Inside issue number 4
December 2000
  • New Directions in religious education
  • Christmas message 2000
  • Women-to-women team visit to Sierra Leone
  • Racism: not just black or white
  • "Build civil society in Niger Delta"
  • For the peace of Jerusalem
  • General secretary in Armenia
  • People
  • One voice, common action
  • Resources: 2001 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; Master's Degree in Ecumenical Studies; Disabilities Network programme
  • Recent WCC publications
  • Land and identity in the Pacific
  • The Asia and Pacific regional groups
  • "Destroying the atmosphere is a sin"
  • WCC Central Committee meets in Germany
  • Progress in talks with Orthodox churches
  • Widening the space for dialogue
  • Guest editor

    Christmas Message 2000

    The same culture of violence that displaced the family of Jesus engulfs the world. In his Christmas message, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser has called on churches to build a culture of peace by learning how to resolve conflicts peacefully, sustaining difficult relationships, and encountering the stranger without anxiety.
    See full text of the message

    "The Flight into Egypt", painting by N.K. Misra, photo by J.S. Murthy (India)

  • New Directions in Religious Education

    Teaching people to be more sympathetic to believers of other faiths can be a strategy to eliminate violence.

    "Religious identities can create narrow, exclusive and rival communities, leading to both racial and religious prejudice, confrontation and sometimes violence," cautioned a letter by educators from Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Indigenous Filipino traditions. At a meeting organized by the WCC in Bangkok, 11-15 October, the educators emphasized the need to affirm positive common grounds in religions.

    "This is difficult for some to swallow," said Simon Oxley, team leader of WCC Education and Ecumenical Formation, "but faith communities need to take into account what others believe in." He noted the use of deliberate misinformation on religious issues that have caused violence in such places as Northern Ireland, Indonesia and the Middle East.

    "Religious education therefore needs to look at ways of fostering religious identity as interdependent and relational in the context of our relationship with God/Absolute," the educators said in their letter.

    Threatened by globalization and the erosion of religious traditions, participants also realized the need for more imaginative and contextual approaches in religious education. Cited was the case of Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country steeped in Buddhist teachings. "It has become very difficult, individually and socially, to practise the tenets of Buddhism - compassion, non-violence, and selflessness - because of a rising consumerist culture," said Dr Sulak Sivaraksa, a Buddhist teacher who spoke at the meeting.

    To be effective, religious education needs to be "experiential, liberating, life-enhancing, and engage the senses". It must also address individuals’ needs, "enabling them to relate to and address the issues and challenges of today’s society, while being sensitive to the needs of others".

    The Bangkok meeting was held to see what religious education might offer in the context of religious plurality. A consultation on "Education in Religion and the Community" is being planned for the summer of 2001 to explore how religious education can promote good relations in community.

    For details, e-mail Simon Oxley

    Women-to-Women Team Visit to Sierra Leone

    Maurie Amadu, mother of ten, is the head of the skills training group in the refugee camp, called "Splendid Camp" in Bo, southern Sierra Leone. The group of fifty women are learning how to do cloth dyeing.
    Braving an explosive civil war, a joint delegation of women travelled to Sierra Leone in November to speak with women refugees. "There is deep despair and hopelessness. But the women there insist, ‘We will not allow it to pull us down,’" said Aruna Gnanadason, head of the WCC women’s desk.

    The team, composed of representatives of the WCC, the World YWCA, the Lutheran World Federation, and the regional council of churches, saw that women had been organizing to meet the needs in different ways, an example being a centre for children who had been raped.

    Sierra Leone’s nine-year civil war has displaced a quarter of its 4.2 million population and has killed tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch has called it "unspeakably brutal", reporting numerous cases of civilians whose limbs were amputated, children kidnapped and women raped. Women have suffered from the loss of family members, destruction of their homes and frequent displacement.

    Since January, the number of peace-keeping troops with the United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has grown from 6000 to 13,000.

    The delegation met with Mr Oluyemi Adeniji, special envoy to the UNAMSIL, who affirmed the WCC’s contribution in setting international standards. He admitted that it was difficult to protect women and children.

    The WCC called on the UN in May to act swiftly and decisively in Sierra Leone, thus supporting the demand of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone that the UN "implement with vigour and strength its full mandate to protect peace" in that country.

    In recent years, ecumenical Women-to-Women teams have been sent to Liberia, South Africa, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Croatia, East Timor and Indonesia. These visits seek to affirm and make more visible the fact that women are often at the centre of peace-making efforts. Women-to-women visits are important. Without them, "analysis is clouded because most delegations - as they consist mostly of men - cannot speak to women heart-to-heart," Gnanadason pointed out.

