Since the Canberra WCC Assembly in 1991, many of the concerns highlighted in recent weeks have been the subjects of often-heated debate in meetings of WCC governing bodies. Over the past decade insistent questions have been raised about the nature and effectiveness of global governance and international institutions under the overwhelming influence of an increasingly bold and isolationist "single superpower." What has led to the proliferation of regional and internal conflicts around the world and how best can the churches serve to mediate and help resolve them. What can be done about the spreading culture of violence around the globe? What can be more effectively accomplished to rid the world of those forms of weaponry that make conflicts more brutal and less susceptible to peaceful resolution. Campaigns have been supported landmines and small arms. The underlying question has repeatedly been raised of how could the world (and the churches themselves) break free of Cold War patterns of thinking that divide reality too easily into two opposing camps of aggressor and victim, good and evil? To what extent have our own ecclesiologies and theologies contributed to that form of thinking, and therefore undergirded the use of violence in and between societies?
Much attention, too, has been paid to the major shift after 1991 away from the "Secular City" to a world in which religion had returned to center stage in national and international politics and had become a defining element of many local and regional conflicts.
The impact of economic globalization has come ever more to the center of ecumenical concern in this period, and the churches have engaged in many ways to resist its negative trends. More neglected has been the impact of globalization on the churches themselves and their ecumenical institutions and on their ability to act decisively and in unison on today's great challenges in the field of International Affairs, Peace & Human Security. At its last meeting the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs proposed a global consultation process on these issues. In one sense it could be said that this is the first of a series of consultations that will be held in the coming period to explore that question. Several members of the CCIA have been invited to share the reflections of that Commission that could have a direct bearing on the present context.
Widening and deepening the inquiry
Given the dominance in the world media of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the pre-September 11th environment, the first press inquiries to the WCC asked for comment on the implications of the attacks in the USA for peace in the Middle East. Many journalists asked that the WCC comment in particular on Islam. For the WCC, however, attention was drawn in particular to the possible wider implications of these events, and the day after the attacks a note for internal discussion was prepared that raised the following questions for discussion:
All these questions remain and others have since been added. The purpose of this consultation is to analyze such trends in the post-11 September context and to provide guidance to the WCC and its member churches in shaping our responses.
Geopolitical and geostrategic issues related to the present context need to be kept in view as we explore the various topics. A background paper has been included in your packets that explore some of those dimensions. It is far from definitive, but it points to some areas of investigation that have been explored in the past, but may need to be retaken by the churches in the new global situation. This morning will be devoted to an open sharing of how the September 11th attacks and the response given to them have impacted people in the various parts of the world? How have they impacted the churches, especially in those regions where Christians are in the minority? What analysis is being done in different parts of the world? What consultation has been done in individual churches, ecumenically in national settings, and between churches in different parts of the world? How do we see the challenges now?
The afternoon sessions are devoted to Global Governance and Global Security. Here we will want to look at the impact of the September 11th events on respect for the international rule of law and on the degree to which international organizations are able to provide effective forums for the pursuit of international peace and security by non-violent means. In your packets you will find the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and of NATO in the immediate aftermath of September 11th. We will also want to look at what these events mean for global efforts to shift from forms of security based on military deterrence - particularly nuclear deterrence - to new understanding of a more comprehensive form of human security.
Tomorrow morning we will look at the impact on the Global Economy. A well-respected Geneva private bank recently briefed clients, including the WCC, on the state of global markets after September 11th. The bank's senior financial strategist dwelt at length on the clearly dominant U.S. markets. Through charts showing market cycles since the "Great Depression" of the 1920s, he showed the effects of war over the last sixty years, pointing out that at or near almost every point of severe market depression a war has "appeared" that provided the boost necessary to reverse these trends and often carry the economy on to periods of relative prosperity. Now again, he said, we have been confronted with a severe market recession bordering on depression. Many billions of dollars have been pumped into the U.S. economy in recent weeks, much in support of the war effort. Will this be sufficient to correct global market trends in the industrialized nations? Does it contribute at all to meeting the Social Development Goals set in Copenhagen and at "Geneva 2000," or does it only widen the gap between rich and poor that could lead to an eventual new global monetary and financial crisis whose impact will be felt mainly by the poor?
We then turn to the impact on Human Rights. Dramatic changes have been made in the legislation of many of the dominant world powers that are bold infringements of international human rights norms and standards. In other parts of the world as well, new security considerations have either been imposed or voluntarily adopted that bode ill for the future of protection of both individual (civil and political) and collective (economic, social and cultural) human rights. Churches in the ecumenical movement have contributed significantly to shaping international norms and standards, and to defending them in the most dire of circumstances during the period of military rule in many nations of the South in the 1970s and 1980s. Over a decade and more of institutional restructuring, many churches have substantially abandoned this field. How are we to equip ourselves now to face up to the new challenges?
Then tomorrow afternoon, we will look at the challenge of the present situation in the field of humanitarian concerns. The WCC critiqued severely the behavior of NATO forces in Kosovo that turned the use of humanitarian assistance itself into a form of weapon. Distinctions were hopelessly blurred between the roles of the military to fight and provide security and civilian institutions, including the leading international organizations to deliver humanitarian aid. Now in Afghanistan we have had the spectacle of planes delivering both bombs and aid packets. President Bush has posed with children who have gathered funds in schools for humanitarian relief, praising them for their part in the "war effort." What does it mean for legitimate humanitarian assistance, and very particularly for church-related humanitarian relief agencies when such practices are allowed?
This leads then to the final substantive discussion on the challenge to religions. Much has been made of Samuel Huntington's writings on the "clash of civilizations" that pits Western Christendom against the Islamic East both in terms of culture and particularly in a new global power struggle structured according Cold War modes of thought. Many have commented that the present war in Afghanistan constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The WCC warned from the very beginning of the consequences for Christian churches in the predominantly Islamic nations both of the immediate area of conflict, but also elsewhere in Asia, in the Middle East and in Africa. Events have proven that warning to be legitimate. What then of the role of religion, of cooperation among the faiths for peace and a human form of security, of inter-religious dialogue? Have the September 11th events changed the parameters of these efforts? Where do the challenges lie now?
WCC General Secretary Konrad Raiser has been asked to provide his own summary of the discussion at the beginning, and to reflect on them from an ecumenical theological and ethical perspective. This is a way for us to end up with intentional theologizing as we consider the way ahead, and what we have to offer the churches out of these few days of intensive discussion. In the minds of the organizers, this is the proper place for theology; not a "chapeau" to be doffed at the beginning of the discussion, hoping that it will cast its shadow over and impact the discussions themselves, but rather as part of our thinking on strategies to confront in faithful ways the challenges that lie ahead.
We have intentionally planned to use the two-and-a-half days of consultation in an intensive wrestling with the issues rather than in a drafting process. However the results of this gathering will need to be shared with the churches. For this reason, we have asked the several members of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs to remain after we close at mid-day on Saturday to consider how best to do this reporting. With staff assistance, they will be responsible for shaping the final document or other appropriate means of translating what we conclude here in ways that we hope can be must helpful to the churches in days and months ahead.
We have gathered here around this table some of the best minds in the churches and some of the most highly qualified international experts in the areas of concern listed on our agenda. We know that all of you have made considerable sacrifices to be here. Surrounding you are a number of key staff members of the WCC who work on these issues on a daily basis. They will be listening, and at times contributing to the dialogue. We thank you all for your willingness to come together here in this house, to take advantage of this ecumenical space, and to engage one another and us in a lively, insightful and productive discussion.