International affairs, peace
HISTORY AND STRUCTURE:
Introduction / The formation of the WCC / New challenges to the churches in International Affairs / The fellowship of the churches / Basis for action / Major areas of concern / Forms of action / Public statements / The WCC's role in the UN / Relationships with governments / Implications for the unity of the churches
The role of the churches in international affairs has been a significant part of the agenda of the ecumenical movement at least since the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference. Especially since the creation of the WCC in 1948, this aspect of the Council’s work has been regularly assessed by the governing bodies and through special consultations. Questions have been often raised: Why is the WCC involved in international affairs? How does it perform its function in this area? What criteria does it apply in selecting issues for actions? What special contribution has a body like the WCC in this field? These questions become especially relevant during meetings of the Assembly.
The chapter on "World Affairs in Ecumenical Perspective" in the report of the Sixth WCC Assembly (Vancouver, 1983), begins:
The making and breaking of human life anywhere and for whatever reason is the legitimate and necessary concern of Christ's Church: on that score the churches as they work together through their World Council have never had any doubts. Moreover an Assembly that had meditated at length on the Vancouver theme \Jesus Christ, the Life of the World] was bound to try to bring the insights of the Gospel to bear, quite specifically, on the life-denying forces rampant in the Year of Our Lord 1983. But where to start? Where to stop? And how to select?One of the functions of the WCC, according to its Constitution, is to
express their commitment to diakonia in serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, promoting one human family in justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation, so that all may experience the fullness of life.The Eighth Assembly (Harare, 1998) said that
Truth, justice and peace together represent values basic to granting of human rights, inclusion and reconciliation. When these values are ignored, trust is replaced by fear and human power no longer serves the gift of life and the sanctity and dignity of all in creation.The WCC needs ... to serve as a shared platform for advocacy and making the voices of the churches heard in relation to the international mechanisms and constituencies that are actors on the global arena.
The Vancouver Assembly stated
The biblical vision of peace with justice for all of wholeness of unity of all God's people is not one of several options for followers of Christ. It is an imperative in our time.
The WCC's role in international affairs was considered an important part of its ministry from the very beginning. Recognizing this, the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches (in process of formation) created the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs already in 1946, two years before the First Assembly.
Early in the twentieth century the concern for peace played an important role in bringing the churches together through such important gatherings as The Hague Conference of 1907. The World Alliance for International Friendship Through the Churches played a pioneer role during the inter-war period. The Stockholm Universal Christian Con-ference on Life and Work (1925) and especially the Oxford Conference on Church, Community and State (1937) delineated areas of concern for Christian witness in the realm of politics, including international affairs. The historical context in which the WCC was born has had a profound and lasting impact on its life. It has been said that it was forged in the furnace of war. Even before it was formally constituted it had to deal with the effects of war, violation of human rights and the plight of refugees; the need to nourish the new fellowship and build bridges between churches and nations divided by past wars and the threat of new ones. This was a period of shared hopes by people all over the world for new international institutions and instruments to ensure lasting peace, and the fellowship of the churches promoted these aspirations. This was also a period of history dominated by the powers of the North Atlantic region. But especially through the International Missionary Council and the Life and Work stream of the ecumenical movement, there was a live concern for the oikoumene, the "whole inhabited world". The 1937 Oxford Conference condemned colonialism and the racism associated with it as a gross injustice and as a threat to world peace. Struggles against colonialism intensified soon after the Second World War, and newly independent countries (and churches) emerged on the world scene. And almost simultaneously came the Cold War and the neocolonialism associated with it. Among the new international institutions which appeared at this turning point in modern history, the WCC had a unique character. Formed as a Council of Churches, it was also a frontier movement exploring new avenues of Christian witness. It was shaped by the challenges of the day. But as the distinguished German ecumenical theologian Ernst Lange later said, "and yet it moves". Over the years the WCC’s role in international affairs has remained responsive to global ecumenical movement and changing times.
The new United Nations bore the marks of the aspirations of the fellowship of churches who were eager that it become an instrument of the world’s peoples, not just of world powers. It soon gave formal recognition to the WCC as representing most of the Christian churches other than the Roman Catholic Church and as the international non-governmental organization with the largest and most diverse and nearly universal constituency. This naturally aroused expectations about its role in international affairs, both from the secular circles and within its own constituency. Then, as today, such expectations often differed and at times contradict one another. Secular circles sometimes view the WCC mainly as an influential international organization to be taken seriously into account. But its nature as a Council of Churches and its unique constituency distinguish it from many other international organizations. A recognition of this distinction remains important in interpreting the role of the WCC in international affairs.
The Policy Statement, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches", adopted by the Central Committee in 1997, reflects back on this history, and points to the new challenges which lie ahead:
The ecumenical process which led to the formation of the WCC was not only a response to the gospel imperative of Christian unity. It was also an affirmation of the call to mission and common witness and an expression of common commitment to the search for justice, peace and reconciliation in a chaotic, warring world divided along the lines of race, class and competing national and religious loyalties.
