PEACE TO THE CITY CAMPAIGN:
of the Consultation on the Programme to Overcome Violence
The POV can be regarded as a broad framework within which the efforts of churches and groups can find their own place. There is room for many creative, interrelated initiatives. At the same time, the Council has recognized the need for a clear, focused challenge to what the Programme has described as a global culture of violence. That focus should galvanize the efforts of the churches in a dramatic common witness to the hope that we share that God wills peace and justice for all, and that in Christ this hope can be realized.
The Central Committee asked that a small consultation be convened to help define that focus. To this end, Unit III on Justice, Peace and Creation invited a group of persons engaged in creative, church-related efforts to build a culture of peace to advise the WCC on next steps for the POV.
This meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 13-18 April 1996, at the headquarters of the Institute of Religious Studies (ISER), hosted by "Viva Rio," a remarkable broad-based citizens' initiative to construct a culture of peace in a city whose social fabric has been shredded by both momentary and endemic violence.
This Consultation has elaborated a mid-term focus for the POV from now until the forthcoming Eighth Assembly of the WCC (Harare, 1998), as a means of mobilizing church and ecumenical actions to overcome violence in a way which will equip them to make a forceful common commitment for building a culture of peace as we approach the third millennium.
It proposes to the Central Committee the initiation of a campaign entitled:
Peace to the City
This report weaves together and expands upon earlier work on the POV done by the Central Committee, the Unit III Commission and its staff, and the CCIA Board. It is commended by the Consultation to the Central Committee for appropriate action.
Yet hopes for peace inspired by these changes collided with the outbreak of new wars across and within national boundaries. Warring parties continue to use weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction, and noncombatants remain the principle victims. A resurgence of conflicts which exploit and manipulate peoples' histories, identity, ethnicity, race and religion led to practices of genocidal violence, ethnic cleansing and crimes of hate. Rape resurfaced as a systematic practice, an integral component of the arsenal of terror, humiliation and defeat. Millions of people were uprooted by violence and war, and places of refuge became scarce.
Meanwhile, other long-standing practices and structures that promote systems of violence endure. Violence against women increases inside and outside the home. Safe space for children continues to shrink. Trafficking of women and children for sexual slavery remains rampant. Increasing economic exclusion for many suppresses possibilities for genuine social and political participation. Attitudes and systems of racial discrimination persevere. Crime and urban violence makes human habitats increasingly unlivable. Ecological degradation threatens the possibility of health and wholeness for current and future generations as well as all of creation.
Violence permeates our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, our nations and our world. Violence endangers all other possibilities for justice, participation and ecological sustainability.
In the face of these realities, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches launched, in January 1994, a Programme to Overcome Violence. In initiating such a programme, the WCC hopes to engage with churches, Christian groups and others committed to this work in a journey of transformation toward constructing cultures of peace with justice in homes, churches, communities, nations and the world.
With its origins forged in the midst of war, the World Council of Churches' engagement on issues of peace and justice does not begin with the Programme to Overcome Violence. Throughout the history of the Council, much of its work relates to these issues, although the nature of the debates within the ecumenical movement about such questions have shifted somewhat across time. After decades of experience in active programmes as well as theological reflection, a renewed emphasis on joining work for peace with engagement for justice more deliberately and explicitly came at a number of points in the 1990 Seoul Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, but particularly in the adoption of Affirmation VI, stating, "We affirm the full meaning of God's Peace. We are called to seek every possible means of establishing justice, achieving peace and solving conflicts by active non-violence."
Although no consensus exists among churches about Christian approaches to violence and nonviolence, a deep yearning to build lasting peace, grounded in justice, finds a new, more urgent expression in many churches today. Such urgency arises from concrete experiences where churches face situations and structures of violence in arenas stretching from the local to the global. At stake may be the very survival of life in human community, sustained with the creation.
At this point, the WCC does not seek to resolve the long-standing debate about Christian perspectives on violence and nonviolence. Nor do we seek to specify the relative justice of particular wars or specific uses of violence. Rather, we want to focus on building and rebuilding "jubilee communities" (in the language of the WCC Eighth Assembly) of justice, peace, and ecological sustainability at local, national and international levels. Together with the churches, we want to start afresh with new and renewed vision, more penetrating analysis and more creative methods to obtain a just peace. The following assumptions, principles, and recommendations should guide the WCC's continuing engagement with churches, Christian organizations within and beyond its own traditional constituency, people of other faiths, and all those who share our hope for overcoming violence, particularly in the period up to the Eighth Assembly in 1998.
Rationale for Peace to the City
The writers of the epistles began with the greeting, "Grace and peace to you". "Peace to the City" invokes this greeting to those who, as churches in New Testament times, experience division, tension and who live in the midst of violent societies.
