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Report of Policy Reference Committee II

Second report by the Policy Reference Committee at the WCC Central Committee meeting in Potsdam, 2001.

06 February 2001

Preliminaries

1. The Committee reminded itself of its task - to reflect on and refer to the Central Committee issues and trends that had emerged through the deliberative processes of the Central Committee's meeting and were considered of significance to the ecumenical agenda and to our continuing journey as churches, both individually and together.

2. On this occasion the Committee was charged with six specific tasks:

  1. to synthesize the response of Central Committee members to the challenge of our times, as expressed through the small groups, regional meetings and in other ways;
  2. to consider the draft message on the occasion of the launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence;
  3. to consider the emerging role and place of regional plenaries at Central Committee meetings and advise on how the regional plenary could be developed for the purpose of reading the ecumenical agenda through the eyes of the member churches in the region concerned;
  4. to advise on appropriate ecumenical responses to the thematic plenaries on economy and overcoming violence;
  5. to consider a draft minute on climate change referred by the Executive Committee;
  6. to respond to the request from the Central Committee for an expression of appreciation of the work of ACT.

3. The Committee was concerned on two matters relating to the process and timetable set for the Central Committee meeting

  1. the fact that the Padares, an important part of the process of discerning and identifying emerging issues and trends, were to take place after the two days of committee meetings;
  2. the arrangement of the DOV plenaries on Saturday, thus depriving the Committee of the chance to take account of views expressed there in making recommendations on the content of the DOV message: particularly in the light of the emphasis of the Moderator's report and the interest generated by it, the ‘flow' of the agenda, and the effectiveness of the Committee would have been enhanced by holding the DOV plenaries earlier in the week.

Decade to Overcome Violence4. The Central Committee received and heard on Saturday the message produced by the Committee following detailed consideration of a draft prepared by the moderator of the DOV reference group. A copy of the message is attached.

Moderator's and General Secretary's Reports

5. The Committee expressed appreciation for the reports of the Moderator and General Secretary and recognised the many helpful points they have raised. Discussion focused particularly on the issue of the use of violence as "last resort". Different views were expressed within the Committee on this matter and on the feasibility of reaching agreement on a definition of violence. The Committee recognised the connection between the call to unity (being church together) and work to overcome violence. The witness of the church and of individual Christians is to resist the culture of violence, and non-violence should be the normative Christian stance; in places where violence is happening the priority should be to work for reconciliation rather than theorising in the abstract: such experiences are invariably both instructive and transforming. The processes of peace-making and community-building are inevitably demanding and often costly, and, particularly in areas of intense pressure, for example where there is inter-religious violence or violence within the life of the churches themselves, a pro-active approach is called for.

6. In the continuing work on DOV within the WCC and within the churches at regional, national and local levels, therefore, the Committee sees the need to help churches to be faithful in their particular context. They recognised that in so doing it was necessary to live with a degree of ambiguity, to acknowledge that violence is structural and many-faceted and that there are some situations in which even Christians may feel they ‘have no more cheeks to turn', where those who are left with no option but to compromise should not be subjected to human judgement. The way forward is to be seen only through the way of the cross and the promise of new life in Jesus Christ. On the other hand the churches must never forget their vocation to share their distinctive message and to embody the Gospel, empowered and inspired to be agents of reconciliation. Even in predominantly secular societies the moral authority of the churches is still respected where they show integrity, but they have a responsibility also to be well-informed in the area of public policy, where issues of structural violence arise, and the most significant Christian contribution can often be to ask effective critical questions.

7. While it is important to emphasise that DOV is a process to be driven by the churches at regional, national and local levels, rather than a WCC programme, it is recommended that the WCC should seek to develop its role in the following ways:

  1. in serving as a ‘switchboard' - identifying and highlighting particular situations and experiences, and facilitating the sharing of models, case-studies and insights for mutual inspiration;
  2. in coordinating such activities as need to be organised on a global or trans-regional basis, for instance in pursuing opportunities for creative theological reflection (with a central focus on the person of Christ) and interdisciplinary contextual analysis;
  3. in an accompanying capacity, so as to increase the scope and potential of initiatives taken in particular churches or regions, with the emphasis on a genuinely people-centred process that engages with other groups and movements committed to peace-making in the area concerned.

