World Council declares decade to overcome violence

Published October 1, 1999


Violence and how the churches should respond to it was a key topic at the late summer meeting of the World Council of Churches’ central committee meeting in Geneva.

The council has declared the years 2001 to 2010 the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence – Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace.

The central committee confirmed the idea suggested by a German Mennonite pastor, Fernando Enns, at last December’s eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Also at the central committee meeting, three Canadian Anglicans were named to WCC posts. Primate Michael Peers will sit on the special commission dealing with Orthodox church concerns; Ellie Johnson, director of Partnerships, will advise the commission on world mission and evangelism; and Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry, has been named a member of the plenary commission of faith and order and a member of the advisory group on ecumenical relations.

Alice Jean Finlay, an Anglican from Toronto, sat on the nominations committee that met in Geneva. She said she left the meeting with a sense of hope for the future of the WCC. She thinks the decade to overcome violence has possibilities.

“It sounds like such an unrealistic hope and yet there were some very practical suggestions made on how churches can get involved,” Ms. Finlay said.

Some churches around the world have developed interesting skills for approaching reconciliation and peace-making, she said. The WCC could compile this kind of information and send it to other churches.

During the meeting, WCC general secretary, Konrad Raiser, laid part of the blame for widespread violence and conflict on Christian churches.

He said churches need to find a new way of “looking at ourselves to learn how our churches and Christian traditions may have contributed to establishing a culture at least of implicit violence.”

The decade will not be merely another program at the WCC, he said. “Violence in the homes and on the streets, between ethnic and religious groups, within and between societies, is the most powerful force destroying human community life.”

The central committee approved a memorandum reaffirming the United Nations as the “unique instrument” for maintaining global peace. But it stopped well short of deciding whether or not “humanitarian intervention” can ever include the use of armed military force.

The conflict in Kosovo split member churches, with some protesting involvement by NATO and others supporting it as a way to stop Serbian persecution of ethnic Albanians.

Meanwhile, the special commission, which was set up to resolve complaints by Orthodox member churches, is scheduled to hold its first meeting in December.

The scheduling follows a series of delays and apparent unwillingness by some Orthodox churches to take part in the commission. It will bring together 30 Orthodox members and 30 representatives from other churches (including Archbishop Peers) to discuss a number of issues.

Orthodox churches have become highly critical of the WCC in recent years. They see it as influenced by Western liberal Protestant views on inclusive language, the ordination of women and sexuality.

The Georgian Orthodox Church withdrew from WCC membership two years ago, followed by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church last year. The Russian Orthodox Church has scaled down its participation in the central committee.

In other news from the meeting:

– The Anglican Church of Korea will become the 337th member church of the WCC if no existing member church objects during the mandatory six-month waiting period for new members. The church has 63,000 members in about 100 congregations.

– The WCC has no intention of cutting staff or programs, despite steep reductions in income, according to Dr. Raiser.

The central committee also adopted measures to deal with the failure of many of the member churches’ failure to pay the minimum membership fee, including the possibility of reconsidering the eligibility of these churches to receive subsidies from the WCC. In 1998, 167 of 336 churches failed to contribute the minimum. Dr. Raiser said that historically, Orthodox churches had “never considered it part of their responsibility to contribute to the financial life of the WCC, but have considered it part of the responsibility of the WCC to assist them.” With files from Kathy Blair


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