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26 August 1999


Churches around the world should consider spending the first decade of the next century working to overcome the world's "generalized culture of violence," and acknowledge that their own theological traditions have helped shape the world's current attitudes, said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser.

Dr Raiser, in a report to the WCC's Central Committee here August 26, said "the commitment to overcome violence and build a culture of peace may indeed be the prophetic witness which the churches have to render at a time when the struggles for power and resources, identity or sheer survival" result in conflict between various groups, including communities of faith.

When the WCC held its assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, last December, a proposal suggested that the international church organisation proclaim the years 2001-2010 "An Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence."

"Violence in the homes and on the streets, between ethnic and religious groups, within and between nations and societies, is the most powerful force destroying human community life," said the German theologian who has headed the WCC since 1992.

The concern is not a new one for the WCC, Raiser said. Since the WCC's response in 1968 to Dr Martin Luther King's call for non-violence in the search for social justice, and in its own Programme to Combat Racism of the 1970s, the organization of Protestant and Orthodox churches has been dealing with the issue.

Dr Raiser cited a resolution from the WCC's 1983 assembly in Vancouver, Canada, which noted that "peace is not just the absence of war". Peace cannot be built upon the foundations of injustice, the Vancouver statement said, but must be based on "justice for and within all the nations, and respect for the God-given humanity and dignity of every person."

Dealing with the issue of violence may require new times of moral and ethical reflection, Raiser said. "We are still deeply conditioned by thinking in the categories of the cold war, based on the clear identification of an enemy and the confrontation of absolute good and evil," he said. Today's violence, he added, "cannot be overcome by imposing superior power and enforcing obedience and submission, since violence is itself an expression of the war logic of power."

In noting that the churches themselves may have contributed to the climate of violence, Raiser said the WCC's previous Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women brought the churches some "painful insights" about their own attitudes towards women. If there is serious reflection on violence in the world, Raiser said, churches will be obliged to "enter into a self-critical assessment of those theological, ecclesiological or cultural traditions which tend to justify violence in the name of defending order and enforcing obedience."

"It is my hope and prayer," Raiser concluded, "that as an ecumenical community we will be able, through this decade, to render a faithful witness to the One who is our peace and who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility."

The WCC leader also said that the churches' concern for violence in the first decade of the next century would parallel other efforts in government and the wider society.

Evaluating the WCC's assembly in Zimbabwe last December, the general secretary told the Central Committee that the overall assessment of the international meeting was "quite positive". Some, he said, felt that issues were dodged, or that the Assembly focussed too much on internal organization. Referring to the document "Common Understanding and Vision," Raiser said the WCC was affirmed as a "fellowship of churches", but that intense discussion continued on the meaning of ecumenical endeavour.

The discussions might mean, Raiser said, that the traditional assemblies of the 50-year-old WCC -- held every seven years -- might some day be replaced with a "new form of expressing and fostering the bonds of ecumenical fellowship."

The WCC Central Committee meeting continues here until September 3.

Click here for the full text of the Report of the General Secretary.

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, 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.