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Theological Consultation on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme

28 September 2005

Introductory presentation by Peter Weiderud, Director, CCIA, 28 September, 2005



Dear Bishop, dear sisters and brothers, dear friends and colleagues.

Welcome to Geneva and to this WCC consultation!

I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you this evening and to participate
in the dialogue on how to deepen and further our theological reflection on accom-
paniment. I sincerely regret that my duties will not allow me to be with you for
the whole period but I am very much looking forward to reading all your testimonies
and hearing the deliberations of this consultation and to see how they will
shape the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

We are in an intensive period at the WCC as we prepare for the WCC's next
Assembly in February 2006, where our members will celebrate the mid-term of
the Decade to Overcome Violence, take stock of its learnings so far, prepare for
the next five years of the decade, and of course review the WCC's agenda for the
next eight years. In this context the EAPPI has a lot to offer to the churches in
terms of challenge and responsibility.

The CCIA developed the EAPPI with some very committed ecumenical partners
and member churches based on its longstanding experience in human rights work
as well as on the theological basis developed by the churches for the WCC's work
on human rights since 1948.

The EAPPI was developed in a unique and dynamic way as a response of the WCC
and its members and ecumenical partners who came together committed to show
solidarity with the victims of human rights violations, the occupied and all those
who oppose unjust structures and work for the end of the occupation of Palestine.

The EAPPI was developed out of an intensive consultation process with partners
and members from 2001 to 2002, but it used also a plethora of the CCIA's rich
history of work against human rights violations as well as its deep theological
basis for Christian responsibility in this work since 1937.

With all partners the WCC accepted to take the risk to launch the programme
already in August 2002, even though the programme was not fully established
nor even properly funded, in order to respond in a timely manner to a human
rights crisis in the OPT. The understanding was that the WCC, with a group of
national coordinators from participating countries and the local churches, would
continue the reflection process while deeply involved in action.

The clarity of language used, the methodology and the reflection process as well
as the funds and partners that evolved from 2001 to early 2002 demonstrate that
when the churches come together, when the WCC responds at the right time and
facilitates a process, we can be prophetic and dynamic. However, as we said then,
when we took the risk to respond to the call of our member churches, the CCIA
needs to continue to review, clarify and perfect among others the EAPPI's management
structures, programmatic agenda and its basis and understandings.

Almost three years later, while we are still in the midst of "doing", I am happy
that we are able to take quiet time for joint reflection to guide our common action,
deepen our existing theological reflection and further our understandings.

In this regard I welcome the valuable cooperation of our colleagues in the WCC
Faith and Order and thank the EAPPI staff for taking this initiative and each and
every one of you for making this time to be here with us for this consultation.

In the CCIA we believe it is extremely important that we provide theological and
biblical resources to aid the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) and their sending
churches and organizations in their efforts to end the occupation. I would also
challenge us to see how we can address the biblical and theological rationale offered
by Christian Zionists as we look for better ways to equip the EAs and our sending
churches.

The theological basis for any political response by the WCC to any crisis is outlined
in the by-laws of the Council and its Commission of the Churches on
International Affairs (CCIA). I quote:

The World Council of Churches is a community of churches on the way to visible
unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in
common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for
his followers, "so that the world may believe" (John 17:21).

WCC member churches engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking
down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the
integrity of creation, so that all may experience the fullness of life.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, CCIA, is to witness to
the Lordship of Jesus Christ over human beings and history by serving people in
the field of international relations and promoting reconciliation and oneness of
human beings by creation; to God's gracious and redemptive action in history;
and to the assurance of the coming kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.

The Commission will call the attention of churches and councils to problems
which are especially claimant upon the Christian conscience at any particular time
and suggest ways in which Christians may act effectively upon those problems in
their respective countries and internationally and respond to issues raised by
churches and national and regional ecumenical organizations.

In the 1970s and '80s human rights occupied a high priority on the ecumenical
agenda. The deep concerns that were brought into the EAPPI grew out of the
experience and advocacy of the churches in many parts of the world in their struggle
against the effects and root causes of human rights violations.

Redressing the pain and the suffering of the victims and providing pastoral care
and concern has been an important part of the ecumenical agenda on human rights.

WCC member churches have worked thoroughly to draw the attention of the
world to large-scale violations that had become part of a system of governance,
particularly in countries of the developing world.

At one of the key CCIA consultations on human rights that took place in 1974,
in St Pölten, a group of 50 people from 34 countries reached a clear consensus on
what is the basis for Christian involvement in human rights. The consultation
noted the emphasis of the Gospel on the value of all human beings in the sight
of God, on the atoning and redeeming work of Christ that has given to the human
person true dignity, on love as motive for action, and on love for one's neighbour
as the practical expression of an active faith in Christ. With this biblical undergirding
of faith the participants were able to clarify what constitutes human rights
for the Christian churches as well as Christian responsibility.

