Inside Issue N°11 - May 2003

Iraq: Energy for peace
Pentecost message 2003
Christians in Asia are not alone
IMF-WB-WCC dialogue continues
Summer seminars at Bossey
WCC and AACC address Ivory Coast crisis
People
Latin American churches propose globalizing the fullness of life
Mission and evangelism conference
Fellowship and finances guide decision to relocate some WCC offices
New African fellowship
China Christian Council


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Iraq: Energy for peace


Decades of war and international sanctions have crippled Iraq's infrastructure, leaving people like this family in a low-income housing project in Amara very vulnerable.
© David P. Young, PCUSA/ACT International

On 20 March 2003 as the US-led war on Iraq began, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser condemned the military action that ignored international law, world-wide public opinion, and non-violent efforts to resolve the conflict.

Yet the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary also noted that "The response from the churches against the war in Iraq has been an unprecedented manifestation of unanimity. The energy released bears witness to a spirituality that calls for peaceful coexistence of all nations and peoples… That energy must not be lost."

Such unanimity was demonstrated at a 5 February WCC meeting where European church leaders, along with representatives of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and the Middle East Council of Churches, issued a strong statement against the war. "For us it is a spiritual obligation, grounded in Godís love for all humanity, to speak out against war in Iraq," they said.

The WCC invited regional ecumenical organizations and heads of member churches to sign this statement. Within a few days, over 180 church leaders and almost 10,000 individuals had done so, the latter through an on-line signature campaign. The signed statement was delivered to the UN secretary-general and members of the UN Security Council in mid-March.

While condemning the Iraqi regime’s brutal human rights violations, the WCC Executive Committee meeting in February expressed deep concern that "the most powerful nations of this world again regard war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy". It warned that "war against Iraq would be immoral, unwise and in breach of the principles of the UN Charter", and urged efforts to find peaceful, long-term means to ensure Middle East stability. It also commended the courage of the US churches in confronting their own government and taking a leading role in the anti-war movement.

The military outcome of the war was never in any doubt. Nor was the humanitarian situation of a country after multiple wars and 12 years of economic sanctions. Church aid agencies, through Action by Churches Together (ACT), are facing severe challenges in their efforts to respond to the needs of Iraq’s civilian population.

Even as the bombs were falling, there were clear signs that the churches’ protests against war in Iraq were not in vain. Due in part to the religious language employed by the Bush administration, it was feared that the war would heighten tensions between Muslims and Christians. The strong voice of the WCC, the Roman Catholic Church, churches in the US and around the world was thus met with relief and gratitude by Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The WCC continues to analyze the long-term consequences of the continuing "war on terror". It continues to suggest actions for the churches. The energy for peace will not be lost.

Pentecost message 2003

Lighting candles at the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad
© Hege Opseth (NCA)/ACT International
Renewal and reconciliation are signs of the Holy Spirit’s coming, according to the 2003 Pentecost message from the eight presidents of the World Council of Churches. Based on the Pentecost account in Acts 2 and Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16: 7-11), the message finds in the Spirit "the power to love those different from ourselves".
Although the earliest church was a multi-cultural and multi-lingual community, the presidents write that on Pentecost, Christians came to understand that "we are called to speak with one voice, to care with one heart and to act in unity".

This year’s message to the churches notes that the Spirit’s guidance is more necessary today than ever: "At all times, and increasingly with the centuries, our species has attempted to manipulate the forces of the universe. Through such grasping at power, we threaten to produce chaos and catastrophe. Indeed, this state of affairs is reflected in a world in which one country and a handful of allies have deliberately dealt a grievous blow to the recognized instruments of international order, peace and justice by initiating their illegitimate invasion of Iraq." The Spirit comes to re-energize all creation, "sustaining the created cosmos as well as its inhabitants".

Christians in Asia are not alone

Assurance that they have the support of the world-wide ecumenical family was the message brought to Christian minorities in Asia by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser on a 26 February - 9 March 2003 visit to Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Pakistan. During his twelve-day tour — the first official visit to the four countries by a WCC general secretary — Raiser contacted not only churches and Christian institutions, but also leaders of the majority Buddhist and Muslim religions, representatives of civil society, and government officials in an effort to strengthen inter-faith links and enhance relations between local churches and their respective governments.