When the WCC acts on international affairs it is as a fellowship of churches who live and witness in a wide variety of social, economic, political and ideological situations. Their possibilities of actions and the problems they face differ widely. History, tradition, culture and the present circumstances must all be taken into account. Public actions of the WCC must be characterized by a sensitivity to the special needs of each church and its context. This imposes some limitations. The Melbourne World Mission Conference in 1980 said:
The churches must speak out prophetically but also be prepared to be a people under the cross in their milieu bearing silent and suffering witness to the hope which is in them... We... need to express repentance about our inability to be more specific in particular cases. This reflects both the painful situation many people continue to find themselves in and the sensitivity we feel towards these where specif c mention might be dangerous.This spirit of repentance is essential to the role of the WCC in international affairs. The policy statement, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches", articulates this still more fully:
The challenge of what it means to be part of the universal church of Christ is posed in new and dramatic ways by the process of growing globalization. Every church must begin its examination of its ecumenical relationships by self-examination in its life and witness in this global context. Has it been consistently guided by the common calling to unity, mission and service? Has it drawn the consequences of the communion it has experienced, the widening of the common vision it has gained, the commitments it has accepted? In fact, many indications suggest that a growing denominationalism is reinforcing the tendency of churches to concentrate on their internal and institutional concerns at the expense of their ecumenical commitment. In responding to the call to mission and evangelism churches too often ignore their commitment to common witness and thus introduce or promote divisions within the Christian family. While Christians and churches should be advocates of the rights and dignity of those marginalized and excluded by society, there are shameful examples of complicity with structures of social and economic injustice. Nor has the World Council of Churches in its struggles for justice and human rights been able to act and speak according to the same criteria everywhere.Consultation with the churches
There is a close correlation between the role of member churches and related councils of churches in national and international affairs and that of the WCC. The witness of the WCC in the political arena is based upon, strengthened, shaped and challenged by the political witness of member churches in their own countries and regions. All of them in their own ways participate in the continuing ministry of Christ in the world through priestly intercession, prophetic judgement, the arousing of hope and pastoral care.
Churches in the countries concerned are consulted when actions are undertaken. Often actions are taken on the basis of requests from them. Consultation is a continuous process within the fellowship. Thus discussion on specific develop-ments may not always be necessary. Sometimes it may not be possible or advisable. In such cases, considered, prayerful judgement has to be exercised in taking action. Consultation does not mean that the WCC can or should act only with the concurrence of the official bodies of the church or churches in a given situation. Under certain circumstances the WCC hears conflicting voices coming from the churches in a particular place. In addition the assessment made from a global perspective may differ from a national one. When such differences occur care must be taken about the possible effect of WCC action. Disagreements do arise from time to time between a church or group of churches and the international body. These need not be avoided for the sake of harmony within the fellowship, but rather must be accepted as a necessary consequence of exercising the obligation of discernment as well as that of mutual challenge for renewal in the spirit of the fellowship. Churches may differ in their views as to whether socio-political engagement is part of their mission and in their understandings of their obligations to the established order. However, when the behavior of such a State threatens the peace or grossly violates the rights of its own citizens, then other churches may have the legitimate obligation to challenge it. In so doing, care must be taken to remain in dialogue with those churches most directly effected, seeking discernment and the strengthening of the fellowship even in adversity. The positive assumptions contained in the 1950 Toronto Statement on "The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches" which underlie life of member churches in the Council remain fundamental to the fellowship. Among them are the following commitments of the member churches to:
(be) willing to consult together in seeking to learn of the Lord Jesus Christ what witness he would have them to bear to the world in his name;The statement on "Common Understanding and Vision" spells out this notion of mutual accountability, articulating certain implications of what it means for a church to become a member of the WCC:
The primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.
In seeking koinonia in faith and life, witness and service, the churches through the Council will:
Biblical and theological affirmations
The discernment by Christians of what is just and unjust, human and inhuman in the complexities of political and economic change is a discipline exercised in continual dialogue with biblical resources the mind of the church through history and today and the best insights of social scientific analysis. (Church and Society Conference 1966, Geneva)The Preface to "Mission and Evangelism - An Ecumenical Affirmation" underlines the fact that this involvement in international affairs is an integral part of the mission of the church.