The 5th WCC General Assembly in Nairobi, a year after St Pölten, was called to
draw up WCC's human rights agenda. In laying down the basis for its work, the
Assembly observed that, "the struggle of Christians for human rights is a fundamental
response to Jesus Christ. The gospel leads us to become ever more active
in identifying and rectifying violations of human rights in our own societies, and
to enter into new forms of ecumenical solidarity with Christians elsewhere who
are similarly engaged. It leads us into the struggle of the poor and the oppressed
both within and outside the church as they seek to achieve their full human rights
and frees us to work together with people of other faiths and ideologies who share
with us common concerns for human dignity."

Our predecessor colleagues in the CCIA were guided by these theological principles
when they were confronted with intensified violence in Palestine and Israel.
They knew that they had to act when our member churches in Jerusalem were
calling for WCC to stand by their side and when member churches and ecumenical
partners from Europe and North America were reaching out their hand to the
WCC to develop a response.

We are created in the image and likeness of God and deserve protection and care.

Human rights remains a continuing concern of Christian churches and rightly so
because the concept of human freedom and dignity lies at the core of our Christian
faith as is the case in other religious persuasions. Politics is an inescapable reality
and involvement in it is a Christian responsibility. The biblical promise of a
new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21, 1), where love will prevail, invites us as
Christians to engage in the world.

The contrast of that vision with the reality makes that invitation compulsory and
urgent.

The urgency for the international ecumenical family to be involved in the Arab-
Israeli conflict did not come as a result of the Second Palestinian Intifada alone.
Since the 1996 first visit of the then-General Secretary of the WCC, the CCIA
had launched an intensive study and reflection process on those issues that were
left for the final status negotiations within the Declaration of Principles (DOP).

The primary focus was to be on the Status of Jerusalem. WCC member churches
were guided to develop and adopt their policies on all those elements which
would develop a common mind and guide their actions. The WCC had managed
to adopt and develop a programme on the Status of Jerusalem and start its implementation
when the second Uprising broke out.

The WCC Central Committee in 2001 in Potsdam in its comment on the outbreak
of the Second Palestinian Uprising, stated very boldly and unanimously:

The Church believes that it is the right as much as the duty of an occupied people to
struggle against injustice in order to gain freedom, although it also believes that nonviolent
means of struggle remain stronger and far more efficient. In this sense, both parties
must show the necessary fortitude, both in their hearts and in their minds, to look
at the core of the conflict so that the Palestinian people can gain at long last its full
freedom within its own sustainable state. It is imperative now to implement principles
of international legitimacy by enforcing the binding UN resolutions. Such fortitude is
a wise sign of foresight and an indispensable pre-requisite for long-lasting peace.

In addition they called the churches worldwide to accompany the churches of
Jerusalem and their communities with prayers, statements, advocacy and actual
presence.

The then-WCC General Secretary, following the call of the 2001 Central Committee
and responding to the request of the 13 Eastern and Oriental, Catholic and
Protestant Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, calling on the churches to come and
accompany them, sent a delegation in June 2001, headed by the CCIA to consult
the Heads of Churches and propose the WCC's response.

The report of the delegation which was confidential in nature, was discussed by
WCC member churches and partners at a high level consultation CCIA organized
in August 2001, where all Heads of Churches of Jerusalem were invited, and
was moderated by the WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser and HH
Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Moderator of the WCC
Central and Executive Committees. Apart from WCC member churches, the
Vatican sent its Apostolic Delegate to the UN. The UN was represented by its
office on Human Rights and there were two members of the Independent Inquiry
Commission. The consultation received the report of the General Secretary's delegation
and reflected on the theological basis, human needs and political implications
of the situation in Palestine and Israel. Among others, it recommended
the establishment of a working group on accompaniment in order to study and
develop such a response.

The WCC governing body that received these recommendations and reports in
September 2001, not only welcomed and endorsed them, they even advised the
CCIA to "develop an accompaniment programme that would include an international
ecumenical presence based on the experience of the Christian Peacemaker's
Team."

It called WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to focus the year 2002
of the DOV on ending the occupation of Palestine and to participate actively in
coordinated ecumenical efforts in this connection; to "consider the organization
of an International Conference on the Illegal Occupation of Palestine as part of
the ecumenical efforts to end the Occupation of Palestine"; to "call for an international
boycott of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT."

It called on member churches to: "join in non-violent acts of resistance to the
destruction of Palestinian properties and to forced evictions of people from their
homes and lands" and to "join in international prayer vigils to strengthen the
chain of solidarity with the Palestinian people".