"I told Islamic leaders they should thank the churches and Christians in Europe and the US for their stand on military violence against a Muslim country," Pakistan’s foreign minister Mr Mehmood Kasuri told Raiser in reference to the conflict around Iraq. The topic of the impending war came up in Raiser’s encounters with Islamic leaders; in these discussions, Raiser noted that the conflict could not be considered a clash of civilizations, and was unconnected with religious convictions. He called for dialogue and cooperation between Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious communities, based on the assumption that the "core belief" of all religions is "the well-being of all human beings". He also advised the Christians to take a pro-active approach to dialogue, and not to get caught in a minority complex.

Restrictions to freedom of religion were evoked by the WCC general secretary during meetings with government officials. Raiser expressed "concerns about intentional or involuntary discrimination in certain parts of the country against Christian minorities and ethnic groups" to General Khin Nyunt, chief executive of the military-led government of Myanmar. Meeting with Pakistan’s president General Pervaiz Musharraf, he questioned that country’s blasphemy laws, and expressed concern that those responsible for killing Christians and attacking Christian facilities have not yet been brought to trial. And with officials of the communist ruling party of Laos, he referred to a newly-promulgated presidential decree on religious activities, saying that Christians "cannot practise faith without linking our love and concern to our neighbours, and we cannot forget our social involvement".


Participants at the first IMF-WB-WCC encounter in Geneva in February 2003: (from right) Rob van Drimmelen of APRODEV, an association of the 17 major European development and humanitarian aid organizations working closely with the WCC, Bob Goudzwaard, moderator of the encounter, and Graham Hacche, deputy director of the IMF.
© Peter Williams/WCC

IMF-WB-WCC dialogue continues

During the last week of October, the second in a series of encounters that would have seemed impossible a decade ago will take place.

Some thirty representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), will meet in Washington DC, USA, to continue discussions begun in Geneva (Switzerland) last February.

On the agenda for the Washington encounter are: the participation of civil society in development, the respective roles of the state and public and private sectors in development and poverty reduction efforts, the challenges of globalization, and how international institutions like the IMF, WB and the WCC are governed and accountable to their constituencies.

WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser points out that these encounters bring together partners "who have so far had very little opportunity to talk face to face". In that context, the WCC seeks primarily "to articulate the voices of those who have little opportunity of influencing the decisions but must bear their consequences".

To prepare for the Washington encounter, the WCC will bring churches and related agencies together 10-11 August to discuss a common framework for understanding IMF and WB policies. The encounters may lead to a summit meeting between leaders of the three organizations.

Summer seminars at Bossey

Summer starts in April at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, just outside Geneva. Bossey’s summer season of short courses on challenging ecumenical themes began on 4-11 April with a seminar on "Human Sexuality" which addressed the gap between the churches’ official moral positions, and challenges to those positions encountered in pastoral work.

A 4-10 June seminar on "Women in mission" will look at women’s ways of doing mission and the impact of mission on women.

A 28 June-4 July seminar on "Interpreting the Bible in pluralistic contexts" will ask whether Christians can read sacred texts in dialogue with others, whe-ther the Bible can be read alongside the Koran, the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita, etc., and whether these texts can "speak to each other".

A 7-13 July seminar on "The nature and goal of the ecumenical movement" will attempt to respond to a growing demand from churches, individuals and groups of theologians and lay people to reflect afresh on this topic.

Winding up Bossey’s summer offerings, a 21-28 July seminar on "Orthodox theology and spirituality" taking place in Greece from 21-28 July will combine lectures, group discussions and participation in the liturgical life of the Greek Orthodox Church with visits and encounters with local communities.

WCC and AACC address Ivory Coast crisis

Demonstrating their solidarity with the country’s churches, an ecumenical delegation organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) visited Ivory Coast on 10-12 March 2003.

The delegation met with churches and faith communities to explore their possible roles in helping to solve the country’s political and ethnic conflicts. It asked the WCC and the AACC to draw on their experience in dialogue and inter-religious cooperation to assist national churches and faith communities in Ivory Coast. It recommended that the two organizations help determine the truth regarding human rights violations, help channel humanitarian relief to displaced people, refugees and families of conflict victims, and conduct an inquiry on the economic factors involved in the current crisis.

PEOPLE

  • Friends and colleagues of internationally known English broadcaster and writer Pauline Web gathered at her church in Harlesden, North London — where she is one of the few white members of the congregation — to celebrate her 50 years as a Methodist lay preacher. Guests included figures from Webb’s varied career — in the BBC, where she was head of religious broad-casting for the World Service (1979-87), the World Council of Churches, where she was vice-moderator of the Central Committee and its first woman officer (1968-75), and the Methodist Church of Great Britain, where she was a staff member for 27 years. Webb has preached all over the world, and says that sexism along with other ways of denying "the universal love of God" has been her most constant theme. She is a committed ecumenist, and an editor of the new edition of the WCC’s Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement.