    Racism: Not Just Black or White

    "There is a resurgence of racism with violence as its extreme form," warned Marilia Schüller, WCC executive secretary on racism. "More complex than just an issue between Whites and Blacks, racism affects communities of migrants, asylum-seekers, and Indigenous People, as well as the environment."

    Seeing racism and related intolerance as the root of many internal and international armed conflicts today, the WCC is calling on the United Nations to recognize and combat racism and other forms of intolerance. Among these forms is the caste system in South Asia that discriminates against 240 million people. Most vulnerable of these are women, the poor and Indigenous Peoples.

    Already the WCC has submitted comments on the draft declaration of the World Conference against Racism (WCR) to be held 31 August-7 September 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Eliminating these sources of injustice are "integral to the global Agenda for Peace and to the building of a universal culture of peace and non-violent approaches to conflict transformation", the WCC said in its comments.

    "Combating racism is a central part of church life and the WCC is prepared to engage and accompany the churches in it," Schüller pointed out.

    The conference is an occasion for churches to take stock of the situation, recognize racism in all its forms, and work to overcome it. Regional and inter-regional meetings are being organized in Africa, Asia, North and South America to help churches, Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, Dalits and other groups prepare for the conference. To understand the links and distinctions between such problems as racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and casteism, the WCC central committee has mandated an ecumenical study process on racism.

    For details visit the JPC Racism pages on this site

    "Build Civil Society in Niger Delta"

    Conflict resolution in the Niger Delta and interchurch dialogue were the main concerns raised by WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser during his October visit to Nigeria. "The moment has come to shift from past struggles towards building future perspectives of cooperation," Raiser said, noting new possibilities for development in the Niger Delta, site of the country’s vast oil fields.

    Raiser encouraged the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to strengthen civil society in the Niger Delta so they might get their share in development funds earmarked from oil revenues by the new civilian government. Oil accounts for 80 percent of the country’s revenues. In a separate meeting, Raiser challenged Shell, which produces half of Nigeria’s oil, to attend to social and environmental work. In 1996 the WCC published a report on the struggle of the Ogoni for development, respect for human rights and the restoration of the environment ravaged by oil production.
    The general secretary receives a gift at an ecumenical service during his visit to Nigeria

    In encounters with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christian groups, Raiser challenged church leaders to go beyond issue-oriented partnerships towards building a true fellowship of churches. Raiser also met with Nigerian President H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, other state governors, and leaders of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council in Abuja. At least 300 churches and church-related buildings have been destroyed and 600 Christians killed in a recent clashes between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria. The WCC delegation was in Nigeria 14-22 October.

    For the Peace of Jerusalem

    Appalled by the rising spiral of violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the WCC sent a delegation to the Fifth Special Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (October 2000) with a submission calling for an immediate inquiry into Israel’s repeated and open violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.

    "Without such a process there can be little hope for justice, peace or reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims within and beyond Israel’s legitimate borders," the WCC said in its submission. The WCC reiterated earlier UN positions that stress the accountability of states and individuals suspected of having committed mass violations of the right to life.

    The WCC delegation included the Very Rev. Dr Georges Tsetsis, a member of the WCC central and executive committees, Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, representing His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Rt Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Mr Marwan Bishara, author and journalist from Nazareth and research fellow, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

    Since the outbreak of violence on 27 September, over 250 persons, most of them Palestinians, have been killed in clashes. Vital supplies are reported lacking and unemployment is growing, as is psychological trauma among children and youth.

    Reacting to the clashes - triggered by a provocative act - the WCC executive committee meeting at that time adopted a "Resolution on Jerusalem Final Status Negotiations". The resolution encouraged the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to abandon exclusive claims to Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is a Holy City that God intended to be a haven of peace, the symbol of harmony among nations," WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser said in a separate letter to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

    Among other church leaders who expressed shock at the bloodshed were the secretaries of 15 Christian world communions who met late October in Kempton Park, South Africa. In their first joint letter, the secretaries wrote to the churches and communities in Jerusalem, saying they would ask all their member churches to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for the Palestinian Authority and for Israel each Sunday during Advent and Christmas 2000".

    General secretary in Armenia

    On the invitation of His Holiness Karekin II, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser visited Armenia in September to strengthen ties with the Armenian Apostolic Church. Noting significant progress in the rebuilding of the Armenian church, Raiser expressed hopes that with the new energetic and pastoral leadership, religious traditions could be rebuilt in the struggling country.