8. The Committee has passed to Policy Reference Committee III a number of comments on the themes of Being Church and ‘ecumenical space' which were raised in discussion of the General Secretary's report and in the small group meetings.

Advocacy Alliance

9. The Committee was interested to hear more about the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance set up in December and co-ordinated within the WCC. Interest was expressed as to the style of working to be developed by the Alliance - will it be a semi-autonomous NGO or will it be inclusive of the churches? The Committee recommends that steps be taken to encourage a process of direct and regular engagement between the Alliance and the churches.

Economic Globalization: A Critical View and an Alternative Vision

10. The World Council of Churches was mandated by the Harare Assembly to take up the challenge of globalization as a central part of the ecumenical agenda. It was said that this work should build upon and strengthen existing initiatives by churches, ecumenical groups and social movements, support their cooperation, and encourage them to take action and form alliances with other partners in civil society working on issues pertinent to globalization. Globalization as an historic process unfolded in different waves. Some, including Indigenous Peoples regard economic globalization as a second wave of colonialism. Its most recent expression is driven by an exclusive focus on economic values. Economic globalization unabated radically disrupts communities, undermines spiritual values, and threatens the ecological base of life. It concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a few.

11. Two years after the Assembly, the process of economic globalization has intensified, but so have the voices in opposition. The WCC member churches and movements within civil society are now called to strengthen their efforts to address the growing injustices caused by economic globalization and its destructive effects on people and creation. Through the stories shared at the plenary, Central Committee members heard of the local impact of economic globalization and of creative alternatives developed in local communities. The speakers conveyed that faith-based responses empower people to resist the forces of economic globalization and that a coordinated response can be effective. The plenary on economy and the subsequent discussion among the Central Committee members meeting in Potsdam emphasised the need for immediate, coordinated, thoughtful and informed action.

12. The logic of economic globalization is in opposition to the vision of the ecumenical movement of the unity of humankind and God's creation, the entire household of life. Lost is the understanding of the primacy of the dignity of the human person as made in the image of God, finding meaning in community. The underlying anthropology of economic globalization views humans as individuals rather than as persons in community, human beings as essentially competitive rather than cooperative, and human beings as materialist at the exclusion of the spiritual. Economic globalization threatens the diversity of cultures. It has even affected churches, introducing a consumer-based religion and entrepreneurial style of ministry.

13. The urgency of this issue requires that the WCC drawing on the experience of member churches engage at global level in order to voice its prophetic witness. The Committee has become aware that work on globalization identified as a priority in Harare requires a more coordinated effort by teams in the cluster on issues and themes and in collaboration with teams in the cluster on relations.

14. The Committee recommends that:

  1. The member churches and the WCC develop a comprehensive ecumenical theological analysis of economic globalization and its impact on the churches, and provide a theological basis for the search for alternatives, coordinated by the Cluster on Issues and Themes. This work should include study, sharing of information, and training workshops. The Central Committee encourages continued cooperation with the ecumenical partners in this area, for example with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches work on economic justice.

     

  2. The WCC strengthen its capacity by involving representatives of churches affected by economic globalization, ecumenical organizations, social movements, research institutions and people with political and economic expertise in this area and maintain constant contacts. The WCC must contribute to the developing global response to the challenges of economic globalization that is rooted in local initiatives so that its representatives can engage effectively at the global level. This work includes among other things
    1. the development of guidelines for churches aiming at a consistent response from member churches and ecumenical organizations to institutions promoting economic globalization; and
    2. the sharing of information in order to raise awareness of the adverse affects of economic globalization.
  3. The WCC focus on searching for alternatives to economic globalization based on Christian values in the following three areas:
    • The transformation of the current global market economy to embrace equity and values that reflect the teachings and example of Christ.
    • Development of just trade;
    • Promotion of a just financial system, free of debt bondage, corrupt practices and excessive speculative profit making.
  4. The WCC highlight economically-instituted violence as part of the Decade to Overcome Violence. WCC and member churches are encouraged to conduct studies on economic violence and to carry out advocacy in this field.

