The World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Central Committee, meeting in Kolympari, Greece, explored issues of gender equality and received a draft statement on Christian unity.
During a September 3 plenary session, the committee discussed emerging issues that hinder gender equality and the building of a safe community for women and men in churches and societies around the world.
The committee is meeting from August 28 to September 5 at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. The Central Committee is the council’s primary decision-making body, meeting approximately every 18 months.
Itayi Ndudzo, a Central Committee member from the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, pointed out several trends that instigate discrimination and violence against women.
“Our world today remains a place of inequity to many women. Women experience prejudice in accessing employment opportunities, equitable remuneration and just conditions of service in the workplace,” said Ndudzo.
“Gross human rights abuses are perpetrated against women in war and conflict zones,” he continued, “including torture and rape as a weapon of war.” Speaking in reference to global realities of gender injustice, he said that “even in relatively peaceful zones women are victims of human trafficking and are commodified in the prostitution and drugs smuggling businesses.”
He stressed that the “challenge for the ecumenical movement is to go beyond achieving balances in apex forums, and beyond globally, academically and theologically sound programs” and to create safe communities of women and men in mutual partnership.
The responses from the floor affirmed the presentations and called on the WCC to continue its work in order to include the perspectives of women in addressing issues that directly affect women.
Among the presenters were the Rev. Aaro Rytkonen from Finland, the Rev. Leonard Kinda from Burkina Faso and the Rev. Ofelia Ortega Suarez, WCC president for Latin America and the Caribbean, who mentioned several discussions the WCC initiated in relation to the lives of women in the church.
The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson from the United Church of Christ in the United States, the WCC president for North America, also reflected on the issues of gender justice concerning the churches.
She emphasized that while “we talk about gender justice issues for women of today’s world and the future world, it is important to say that these are not just questions of equality in the church or even not just questions of equality in the world.”
“These are life and death issues. They cannot be pigeon-holed into one area. And it is important to say that these cannot just be the work of women,” added Jackson.
These discussions are also a contribution to the theme of the WCC’s upcoming 10th Assembly “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” The assembly will take place in 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea.
Meanwhile, on August 30, the committee received a draft statement on Christian unity, intended for the 10th Assembly.
According to the statement, the church is a “foretaste of the new creation,” called to be a “sign to the whole world of the life God intends for all.” The church is hailed as an instrument for “spreading the good news of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and love.”
Dame Mary Tanner, WCC president from Europe and moderator of the drafting group on the unity statement, said, “We have come to understand something of a holistic vision of unity and the need to go on with a holistic agenda — an agenda where the different parts always challenge and illuminate one another and contribute to big biblical vision of unity.”
She noted that this is the “learning from the ecumenical journeys” which needs to be “said again in our generation.”
Alice Fabian, a member of the drafting group from the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, spoke about the vision of the statement. She explained that the group sought to produce an “engaging, beautiful and poetic piece of writing, which reflects the nature of our creative, creator God.”
She went on to say that the group wanted the document to “reaffirm the valuable theological work of the past, acknowledge the present realities, and offer hope and direction towards a more visible unity.”
The statement opens with a reflection on experience, highlighting the tension between hope and despair in the world, and a similar dynamic of celebration and sorrow in the churches. It urges affirmation of God’s gift of unity and a renewed response to the call to make this unity more visible in the church and all creation.
The WCC general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said the statement on unity makes a significant contribution to the theme of the 10th Assembly. “We are called to bring this into the life of humanity where we live, and even to the care for the unity of creation where we respect the balance of life and the most vulnerable dimensions and conditions of life,” he said.
Reflecting on ways in which the statement speaks to the life of the WCC, he asserted, “It becomes even more urgent that we continue our efforts to make the unity of the church visible, to be more united in our understanding of our faith and our calling, and that it come to expression in shared ministry and in sharing of the sacraments.”