    The 2001 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will revolve around the theme "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). An ecumenical team in Romania prepared the first drafts of prayers for use during the Week. The experience of the Romanian churches shows that the path to unity in and with Christ is specific to local situations anywhere, providing opportunities for common worship, confession, witness and service, as well as to the distinct problems rooted in local history and culture. Churches are encouraged to adapt the liturgies to their local contexts and give feedback on their use. The week is usually observed 18-25 January.
    For details visit the Faith & Order pages on this site.

    A Master’s Degree in Ecumenical Studies is now offered at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey. Inaugurated in autumn 2000, the 11-month residential programme is being conducted in cooperation with the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Geneva.
    Details on the Bossey pages on this site.

    Disabilities Network Sets Out Programme The WCC Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network (EDAN) is forging ahead and promoting ministerial and lay education for the pastoral care of persons with disabilities. Plans were drafted at the EDAN reference committee meeting 7-10 August. Also in the blueprint are consultations on a theological statement on the role of the churches in this field. Activities are to build up to 2003, when a special plenary session of the WCC central committee will discuss the statement. The Lutheran World Federation and the regional ecumenical organizations are cooperating in the process.
    Contact details. Details on this site.


    For his service to refugees, His Holiness Abune Paulos, the Orthodox Patriarch of Ethiopia, has been awarded the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nansen Medal. A scholar, peace advocate and a former exile himself, H.H. Paulos assisted in reconciliation efforts between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

    Remembering his "passion for unity, the clarity of his vision, and the generosity of his personality", the WCC and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches honoured Pastor Alain Blancy who died of cancer in September. Blancy served in the Reformed Church in France and as assistant director of the Ecumenical Insitute at Bossey between 1971 to 1981.

    Indian theologian Dr Joshua Russell Chandran was remembered by the WCC executive committee for his determined and creative efforts to make third-world theologies visible, his contributions to the Church of South India and his work in the World Council of Churches. Chandran passed away 27 September at the age of 82.

    One Voice, Common Action

    Separate campaigns or common action? Challenged by various church organizations over the years, the WCC will host the founding conference of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. "Through this venture we can develop a common global platform and a stronger collective voice to address root causes, yet have the freedom to develop issues according to the local context and culture," says Geneviève Jacques, director of the WCC Cluster on Relations.

    Feedback on the creation of the Alliance has been "extremely encouraging", Jacques says. One letter from Aotearoa-New Zealand expressed hopes that the Alliance might be "a new sign that the essential and unquenchable ecumenical spirit is beginning to resurface in perhaps a new form".

    The 40 representatives expected at the December meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva mirror the broad constituency that is organizing the Alliance. Participants come from ecumenical regional organizations, church development agencies, Christian world communions, international ecumenical organizations and Roman Catholic organizations.

    Initial consultations have conceived the Alliance as an issue-oriented coordinating mechanism to help churches become effective advocates for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. It is designed to build on the energy of grassroots communities and local congregations for awareness-raising and action during key global events.

    Among the first questions to be resolved is: which of the over-150 proposed issues will the Alliance focus on over the next three years? To ensure impact, only two issues will be chosen. All the issues revolve around four broad themes: economic justice, poverty, globalization and trade; good governance, democracy and human rights; ethics of life; and, peace and reconciliation, militarization and arms control.

    For details please email Geneviève Jacques
    Related press release

    Recent WCC Publications
    Marlin VanElderen
    Communicating the Ecumenical Movement
    Timely and rooted in the biblical faith, these editorials from the prize-winning WCC magazine One World reflect on the complexity of Christian unity. WCC executive editor VanElderen, valued by many around the world as the "memory of the ecumenical movement", died suddenly in June.
    176 pp., Sfr. 16.50, US$10.90, £6.95.

    Emmanuel Clapsis
    Orthodox Ecumenical Engagements
    This creative set of essays by an Orthodox theologian and ecumenist address critical and controversial issues in conversation with other Christian traditions and theologies.
    SFr. 24.50, US$15.50, £9.95.

    WCC Dossier
    "Globalizing Alternatives to Globalization" features initiatives of churches, NGOs and social movements to cancel the debt of poor countries. It includes an exchange of letters between the WCC and the UN general secretaries on "A Better World for All", a report co-signed by World Bank, IMF and OECD senior officials. Access the dossier on this site.