  • Jean Stromberg, executive director of the WCC’s US office, retired on 31 March 2003 after 36 years as a member of WCC staff. A member of the American Baptist Churches USA, Stromberg also served as assistant to the general secretary, and coordinator of the WCC assembly in Harare in 1998.

  • German theologian and poet Dorothee Sölle died on 27 April at the age of 73. In her plenary speech to the World Council of Churches sixth assembly in Vancouver in 1983, she charged the "first world" with living a "life without a soul that calculates everything in terms of what it is worth", and urged it to turn to the prophets of the Old Testament for their vision of a just world order. That message was central to Sölle’s theological contribution. Her challenge — to the idolatry of material possessions, of "security" as a state ideology, and of armaments as a political priority — was heard particularly by young people and women. Others found it difficult to accept. Undeterred, Sölle retained a lifelong passion for, and commitment to, justice.

  • Sir Alan Walker, first world director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council, died in Sydney, Australia on 29 January, 2003 at the age of 91. The World Methodist Evangelism Institute was founded under his leadership in 1982. In 1986, he received the World Methodist Peace Award. Following his retirement, he returned to his native Sydney as principal of the Pacific School of Evangelism; this institution has since been renamed the Alan Walker College of Evangelism in Sydney.
  • Latin American churches propose globalizing the fullness of life

    Representatives of Latin American and Caribbean churches called for the creation of a united front to abolish foreign debt, describing it as "immoral, impossible and never-ending".


    Participants in the "Youth and Globalization" seminar visited one of Buenos Aires’ poorest neighbourhoods, where 50,000 people live in poverty and adversity. They saw some of the social effects of globalization first hand, but also some examples of resistance.
    © Credit: Adrián Stehlik/WCC

    The call was made in a message to Protestant churches in the region from a continent-wide consultation on "Globalizing the Fullness of Life" that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 28 April-1 May 2003.

    The message also rejected the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and called for "broad and deep integration, based on human rights and care for creation".

    Convened by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and jointly hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other ecumenical organizations, the consultation discussed the impact of globalization and economic integration in the region.

    The "sinful and hypocritical nature of the system that governs us" was condemned, though some representatives did note the positive effects of globalization in, for example, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. "There are no easy answers to such a complex issue," the meeting was warned.

    More than a hundred participants, including representatives from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North America, also discussed forms of pastoral care the churches could develop to counter the exclusion and poverty generated by the policies of the international financial institutions.

    Debate focused on the document "Looking for solutions...moving forward. The Protestant churches say enough is enough!" — a synthesis of regional reflections on the issues. CLAI will publish the final version later this year, and use it in advocacy and lobbying work with the international financial institutions.

    The Buenos Aires consultation was preceded by a continent-wide "Youth and Globalization" event that brought young people together in the same city, 24-27 April.

    Mission and evangelism conference

    Athens, Greece, is to be the site of the next world conference on mission and evangelism. The conference, to be held 12-19 May, 2005 has the theme "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile. Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities". Approximately 500 participants are expected. The last such conference took place in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil in 1996.

    At an April 2003 meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), the conference venue and dates were adopted, along with the stated aim "to empower participants to continue in their call to be in mission together and to work towards reconciliation and healing in Christ, in God’s world today". Visibility is to be given to various concerns, including: the CWME study process on women and missiology; the role of the Holy Spirit in mission, healing and reconciliation; links with the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence; and biblical studies on reconciliation and healing.

    Fellowship and finances guide decision to relocate some WCC offices

    Seeking new ways to strengthen relationships, and needing to make financial adjustments, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee in February confirmed that the Council’s Pacific and Middle East desks, and its Indigenous Peoples Programme, will relocate by July 2003.

    WCC director of Programme Geneviève Jacques notes that the decisions on these relocations were driven by specific relational and diaconal needs. Concern for the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East, especially in the present political context, led to hopes that a WCC office in situ could streng-then cooperation between WCC, Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and Action by Churches Together (ACT) initiatives.

    In the Pacific, the hope is that a stronger WCC presence will reduce the problems of geographical distance and allow closer attention to the needs of churches and ecumenical organizations in the region. Responding to concern that relocation might cause Pacific issues to disappear from the global ecumenical agenda, a staff delegation visited the Pacific at the end of March to explain the relocation, listen to the churches, and ensure careful follow-up.