The CCIA launched the year 2002 with prayers from the 13 heads of churches of
Jerusalem. A political campaign to end the occupation was based on prayers from
the churches of the Holy Land itself. An educational video highlighting the voice
of the churches in Jerusalem, and leaflets and posters were made to raise awareness
among churches and provide them with material to focus their attention on
the occupation and work towards its end. In the meantime, the CCIA worked
tirelessly with the support of a small group of ecumenical partners with experts,
theologians, human rights activists and local groups to develop the EAPPI.

The main call to churches in political crisis is to seek a united witness. Our response
to conflicts can be credible, powerful and prophetic when the church is united
and able to work with integrity.

We all know the result of the churches struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Before and during the war on Iraq the ecumenical family was able to stay together
in a clear and prophetic critic against the pre-emptive strike, naming it immoral,
illegal and ill-advised. We were not able to stop the war. But by staying together,
the churches were able to clearly communicate to the Muslim world that this
was not a Christian war against Islam, but an action taken by some governments.

We also contributed to the discussion that is particularly in focus at the UN right
now, about the legality of this action.

It is much more difficult when the churches are not united or even part of the
problem.

In Rwanda before the Genocide in 1994 the WCC was unable to respond adequately
and in time. In Zimbabwe, at this moment, our focus is engagement with
the churches, assisting them in the search for unity. In totalitarian states, it is
much more costly and difficult for churches to act with integrity.

This gives again another role to the WCC and the ecumenical movement. A very
important instrument for searching, developing and consolidating a common
mind and united response by the churches, are public statements by the governing
bodies of the WCC. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been addressed by WCC
Assemblies, Central Committees, Executive Committees - more than any other
political conflict.

The first statement, primarily concerned with Palestinian refugees in the 1948
war, was made at the very first General Assembly in Amsterdam in 1948. The
number of statements increased after the 1967 war, again after the outbreak of
the first Intifada at the end of 1980s and significantly after the breakdown of the
so called Oslo-process ten years later.

All those statements are based on theological and political insights and are developed
after an intensive consultation process. They have all had relevance and were
used as a basis when developing the EAPPI. At its last meeting in Harare in 1998,
the WCC Assembly adopted two statements which have been extremely relevant
to what later became the EAPPI - the statement on the Status of Jerusalem and
the Statement on Human Rights.

This high level of involvement with the conflict has continued also after Harare.
Altogether, there are more public statements by the governing bodies of the WCC
in the last 15 years, compared to the first 40.

The whole process of developing public statements in itself brings churches together
and tries to build a common mind on issues of international relations based on
our Christian teachings and our theological understandings.

While consistent, as mentioned earlier, on the WCC policy and position guidelines,
the EAPPI is different from how we have done international affairs and
peace work in the Middle East.

The EAPPI adds another form of action in our efforts to prevent wars, overcome
violence, resolve conflicts and advocate for justice and peace; where the global
church does not only analyze, reflect, make statements, lobby, send humanitarian
assistance or pastoral delegations to express its solidarity with its sisters and
brothers in the struggle for freedom and justice, it also shows its solidarity through
physical presence and its advocacy with engagement.

It is not only about condemning human rights violations but actually witnessing
them, speaking out against them or trying to prevent them from happening.
The EAPPI clearly shows the churches' important role in peace building. The
EAPPI challenges the perception that the role of the church and the civil society
in the Middle East is only in the humanitarian field and clearing the mess of
the wars and providing charity and assistance. The EAPPI has added a dimension
that the church in Jerusalem as well as churches from around the world can
be in the forefront of addressing root causes of human rights violations and violence,
preventing wars and building peace.

With EAPPI, it is knowing that the task of the church is to demonstrate that an
alternative, non-violent way is possible and to prove that despite the growing public
disbelief in dialogue as an option to end wars and build peace, it is still relevant.
The EAPPI is a message of hope for both nations, telling them that there is no
way to peace, peace is the way.

In a conflict where intergovernmental bodies have failed so far to provide an official
human rights protection force and the perpetrators of human rights abuses
and their victims have been left to themselves, the church, through the Ecumenical
Accompaniers physically present, sheds light on human rights abuses that would
otherwise have been happening in the dark.

The EAPPI is meant to be a clear counter-witness to the loud silence; an active
solidarity in the face of the passive by-standers. Its strength lies with the fact that
it has a solid theological basis and the fact that it has developed out of a common
developed policy and a united mind within the churches. We owe it to the churches
and the people we are accompanying to build on these.

This consultation convened by CCIA and EAPPI with the support of Faith and
Order, will look at the theology of accompaniment and once again I would like
to reiterate that we look forward to its fruits for the wider reflection process to
guide the programme and the WCC in general.

Thank you once again for taking the time to be with us and for all your good
work. All the best for a successful and enriching meeting. Thank you for allowing
me this time and for your attention. God Bless.