Cities are the main unit of modern, contemporary society. As centres of population, commerce, finance, political power and culture, they form a metaphor for the modern world.
Cities are found all over the globe - North, South, East, West - and contain many common characteristics.
Cities experience most forms of violence. They house the people and institutions that shape systems of globalization and national military rivalries. Cities demonstrate the global homogenization of norms, values and culture represented in these systems. State and police violence are prominent in the city. Civil wars often take place in the midst of cities. Ethnic groups, youth and criminal elements use the city as a battleground. Women dare not venture out at night or during the day in the wrong part of the city for fear of violence and rape, only to return home often to find no safety there either. Children, especially those in poor sections, have little safe room to play outside their homes and, like women, too often face the threat of beating and sexual abuse inside their homes.
Cities contain both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Both rich and poor live in cities, and both are potential victims of many of the forms of violence found there. As the places where the vast majority of the world's people live, cities often demonstrate that civilians bear the heaviest burdens produced by the death and destruction of war, crime and other forms of violence.
Urbanization of the world takes its toll on creation. People crowded into small spaces often brings severe consequences to the environment as well as to the human spirit. Although in close quarters with one another, people nonetheless often become more isolated and atomized.
Yet cities are also one of the significant places where people organize to reconstruct their communities, form new civic alliances to rebuild the potential for living with greater justice and peace, to reorient their homes and personal lives for health, healing and wholeness, and to reclaim the richness of their cultural diversity. Poor people in cities demonstrate remarkable ingenuity for survival, and poor sections give evidence of determined vitality.
Cities are one of the places where people organize to bring about social change. When people build institutions controlled by and accountable to people in the neighbourhoods where they live, they may then be able to use this experience to transform the state and global arena. When people reclaim their cities, they reclaim their rights to control their lives.
Churches and other Christian and religious groups are in the city. An initiative focused on the city gives new possibilities for partnerships between those already involved in ecumenical networks, many evangelical or pentecostal groups, and other faiths, largely outside these networks. The city is a place where Christians can give dramatic, concrete and effective evidence of their commitment to overcome violence.
The Campaign in Process (1997 - 1998)
"Peace to the City" highlights existing, creative models of community rebuilding. The goals are to make them visible, recognize the value of their approaches and methodologies, stimulate sharing and networking and, above all, give others a reason to hope and attempt something similar in their own contexts. The support and solidarity of such a campaign is also intended to strengthen existing non-violent community building efforts in the seven cities and to sustain work beyond the specific campaign events. In addition, the campaign is aimed to help shape a broad and bold ecumenical commitment to overcome violence and make the challenges and thrust of the WCC's Programme to Overcome Violence visible to the wider ecumenical movement.
Seven cities around the world have been short listed for consideration to be involved directly in the campaign, based on the criteria developed by the WCC Board on International Affairs (CCIA). These include Belfast, Northern Ireland; Boston, USA; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Durban, South Africa; Kingston, Jamaica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Suva, Fiji. These cities are joining the campaign as we link up with willing and able partners, who have a powerful message to share with the rest of the world. Beyond these symbolic seven cities, churches and groups everywhere engaged in peace-building are invited to participate in the campaign to create a dynamic global network for peace. We hope that the seven-city network will grow into a global peace network for exploring ideas and sharing resources.
The Campaign network has been created through a full use of communication technology, including an interactive home page on the World Wide Web, an Internet list server for news on the Campaign and the POV in general, and traditional printed updates on the Campaign to reach church and peace organizations, individuals, and the press. People, churches, and organizations are invited to participate and join the campaign at many different levels:
In addition to these active and ongoing methods to encourage dialogue and support, the Campaign will also produce a number of resources related to the Campaign by the WCC's Eighth Assembly in 1998, including videos as well as a popular-style book on the peace building projects in each of the cities, including an analysis of the issues and methodologies raised through the Campaign. Other related publications include a book on Overcoming Violence to be published in the Risk Book Series of the WCC and another reflecting on the theological and practical aspects for peacemaking for the new century, prepared as a contribution to the POV by the Historic Peace Churches/Fellowship of Reconciliation Consultative Committee in North America.
Insights from the "Peace to the City" campaign will also be important for theological reflection. The WCC Central Committee has called on the Programme to Overcome Violence to offer reflection on the theological and ecclesiological dimensions of violence as well as the powerful resources offered by the Christian faith in building cultures of peace.
This two-year campaign will be launched in August 1997 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the Programme to Overcome Violence was adopted. It will culminate at the WCC's Eighth Assembly in 1998. Enabling churches and groups to connect with and learn from each other will be a goal throughout the process, creating what we hope will be an exciting ecumenical initiative beyond 1998.