    Peter Bouteneff and Dagmar Heller, eds
    Essays in Hermeneutics
    What role does culture play in shaping the way we interpret the Bible? Could there be guidelines for interpreting texts and symbols ecumenically so that our confessional and cultural differences are bridged? This collection of essays offers insights on these questions and lays the ground for further work in ecumenical hermeneutics.

    Approx SFr. 22.50, US$14.50, £9.50.

    Sophie Lizares-Bodegon

    This issue’s guest editor, Sophie Lizares-Bodegon, lives in the intersection of sociology, journalism and theology. She was publisher and editor of the independent agency Philippine News and Features, and is now a consultant in social research and communication. Lizares-Bodegon is also a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and of the Council of the United Evangelical Mission.

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    Guest editor for this issue:
    Sophie Lizares-Bodegon

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    Kristine Greenaway

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    Original: English

    Land and Identity in the Pacific
    Participants in a September workshop on land and identity in the Pacific emphasized the need to articulate the theology of land or be "like a coconut floating in the sea".

    A workshop statement says that as Indigenous People and as churches, they encourage the building of communities "where everyone enjoys equal rights and shares opportunities and responsibilities". They also indicated their support for the struggle for self-determination in West Papua. The workshop was convened by the WCC and the Pacific Conference of Churches.

    The Asia and Pacific regional groups
    of the WCC, meeting from 11-16 November in Shanghai and Nanjing, People’s Republic of China, challenged churches in their regions to take up "our prophetic role of speaking against disastrous policies" such as Structural Adjustment Programmes. They also encouraged churches to address issues of sustainable development and to engage in a dialogue of life and conflict resolution, starting with local congregations.

    The Asia Group stressed churches’ and ecumenical organizations’ need for capacity-building, ecumenical formation and to develop a new generation of leaders. The Pacific Group called on the church to revisit its role as servant church in Pacific communities. Tensions between international standards for human rights and cultural rights, particularly among Indigenous People in the Pacific, also need to be addressed, the Group said.

    Members of the regional groups include representatives of the Asia and Pacific regional ecumenical organizations, national councils of churches, non-governmental organizations, member churches and mission partners.

    "Destroying the atmosphere is a sin" - WCC
    A 12-member international ecumenical delegation represented the WCC at the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6) in the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in The Hague, 13-24 November, which has been suspended until May 2001. The delegation challenged the world’s richer polluting countries to actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions that raise world temperatures rather than "buy their way out of the problem through paying for projects in other countries". Dr David Hallman, coordinator of the WCC’s Climate Change Programme, said, "emissions trading is unethical and risks exacerbating inequities between rich and poor countries". The WCC proposed the adoption of a "global atmospheric commons model" at COP6 and discussed this at an ecumenical workshop co-sponsored by Dutch churches.
    For details, please email David Hallman or visit the WCC webpage.

    The Rev. J.C. Eikelboom, chairperson of the Hague Community of Churches, gives the final blessing at the ecumenical church service at the Kloosterkerk in The Hague during the climate change conference. Credit: Jacob Schippar

    WCC Central Committee Meets in Germany
    The WCC Central Committee meets in Potsdam, Germany, 29 January to 6 February 2001. Among scheduled highlights is the international launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Peace and Reconciliation (2001-2010). Other items on the agenda include plenary sessions on the global economy, the situation of Europe, WCC finances, and an interim report on the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC. For details, please email Karin Achtelstetter.

    Progress in Talks with Orthodox Churches
    The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC met in plenary session for the second time 23-25 October in Cairo, Egypt. At the meeting, the Special Commission noted remarkable convergences in the reports of four sub-committees which studied the WCC organization, work style and ethos, theology, and proposals for changes in the Council’s structural framework.

    The Commission was created at the WCC’s eighth assembly in Harare in 1998 in response to rising criticism from Orthodox church leaders that meaningful participation in the Council was becoming increasingly difficult for them. The interim report on the work of the Commission will be presented at the next Central Committee meeting. Details will be posted on this website late January 2001.

    Widening the space for dialogue
    Representatives from a variety of Christian traditions, most of them from evangelical and Pentecostal constituencies outside the WCC membership, met in September to discuss the development of a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations. The group agreed on the aims focusing on mission and common witness, on dealing with difference, and on the wholeness of the church.

    The meeting was held 9-11 September in Pasadena, USA. The World Evangelical Fellowship was officially represented, as were three regional and two national member bodies of the WEF. A continuation committee is scheduled to meet in December.
    For details, please email Hubert Van Beek.

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