The biblical promise of a new earth and a new heaven where love, peace and justice will prevail invites our action as Christians in history. The contrast of that vision with the reality of today reveals the monstrosity of human sin, the evil unleashed by the rejection of God's liberating will for humankind... The church is sent into the world to call people and nations to repentance, to announce forgiveness of sin and a new beginning in relations with God and with neighbors through Jesus Christ.Politics is an inescapable reality and involvement in it a Christian responsibility. To remain aloof from this human reality is itself a form of involvement by default. This does not mean that Christians should ever blindly accept a political party line, or that politics should be romanticized. The wholeness of the Gospel demands deep discernment as regards actions and motives, a capacity for self-criticism, and the capacity to avoid identifying one's human judgements with the will of God. It demands prophetic action and at the same time forbearance with one’s opponents, recognizing that God alone is the ultimate judge of the human heart. As the Report on the 1980 Melbourne World Conference on Mission and Evangelism put it,
There is a need for the churches to awaken to their prophetic task in the many human struggles -- to say ’yes’ to that which conforms to the Kingdom of God as revealed to humankind in the life of Jesus Christ and say ‘no’ to that which distorts the dignity and freedom of human beings and all that is alive... As Christ has come not for a part but for the whole of humanity, the churches must be a means of reconciliation in the midst of human struggle; this will make it necessary to take very specific stands in struggles and conflicts.Thus, in accepting the responsibility to act in the field of international affairs, the churches intend through word and deed
The universal fellowship must be a fellowship of solidarity in the witness of the Gospel. The churches will therefore aim at strengthen-ing each church in its witness. When they act together their message must have certain characteristics:Ecumenical social thought
The Oxford Conference on "Church, State and Community" is widely considered to have laid the solid foundations for modern ecumenical social thought. Held in 1937, under the dark, gathering clouds of the Second World War, Oxford gave voice to the deep concerns, hopes and anxieties of the ecumenical movement of the day in Europe and North America. Though narrow in its geographical representation, the Conference set forth a new Christian understanding of the state and responsible use of power which remains compelling even today. Building on this foundation, but turning its attention to the new situation prevailing after World War II, the First WCC Assembly, in Amsterdam, mooted the concept of the "responsible society" which was to provide the basic framework for ecumenical social thought for almost two decades. It sought to keep in balance the demands of freedom and justice within the framework of a democratic order based on respect for fundamental human rights. In the 1960s, the studies on "Areas of Rapid Social Change" provoked challenges from ecumenical circles in Asia and Latin America, calling into question the theological, economic and political assumptions underlying the concept of the "responsible society".
The Geneva "Conference on Church and Society" in 1966 proved to be a watershed. It was the most important ecumenical gathering of Third World theologians and social thinkers ever held, and with it the views of those absent from earlier discussions burst onto the scene. The Conference participants discussed in depth the technological, social and -political revolutions which defined the time. It was the most comprehensive ecumenical discussion on social and political ethics since Oxford, and it provided the basis for the dynamic action-reflection approach to ecumenical social ethics which informed WCC programs in succeeding decades. The "Humanum Studies" undertaken in preparation for the Fifth Assembly in Nairobi, and the program emphasis on a "Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society" which followed it marked further stages in the evolution of ecumenical social thinking and practice. The 1966 Geneva Conference marked the end of one period of ecumenical history, and the beginning of another in which for the first time the ecumenical movement in the South was actively present as an equal at the WCC table. Study and action came together in new ways, and ecumenical programs gained a dramatic and challenging aspect. There was a shared hunger for fundamental social, economic and political change in the dominant structures of contemporary society. The Fourth Assembly in Uppsala built upon this momentum and the radical spirit of 1968 contributed to consolidating the gains of 1966. The Fifth Assembly, held in Nairobi in 1975 under the theme "Jesus Christ Frees and Unites"," affirmed the direction and translated it into new programs of action. The shift in direction which occurred in 1966 was fundamental. The three central foci of the concept of the "responsible society" remain: freedom, justice and order. But while in earlier times emphasis tended to be placed on the concern for freedom and order, after the Uppsala Assembly, justice was viewed more in its economic, social and political terms, and the concern for freedom seen from the perspective of "human dignity." And overall, as occurred also in the Roman Catholic Church, increasing emphasis has been given to God’s preferential option for the poor and the oppressed as expressed in the Gospels. The Vancouver Assembly (1983) advanced ecumenical social thought yet another step. While previously individual ecumenical programs sought to address the structural causes of the various components of social evils, Vancouver recognized that the threats to human survival were profoundly interrelated, and any effort to overcome them had both theologically and politically to be addressed to the complex of issues. It established a priority for all WCC programs together "to engage member churches in a conciliar process of mutual commitment (covenant) to justice, peace and the integrity of all creation". The Seoul Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (1990) engaged the churches together in this complex enterprise, and the Canberra Assembly (1991) reaffirmed this direction. Thus the development of ecumenical social thought reveals significant, and sometimes radical shifts in perspective, yet a substantial thread of continuity remains when it comes to the fundamental underlying concerns. As a consultation held by the Board for International Affairs on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the CCIA (Seoul, 1996) showed, the theme of Oxford, "Church, Community and State", and the insights it brought on the interplay among these constitutes an anchor for the ecumenical movement. The role and function of the State in contemporary society, our understandings of community, and the self-understanding of the Church have all changed radically, yet in their interrelationship are still to be found some of the fundamental challenges facing the fellowship. As in earlier periods, war and peace, human rights, racism, the question of violence and its uses, and the legitimacy of rebellion or revolution, and church-state relations remain fundamental to the ecumenical agenda for international affairs. The Cyprus Consultation on Political Ethics (1981) developed the following definition which remains pertinent:
An ecumenical political ethic has to do with the evaluation of the understanding and exercise of power in faithfulness to the Gospel for the sake of social justice, human dignity and authentic community.Affirming the need to support the integrity of politics through structures of state but recognizing the increasing trend of violation of human dignity by the state and by transnational forces operating in global society, it offered the following ethical guidelines for determining the forms and foci of ecumenical political action:
Over the years, along with the evolution of social thought, and both influencing and reflecting it, the WCC has accumulated a wealth of experience in dealing with specific political situations and international affairs in general. This, and the experiences contributed by member churches and related groups engaged in action-reflection programmes have all contributed to refining the models of action used by the WCC in pursuing its responsibilities in this field. MAJOR AREAS OF CONCERN
The WCC’s concerns for international affairs, as indicated in the introduction to this pamphlet, flow from "functions and purposes" of the Constitution. They seek to contribute to the goal of the visible unity of the churches and to their common witness in each and all places. They support the missionary and evangelistic task of the churches. They are related to the churches’ ministries of meeting human need in times of crisis, and to the effort to remove the root causes of human suffering. They seek to contribute to the goal of breaking down barriers between people and the promotion of one human family in justice and peace.