Plenary on Europe

15. The Committee reflected on the Europe plenary, on the theme "Reconciliation, Truth and Justice", and recommends the following issues for further consideration by the WCC and among the churches:

  1. the challenges of secularization and consumerism, and the search for deeper spirituality, including the place of the churches in society and relations between church and state;
  2. issues of identity, including diversity, racism, national sovereignty, and the problems experienced by migrant and uprooted peoples;
  3. the rich/poor divide within Europe, and Europe's relations with the rest of the world;
  4. the place of repentance and forgiveness in securing reconciliation, including
    1. the clarification of the distinction between retributive and restorative justice;
    2. the need for churches to deal with their historical legacy (for instance concerning colonialism, past religious discrimination and intolerance, and the emergence of extremist totalitarian regimes from Christian cultures) in facing the challenges of present and future.

16. The Committee recommends that, in the development of these issues, account should be taken of the value of sharing experience, models and insights relating to reconciliation processes. Such dialogue can restore dignity and humanity to all involved, whether as the victimised or the perpetrators.

Regional Plenaries

17. The Committee affirms the value of regional plenaries, both in providing contextual information and in highlighting issues of much wider significance than merely to the region concerned. It recommends to the Central Committee that plans should be carried forward for a plenary on Asia at the next Central Committee meeting but that

  1. more attention should be given to the links between the issues highlighted and the interests of other regions;
  2. means should be explored and devised for following up the issues raised;
  3. within the process and arrangements for the regional plenary there should be more scope for dialogue and interaction, and in particular for the expression of views and insights from other regions;
  4. in addition to the presentation, a paper should be prepared to provide background and analysis (as was available for the Africa plenary at the 1999 Geneva meeting).

Climate Change

18. This matter was referred by the Executive Committee. The Committee, recognising the 12-year history of WCC work on climate change and the increasing involvement of member churches in the issue, and appreciating the climate change work as an important dimension of the WCC's broader focus on ecology and theology through the framework of "Ecumenical Earth", recommends that the WCC Central Committee:

  1. express its disappointment at the failure of the UN-sponsored inter-governmental negotiations in The Hague, November 13-25, 2000, to arrive at an agreement for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and encourage the continuation of the negotiations in May 2001 and as needed in order to arrive at an agreement that will be effective in addressing the problem of climate change;
  2. reaffirm the WCC position that industrialised countries bear the major moral responsibility for precipitating climate change and therefore must exercise leadership that results in real action to reduce the causes;
  3. affirm that in the reconvened negotiations, governments should "refocus climate change negotiations on to options that meet the criteria of environmental effectiveness, equity, responsibility and economic efficiency with the priority being emissions reduction strategies in the high per capita polluting countries" (from WCC Statement to the UN Climate Summit in The Hague, November 2000). The priority focus of negotiations recently has been away from actions to protect the environment and threatened peoples and more towards creating business opportunities in line with the broader process of economic globalization;
  4. ask member churches of the WCC, particularly in industrialised countries, to reinforce initiatives to encourage their national governments to adopt negotiating positions that would result in significant actual reductions in emissions within industrialised countries. The WCC Central Committee is appreciative of the efforts made by member churches prior to COP6 to be in dialogue with their own governments and hopes that such activities can be intensified;
  5. commends and encourages initiatives among member churches for better stewardship in the use of resources by congregations and individuals;
  6. encourage the WCC to continue its work on climate change including monitoring of inter-governmental negotiations, support of regional activities in developing nations, linkages with other work on economic globalization, and networking with Indigenous Peoples organisations active on climate change and bio-diversity.

Action by Churches Together19. ACT is an effective instrument of the churches in fulfilling the diaconal ministry to which churches and Christians are called by the Gospel. ACT is part of the life and is integral to the ecumenical structures and their agencies. ACT is an expression of the diaconal commitment of the churches and of the ecumenical movement.

