism
The goal of anti-racism efforts should be to help all people recognize there is "one human race," he added. Muchopa made the remarks in Potsdam, Germany, where the WCC Central Committee is meeting January 29 to February 6.
The briefing was related to the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban, South Africa, August 31 to September 7, 2001. The WCC, a longtime advocate of eliminating racism, is contributing its international experience in preparation for the meeting.
Muchopa, from Zimbabwe, was joined by Marilia Schuller, programme executive for the WCC Women Under Racism programme, and programme director for SISTERS, a network of African, African-descent, Indigenous and ethnic minority women. Schüller is from Brazil.
The upcoming UN conference is the third of its kind, Schuller said. The previous two focused on Apartheid in South Africa. For some 50 years, the WCC has actively worked against racism, demonstrating that commitment through its Programme to Combat Racism and its Special Fund to Combat Racism, she said.
In preparation, the WCC has submitted a series of suggestions to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for consideration. Its ideas include a number of issues related to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including causes and forms; victims; ways to prevent, protect and educate; providing remedies; and strategies to achieve equality and cooperation. It has also scheduled a number of consultations on racism, as has the UN, leading up to the international conference.
Still, racism is alive and well today throughout the world, Schuller said. "There is a resurgence of racism in the world today in its most brutal form," she said. She cited a June 14 incident in Dessau, Germany, in which a man from Mozambique was beaten to death in an attack said to be racially motivated, and the caste system in south Asia, in which more than 240 million people - most of them in India - are categorized as "untouchable".
Subtle and overt forms of racism are present in everyday life, Schuller added. "I don't see racism diminishing in the world," she added.
A key point for the rise of European racism was a meeting of representatives of European powers in Berlin in 1884, Muchopa suggested. Their purpose was to divide Africa. Their actions led to a legacy of colonialism, slavery and suffering for Black, Asian and other non-European people, he said.
Even today, Europe has "a fortress mentality," making it difficult for non-white people to enter Europe. Muchopa said he speaks from personal experience.
Churches have been at the forefront of fighting racism in Europe but are not without their own racism issues, he said. "Europe has accepted racism not only as a problem in society. It is a problem in our churches."
"Racism has to do with prejudice, supported by power," Muchopa added. Eliminating it requires dealing with peoples' attitudes and behaviour, he said. "As long as racism remains an academic exercise, we will not see change. When it becomes a change in the heart, we will begin to see change."
To seek changes in the educational curriculum that would emphasize reducing or eliminating racism, is among the causes for which churches at all levels can advocate, Schuller added.
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.