More specifically, this work has been divided into the following areas: Peace and Conflict Resolution. The WCC pursues peace with justice globally, between countries, and within individual nations. This involves promoting those things that make for peace, and denouncing those which threaten peace with justice. Since the First Assembly, the WCC has favored non-violent responses to conflict, and has generally warned against efforts to resolve conflict through the application of armed force, believing that this risks furthering the vicious cycle of violence. Thus the Council promotes the elaboration of international norms and standards which improve the international community’s capacity to address conflicts before they explode into violence, to mediate violent conflicts through negotiation, and to bring offending powers into compliance with international resolutions by the application of economic or other forms of sanctions consistently applied and mindful of their effects on vulnerable populations. Occasionally, the Council engages directly alongside churches in specific situations to mediate conflicts between contending nations or parties within a particular country. Through the Program to Overcome Violence, created by the Central Committee in 1994, it seeks to equip the churches to mediate and transform conflict through the effective application of active non-violent methods. Militarism, Disarmament and Arms Control. The WCC continues to work for a world free of nuclear weapons and other arms of mass and indiscriminate destruction. It has actively worked to eliminate militarism, i.e. the rule of societies by the institution of the military and the application of military forms of organization of society under authoritarian "civilian" regimes. It has paid particular attention to the uncontrolled commerce in both heavy and light weapons to areas of real or potential conflict, and to establish effective international controls over the arms trade. This has included active participation in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, efforts to create an effective register of arms transfers, and in general to promote the conversion of the arms industry to more socially beneficial forms of production. It supports efforts to stem the proliferation of hand-guns and light weapons in civil society. Human rights. The churches joined in the World Council of Churches (in process of formation) were instrumental in gaining the inclusion of provisions for human rights in the Charter of the United Nations, in promoting the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which it contributed the article on religious freedom), and the elaboration of improved international norms and standards. It has contributed to the development of "third generation" rights to development and to peace, and has been influential in the adoption of new standards aimed at the abolition of torture, the practice of forced disappearance, and the elimination of the death penalty. It has promoted the development of improved standards of protection of the rights of women, of youth and of children. It promotes the rights of refugees and migrants, of minorities in general, and of indigenous peoples in particular. Special attention is paid to the protection and full implementation of the right to religious freedom. The WCC has pressed for the creation of international institutions empowered to enforce the full range of accepted human rights standards, and regularly cooperates with the UN, regional inter-governmental human rights bodies, and other international non-governmental organizations dedicated to the cause of human rights. It engages in programs to develop human rights awareness among the churches, and to equip them to defend and promote human rights in their own societies. It supports the human rights efforts of churches and councils of churches around the world financially, through solidarity actions, and by the sending of investigative and pastoral delegations in times of crisis. Global governance and international institutions. As mentioned above, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC was among the first international non-governmental organizations to be granted consultative status by the UN Economic and Social Council. The CCIA continues to maintain consultative relations on behalf of the Council with the UN and most of its related agencies. It coordinates the wide-ranging involvements of WCC programs with inter-governmental bodies, and seeks opportunities for the churches to contribute effectively to the work of the UN family of organizations. Beyond this, the Council seeks to promote the effective democratic participation of all nations, large and small, in the UN and the system of global governance, and the universal support of these bodies in financial terms and through compliance with the international rule of law administered by the UN and related instruments. Good governance is not a matter of international institutions alone, however, and the Council seeks to assist churches in all countries to monitor and make effective constitutional democracies accessible to all citizens without distinction.
Promotion of a unified, coherent and informed witness of the churches on international affairs. In these and other areas of emerging concern, the Council corresponds with and provides opportunities for consultation among the churches, councils, Christian World Communions and church-related agencies and movements on international affairs, seeking through study, joint action and common witness to bring the concerted weight of the ecumenical movement to bear in the field of international affairs.FORMS OF ACTION
Monitoring, analysis, interpretation.