20. The Central Committee commends the work of the ACT co-ordinating office, its head Thor-Arne Prois and his staff colleagues in Geneva and in the field. Not only have the emergency responses of ACT increased in scope, but the ecumenical relationships and partnerships are being strengthened. We note especially the regional consultations called by the ACT Coordinator during the past months and strongly endorse continuing processes of consultation. It is expected that such consulatation will help to overcome bureaucratic constraints in responding to requests for support. It gives us great satisfaction that the ACT alliance, created in 1995, has acted so responsibly and effectively in diaconal ministry.

21. The Committee recommends that, as the Action by Churches Together governance and management structure undergoes review and change with the agreement of the parent bodies, the Lutheran World Federation and the WCC (as mentioned in the Officers' report following the recent Executive Committee), the Central Committee affirm and endorse the work of ACT.

Racism: Note of Concern

22. The Committee discussed the following note of concern that was received from a joint meeting of the African and Asian members of the Central Committee.

  1. Following the Plenary on Europe the Central Committee members from Africa and Asia in their joint regional meeting, encouraged by the concern of the Mac Charles Jones Assembly of Africans and Africans in the Diaspora (MAC-AAD) about their experiences of racism, responded as follows.

     

  2. At the EU's launch of 1997 as the Year Against Racism, the then EU President, the Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, said that "Racism was the single most important issue confronting Europe." The WCC has been a major player in the fight against racism. The struggle against the evil of racism is based on its firm theological conviction of the dignity and equality of all in the sight of God. It is rooted in the affirmation that every human person is created in the image of God; that in assuming our humanity in Christ, God has sanctified human life. Racism therefore is an affront to the basic message of the Gospel. This conviction was at the heart of the WCC´s decision to initiate the Programme to Combat Racism and it is this conviction of dignity and humanity of all persons that is the basis of the life of the church as a communion.

     

  3. Europe's bureaucratic structures today have imposed controls on immigrants and asylum seekers. Under "fortress Europe" policies this issue is addressed as a national security concern. Entry into Europe is restricted to even genuine travellers and visitors. They are harassed, humiliated and treated as potential refugees. We welcome the WCC ongoing study on churches' initiatives to overcome racism, xenophobia and racial violence in Europe. It is heartening to note that the churches in Europe have actively supported the humanitarian laws that were so painstakingly developed by the Continent to protect and safeguard asylum seekers and refugees. We are encouraged by the strong demonstration of solidarity by people of Norway who protested against the recent killing of a black teenager, Benjamin Harmonsen.

     

  4. It is however, unfortunate that the governments in Europe are in the process of dismantling these very laws that are meant to provide sanctuary to those who are persecuted. Today's sad reality is that Africans, Africans in the Diaspora and Asians, even when travelling through European airports with bona fide documents, are discriminated against, questioned and maltreated. Obtaining visas for meetings and travel to Europe is becoming increasingly difficult for church workers from Asia and Africa. With attacks against foreigners on the increase in parts of Europe, provoked by extreme right wing elements, there is a growing fear of the safety and security of Asians and Africans and Africans in the Diaspora visiting Europe. Some members of the WCC Central Committee travelling for this meeting were subject to this kind of treatment.

     

  5. In September 2001 the WCC and its member Churches will participate in the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in South Africa. We are grateful for the WCC's ongoing involvement in this important issue. The DOV initiative challenges us all to resist inequality, unfairness, injustice and brutality. Today we are challenged to express our shame and anger and deep concern against racism. Let us respond to racism in clear and unequivocal terms. We call on the churches to increase their efforts in promoting racial justice in their respective contexts.

     

  6. We call on the WCC to strengthen its fight against racism and racial violence and consider a plenary presentation on this subject at its next Central Committee meeting.

23. The Committee recognizes that the problems of discrimination described in the note of concern are experienced by people from many other parts of the world and recommends that the Central Committee take account of these concerns in planning arrangements for the next Central Committee meeting with a view to enabling the members of the Committee helpfully to reflect on the experience of the UN World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in the context of the first years of the DOV.