    The Indigenous Peoples Programme will move to Bolivia in June, and connect more closely with the work of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI). Since 1994, the WCC has provided facilities for Indigenous Peoples to meet in Geneva and to access United Nations bodies and conferences related to their struggle. As WCC staff responsible for this programme, Eugenio Poma Añaguaya noted that the challenge for the WCC will be to maintain its global commitment to Indigenous Peoples, and to ensure that their unique theological and spiritual contributions continue to be shared with the ecumenical family. "Gradually, we have built strong relationships and trust with many groups. We need to keep them," he says.

    New African fellowship

    The formation of sub-regional ecumenical fellow-ships of churches and councils of churches is "a realistic response to Africa’s diversities and communication infrastructure difficulties". Preparing to join three existing sub-regional bodies associated with the World Council of Churches, the new Fellowship of Christian Councils, Churches and Church-related Associations in Central Africa (COFCEAC) will cover Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tomé & Principé, and Chad.

    The new fellowship hopes to promote shared witness and service, sub-regional solidarity, justice, peace and reconciliation, and to favour exchange of information and sharing of resources.

    Meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon on 7 February 2003, Central African church leaders elected Fr Bernard Diafouka from Congo Brazzaville, Rev. Dr Mfochive from Cameroon, and Rev. Jean Emile Ngue, also from Cameroon, as COFCEAC’s coordinator, moderator, and treasurer, respectively. The new fellowship’s initials — COFCEAC — are an acronym of its French name. The other African sub-regional fellowships are: FOCCISA for Southern Africa, FECCLAHA for the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa, and FECCIWA for West Africa.


    From left: Rev. Kersten Storch (WCC), Ms Chen Meilin, (CCC), Mr Huibert Van Beek (WCC), Rev. Cao Shengjie (CCC and China YWCA), Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser (WCC), Rev. Ji Jianhong (TSPM and Nanjing Union Theological Seminary), Rev. Mei Kangjun TSPM, Tian Feng), Dr Ms. Theresa Carino (Amity Foundation), Rev. Wang Aimin (Jinling Union Theological Seminary), Dr Mathews George (WCC).
    © Peter Williams/WCC

    China Christian Council
    A seven-member delegation from the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of Protestant Churches in China visited the World Council of Churches on 28 April 2003. Led by CCC president Rev. (Ms) Cao Shenjie and TSPM chairperson Rev. Ji Jianhong, the delegation took part in a seminar on the current situation of the churches in China, their witness and service, and the status of women in the church.

     

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    For your 2006 calendar: the next World Council of Churches (WCC) assembly, to be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is scheduled for 14-23 February 2006, subject to further work on the programme and consultation with university authorities and local churches. The dates, theme, number of delegates, and policy on subsidies will be decided by the WCC Central Committee in August 2003.

    • The election of the next WCC general secretary will be one of the highlights of the next, 26 August-2 September 2003, Central Committee meeting in Geneva. The agenda includes plenary sessions on "Caring for Life"; the theme will be interpreted by young people, through a regional focus on Latin America, by highlighting an interim theological statement prepared by the WCC Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network, and by addressing challenges raised by genetic engineering.

    A 31 March-3 April 2003 WCC staff visit to Cyprus highlighted the need for reconciliation efforts between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities as part of — not a result of — political negotiations to reunify the island. "A peace plan has to engage the people of Cyprus at the grassroots, not just the tree-tops," says Salpy Eskidjian, WCC executive secretary in the International Affairs team. Eskidjian and Peter Weiderud, director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, visited with representatives of the Church of Cyprus (Greek Orthodox), political leaders, United Nations and European Union representatives, and members of joint Greek-Turkish civil society groups. Recommendations on how the WCC and the churches can accompany ongoing peace efforts will be brought to the Central Committee in August 2003.

    • Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia, will be the keynote speaker on North-South relations in an age of globalization at the 12th

    Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). The assembly is to be held in Trondheim, Norway, from 25 June through 2 July, 2003. Other announced speakers and preachers include Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Isabelle Graesslé, moderator of the Company of Pastors of the Geneva Protestant Church in Switzerland, and Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. The theme of the assembly is "Jesus Christ Heals and Reconciles: Our Witness in Europe".

    • International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Centre in the USA have won the prestigious Athenagoras Human Rights Award, presented annually by the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. The Orthodox Christian Mission Centre is the principal group through which US Orthodox Christians support church mission work. The IOCC was founded in 1962 and has distributed more that 160 million US dollars in relief assistance for 22 countries.

     

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