The collection, analysis and interpretation of information is itself an important form of action. In some cases the WCC is able to give such interpretation with widely recognized competence, correcting widely-held misconceptions which can lead to mis-guided and harmful interventions in complex situations. In various WCC publications, and through its news and information service, the Council is able from time to time to provide timely information and analysis about events, to call forth ecumenical solidarity with people in critical situations, and to help people to have their own stories told to an international public when the international media ignore or distort sometimes isolated events. Study documents on specific issues, reports of delegation visits and situation updates are regularly made available. Delegations are sent to churches in critical situations and interventions are made in situ with governments. They report findings and make recom-mendations to the WCC for follow-up. Pastoral visits are often paid to churches in difficult situations. They often bring the experience of other churches and become manifest-ations of the wider ecumenical fellowship, offering concrete solidarity and new hope for people in need of solace, support and accompaniment. Ecumenical teams are sent to study and report on particular situations. Such reports are shared not only with churches but also with selected govern-ments and inter-governmental bodies. Confidential representations are made to some governments. In some cases governments are more responsive to such approaches than to public protests or appeals. The Council sometimes calls on one or more member churches or church-related mission or service agencies who may have special influence on a particular government. Representations to inter-governmental bodies. The Council often appeals to the UN, its agencies and other intergovernmental bodies for action in particular situations. It seeks cooperation with UN and other officials, and occasionally uses other diplomatic channels to intervene in specific cases. Information is shared also with a number of leading non-governmental organizations with whom joint actions are sometimes undertaken and representations made. Support for human rights action groups. Many groups and move-ments, often church-related, are engaged in the struggle for human rights, for the rights of workers and peasants, in the struggle against racism and for the protection of women caught in situations of violence. Some of these groups are linked directly or indirectly to the WCC. They and others receive various forms of solidarity support from the WCC. Support for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Other church-related groups and movements are engaged in the development of "early warning system" to prevent conflicts from escalating into open violence, to provide charnels of communication between parties in conflict, helping churches to mediate conflicts or to foster negotiations and peaceful settlement. Still others work for disarmament and for effective controls on the arms trade and on the deployment of conventional weapons, small arms and landmines. They and secular groups with whom the WCC has an affinity also receive cooperation, support and solidarity from the Council. In some cases such efforts are of an extremely delicate nature, requiring "quiet diplomacy", and cannot be widely reported.PUBLIC STATEMENTS
It is in this context of this wide variety of possible forms of action that public statements are made when they are deemed to be necessary and effective. It is true that public statements sometimes receive considerable public attention, and the Council is often pressed by parts of its constituency, by the church and secular media, and even by governments and inter-governmental bodies to comment on a wide range of international affairs concerns. But the WCC takes care to reserve the use of its "public voice" in considered ways, and not to issue public statements when other forms of action seem more effective or required by particular situations. As important as they are, to judge the WCC's role in international affairs on the basis of its public statements alone is therefore misleading.
The Amsterdam Assembly in 1948 provided a framework for the use of public declarations which remains valid:
With respect to public pronouncements, the Council regards it as an essential part of its responsibility to address its own constituent members as occasion may arise, on matters which might require united attention in the realm of thought or action. Further important issues may arise which radically affect the church and society. While it is certainly undesirable that the Council should issue such pronouncements often, on many subjects there will certainly be a clear obligation for the Council to speak out when vital issues concerning all churches and the whole world are at stake.Rules about public statements and their authority
According to the Rules,
In the performance of its functions, the Council through its Assembly or through its Central Committee may issue statements on any situation or concern with which the Council or its constituent churches may be confronted.Between meetings of the Central Committee, the Executive Committee, the Officers of the Central Committee, the Moderator or the General Secretary may also issue statements,
when in their judgment the situation requires, ... provided that such statements are not contrary to the established policy of the Council.Under some circumstances, a commission of the WCC may also issue statements when this is required before approval of the Assembly or Central Committee can be obtained,
provided the statement relates to matters within its own field of concern and action, has the approval of the Moderator of the Central Committee and the General Secretary, and the commission makes clear that neither the World Council of Churches nor any of its member churches is committed by the statement.Public statements on international affairs are normally recommended to policy bodies of the Council by the CCIA, in consultation with the General Secretary.
Through its public statements the WCC provides assessments of national and international events and political trends, recommends actions to member churches, communicates pastoral concern, expresses ecumenical solidarity, and makes representations and issues appeals to particular governments and inter-govern-mental bodies. The Constitution and Rules are cautious with respect to the authority of statements issued by the Council:
While such statements may have great significance and influence as the expression of the judgment or concern of so widely representative a Christian body, yet their authority will consist only in the weight which they carry by their own truth and wisdom.The Amsterdam Assembly made this even more explicit:
They will not be binding on any church unless that church has confirmed them, and made them its own. But the Council will only issue such statements in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, the Lord, and the living Head of the Church; and in dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit, and in penitence and faith.But this definition and popular perceptions often differ. For example, there is a wide-spread conception that the WCC is the counterpart of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus represents in a similar way and speaks for the rest of the Christian churches.
The Council has no constitutional authority over, and no right to speak on behalf of its own constituent churches, and less still on behalf of the large number of Christian churches who remain outside its membership. But these limitations on the authority and "power" of the WCC in international affairs may well be considered its greatest strength. The By-Laws of the CCIA call it to "serve the Council, its member churches, national and regional ecumenical organizations, and Christian World Communions as a source of information and guidance in their approach to international problems;" and to "provide a forum for common counsel, guidance and action; and for formulating the Christian mind on problems brought to the attention of the Council by the churches and ecumenical councils; and bringing it effectively to bear at national levels and internationally". This form of consultation with the member churches and the broader constituency of the Council as an international organization and as a frontier ecumenical movement holds out the promise of concerted ecumenical commitment and action, and thus what it says publicly can have considerable weight and influence. Thus statements which define WCC policy are generally made by the Assembly and the Central Committee where the member churches have the opportunity to consult about their content.
A careful procedure is followed for preparation and presentation of public statements. For statements by the Central Committee and its Executive Committee, and by the Assembly recommendations on topics to be addressed through statements are made by the CCIA in consultation with the General Secretary, concerned departments and regional task forces. Detailed background notes or draft statement are then provided to the Executive Committee.
Proposed actions by the Central Committee or the Assembly are submitted to a Public Issues Committee elected at each meeting to discuss these and other issues which may be proposed by members of the respective governing body, and to draft statements for discussion, amendment and adoption in plenary sessions devoted to Public Issues. Thus final actions taken have benefited from the careful selection of issues, preparation of background materials, and thorough consultation within the governing bodies before a statement is finally adopted. Statements required in response to critical situations occurring between meetings of the governing bodies are based on policies they have defined. Here too recommendations are made by the CCIA and consultations are held within the Council and normally with concerned churches and constituencies before such statements are made. These are generally made public through WCC press statements, and they are followed up through appropriate appeals to governments and others by the CCIA.
Over the years general guidelines have evolved regarding matters on which public statements should be issued. The 1976 Central Committee identified them as follows:
i) areas and issues in which the WCC has direct involvement and long-standing commitment,Other criteria have also evolved and are also frequently applied:
vi) issues on which it can reasonably be expected that the voice of the churches, and in particular of the WCC can be influential,This is not an exhaustive list, nor a set of hard and fast rules, and it would not be feasible or advisable to make them more specific. Sensitive to the special nature of a situation and taking into account other forms of action, the General Secretary, the Officers, the Central and Executive Committees or the Assembly must decide in each case whether a statement is appropriate or not. Such judgment should not be circumscribed by rigidly defined rules, for unpredictable circumstances will certainly arise, requiring new responses.
When to speak and when not to speak
Christians and churches should endeavour to discern the time to speak and the time to remain silent. Both can be eloquent. "Discerning the times" is an obligation of Christian obedience. Over the years, ecumenical experience has led to a salutary discipline of determining case by case, both the strategic center of a problem and the advisable form of response. That experience is one both of success and of error. It is the experience not just of the staff, officers and committees of the Council, but of the wider fellowship from which advise and counsel is regularly sought and received.
Therefore, apparent silence on the part of the WCC does not necessarily mean lack of action. There may be situations where no action by the WCC is deemed necessary or feasible and therefore silence maintained. There may also be cases in which public action could endanger lives, safety or the effective witness of churches or other partners. Silence often means either waiting for an appropriate time to take suitable action, or a non-public form of action which may usefully be made public only later. The WCC’s influence and effectiveness as a responsible, and at times prophetic voice on international affairs requires that it guard against the self-serving use of its public voice and that it seek a faithful witness in each circumstance.
WCC statements are addressed primarily to the churches. But the churches are not the only audience. State-ments are also addressed to governments, or to to the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies. Some statements have more than one audience. Frequently it is not only the political content, but the moral, ethical and theological considerations they contain which commend them to circles beyond those to whom they are specifically addressed. In some cases, statements ignored by their primary addressees may be considered attentively by others, including secular or other faith circles interested in the particular perspective offered by the churches and the WCC.
The form of public statements
Public statements take different forms.
Statements and declarations. Public statements adopted by governing bodies or issued by the officers often take a declarative form to convey the opinion or policy of the Council on a given situation or issue. Resolutions and recommendations. Other statements contain specific recommendations to the churches, governments, inter-governmental bodies, or others. These customarily take the form of resolutions, and sometimes that of "memorandum and recommendations" which include background information useful to interpret the subject of the action to the churches and the wider public. Minutes. Governing bodies sometimes adopt internal instructions to the staff and program bodies of the Council in the form of "minutes". These help establish Council policy, and are generally available to the general public. Press statements. Occasionally statements are made in the form of comments to the church and general press which express the Council’s view on a particular event or situation. Such statements do not normally have a particular addressee, and serve the purpose of providing information on the WCC’s policies and actions on international affairs or of responding to requests received from the press.
The style of statements
Public statements issued by the WCC should make clear the rationale and concern of the churches and the ecumenical movement. They should reflect both the pastoral and the prophetic dimensions of the Council’s ministry. They should be anchored in the biblical witness, and convey the witness and experience of the churches most affected. They should be as brief and pointed as possible, while at the same time conveying the sentiments expressed in discussions on them. They should keep the addressees in mind, and use a language which as far as possible can be understood and accepted by them.
The effect of public statements
The questions are often asked: What impact do WCC public statements have? Do they change anything? Why do we not hear what the WCC has said? Why does the press not pay more attention and communicate the Council’s positions more widely?
These are reasonable questions, but difficult to answer. The involvement of the WCC in international affairs, through the variety of forms indicated, seeks to maintain and promote the fellowship of the churches, to support their witness in the socio-political field and to bear witness as an international body of churches in the world of nations. The effect of this witness is often difficult to assess, either in particular cases where it seeks political change from particular powers, or in terms of its long-range influence on church or public attitudes. Numerous instances can be cited where an action of the WCC has directly assisted a church or churches in a given situation or directly influenced the decision of a government or an inter-governmental organization. But the WCC is cautious about making any such claims. Decisions in the realm of international affairs are typically the result of complicated processes. It is seldom possible to say how much or how little each individual actor has influenced the final result. Moreover governments rarely concede that their actions are the result of pressures or representations from outside. Yet the effect of public opinion on governmental and inter-governmental decisions should not be underestimated. There is also evidence that the public involvement of the WCC sometimes adds to the momentum of public opinion, and that it occasionally initiates mobilization of public opinion on key issues. It sometimes adds credibility to a campaign or action due to its special knowledge of a given situation, its moral force or a combination of these. In some national situations, both the religious and secular press regularly carry stories reflecting the content of WCC positions on international affairs. Yet WCC statements are seldom reported in other countries, and only rarely covered by the major world media, except when they give rise to controversy. The WCC does not will it so, and works hard to convey its message to the churches and to the public at large. As distinct from other religious voices, however, the Council cannot impose compliance with its view even from its most immediate constituencies. Thus it is not generally regarded as "a power to be reckoned with" in strictly political terms. It has only that influence, as indicated above, which the inherent truth and wisdom of its affirmations and actions convey. It is also true that the WCC, even in its address to immediately critical situations, seeks long-term change of conscience, attitudes, structures and practices deeply-rooted in history and in the "common wisdom" of societies and the international system. The impact of its thought and action is thus more often incremental than punctual.
Finally, the WCC is a fellowship of churches present in given situations primarily through its member churches, related councils, ecumenical movements and partner agencies. This is its strength, but it also implies that the Council is fundamentally dependent on them to convey and interpret the content of what it says and does in ways which can communicate effectively to churches and societies in widely varying contexts.THE WCC’S ROLE IN THE UN SYSTEM
The WCC Church and Society Conference in 1966 said,
The UN is the best structure now available through which to pursue the goals of international peace and justice. Like all institutions it is not sacrosanct and many changes are necessary in its Charter to meet the needs of the world today. Nevertheless we call upon the churches of the world to defend it against all attacks which would weaken or destroy it and to seek out and advocate ways in which it can be transformed into an instrument fully capable of ensuring the peace and guaranteeing justice on a world-wide scale.On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter, the Central Committee (Geneva 1995) reaffirmed the WCC’s dedication to the principles and purposes of the charter and the central role of the United Nations in the conduct of international relations, in safeguarding the international rule of law, and in the elaboration of norms and standards governing international behavior for the benefit of the whole of humankind and the global environment. The Central Committee went on, however, to express
its deep concern about trends in the UN which have diverted it from aspirations expressed in the Preamble to the Charter, and thus erode public confidence; (and to call) for a UN reform which would assure full participation in effective decision-making by all member states, redressing the present situation which tends to relegate small, less powerful, and economically deprived nations to subsidiary roles in the formation and implementation of international policy.The historical engagement of the WCC with the UN
As mentioned earlier, churches joined in the World Council of Churches (in process of formation) played an active role from the time of the Dunbarton Oaks Conference in shaping the Charter of the new United Nations and in building favorable public opinion for its wide acceptance. At the San Francisco founding Conference, church spokespersons successfully pressed for significant changes in the Charter to ensure that it would be an instrument not just of the powers, but of the "peoples of the United Nations". As a result of their efforts, a new Preamble was added to the Charter, and provisions on human rights and for consultation with non-governmental organizations were included. The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) was established immediately afterward, in 1946, by the WCC (in process of formation) and the International Missionary Council, in large part to ensure representation of the fellowship of churches in the new UN. It was among the first international NGOs to be granted consultative status by the Economic and Social Council.
The CCIA worked to strengthen the economic and social agenda of the UN in such fields as decolonization, economic development, protection of refugees and displaced persons, the elimination of racism, and the promotion of the status of women. It focused attention in particular on human rights, pressing for the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and participating actively in its drafting. Since then, the Council, through the CCIA, has been granted consultative status with the full range of specialized agencies: FAO, ILO, UNEP, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Through its Refugee Service, the Council worked closely already during the Second World War with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a cooperation which continues actively today. In later years a special relationship was established between the WCC’s Christian Medical Commission and the World Health Organization.
A thorough review of WCC programmatic involvements with the UN and its agencies, performed in 1995 showed a remarkable spectrum of engagement with the world body in additional fields like education, culture, migrants, ecology, and various aspects of social policy , particularly related to youth and women. WCC General Secretaries addressed plenary sessions of the Second Special Session of the UN General Assembly related to Disarmament, and more recently the 1995 World Social Summit in Copenhagen.
On a regular basis, the Council maintains working relations with the UN Secretariats in New York and Geneva, and periodically with headquarters in Nairobi, Paris, Rome and Vienna, and makes formal written and oral submissions and interventions to UN bodies and world conferences. It facilitates access of churches, national and regional councils, and church-related agencies and groups to the UN. In the field of human rights, the WCC has made particular contributions in recent years to the development of new international standards on torture, forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, the death penalty, religious freedom and intolerance, the rights of migrants and Indigenous Peoples, and impunity. It has made particular contributions to the work of UN Special Rapporteurs on a wide range of country studies and issues. It has also contributed to the development of a new generation of rights, those to peace and development. In the political field, the WCC has cooperated in such areas as the peacemaking, humanitarian response to complex emergencies and the delivery of aid to isolated populations, and the use and effectiveness of economic and other forms of sanctions. It has worked closely with the Commissions on the Status of Women, Sustainable Development and Social Development, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and bodies related to the development of the framework for the International Criminal Court. The letter from the Secretary-General of the UN on receiving the Vancouver Assembly’s statement of the WCC on peace and justice illustrates the appreciation of the UN for the Council’s role in international affairs.
I was personally struck by the citation in the Council's statement from the Prophet Isaiah that peace is the effect of righteousness. In a world of such disparate moves and competing ideologies the question might be posed 'who is to define righteousness? One of the great achievements of the human mind I think is to have answered this question in connection with the relationships between stases in the form of the United Nations Charter which has been accepted now by 157 countries There is no doubt that if all these nations complied with its purposes and principles the effect would be lasting peace. This was, I know the determined intent of those who gathered in Vancouver for your Sixth General Assembly.Kofi Annan, in a video address to the Eighth Assembly in Harare said,
In every time and in every place, the struggle for the recognition of the universal rights of the human person has been a struggle against all forms of tyranny and injustice. Against slavery, against colonialism, against apartheid. Today, this struggle is the same as yesterday, nothing less. For the role you have played in this combat to apply, to defend, and to promote human rights, I offer you, in the name of the United Nations Organization, my sincere admiration and gratitude.WCC policy on the UN
The 1995 review of WCC relations with the UN drew a series of important conclusions, among them:
The WCC has its own agenda. We must be attentive to UN and other international developments in setting that agenda, but then develop relationships with the UN system in a way which responds to our own priorities in a way which guards against being diverted from them or coopted by others.
In principle, the WCC relates to individual governments mainly through the member churches and related national councils of churches. However, regular contacts are maintained with a number of governments especially through their Permanent Missions to the United Nations in both Geneva and New York. These contacts are frequently on the initiative of government missions themselves, often at the suggestion of member churches in their countries. In other cases, they arise out of work in the context of the United Nations, where exchange of information and perspectives on issues occur with some governments. The Council also seeks contacts with governments of countries where church-state relations may face problems, or where the Council has information about human rights violations and seeks the cooperation of governments in seeking remedies.
Such relations are not always easy, particularly when the WCC has criticized the behavior of a governments or protested against its policies. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Council maintains no formal diplomatic relationships with governments, the exercise of diplomacy in this sphere can benefit the churches and help to resolve problems arising from misunderstandings of state officials with respect to the role of the churches in society. The Council’s long-standing involvement with church-state relations in a variety of contexts, its intensive work in the field of religious liberty, its close acquaintance with the UN, and its recognized leadership in fields related to justice and peace make it a logical counterpart of government representatives authentically concerned about such matters.
The churches’ engagement in international affairs has implications for unity. The CCIA Consultation, Hague, 1967, speaking of the privilege of ecumenical fellowship progressively realized by the churches in the WCC, stated:
The discovery of their unity transcending without destroying the ecclesiastical traditions and national royalties of Christians throughout the world gives churches a new perspective from which they may come to a more objective judgement of the conflicts of our times.The Nairobi Assembly (1975) stated:
The church's unity is lived in the tension of political struggle The Church is called to discern and attest God's purpose of justice in history and in the created world, but it is frequently tempted to remain silent in order to preserve 'unity: or to divide in a crusading spirit for or against some particular cause (Section II, What Unity Requires)
At the same time, however, as churches and Christians become engaged in human problems and issues they find themselves in a form of unity that transcends confessional backgrounds, ecclesiastical barriers and national boundaries. Unity which has been brought about as a result of engagement in social and political struggles represents a significant trend in the ecumenical movement in recent years. The church's involvement here is a sign of the recovery of its true self as a creative and redemptive part of the human community and is a step to discovery of God's design for the whole of humankind in nature and in history.