World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

The ecumenical presence at the 4th World Social Forum

21 January 2004

16-21 January 2004, Mumbai, India

Rationale

The next World Social Forum (WSF) IV will take place in India from January 16-21 2004. This proposal calls for a coordinated approach to the WSF IV that shall enhance cooperation among various ecumenical organizations within an interfaith framework. Drawing from past experiences of these events, it is essential that we use the resources and talents within the ecumenical community efficiently and in a coordinated manner at the next Forum. coordination will allow the various participating organizations to jointly run events at the Forum and ensure optimal participation. Currently, most ecumenical organizations are confronting the immense challenges posed by globalization and, hence will address similar concerns for economic and social justice and peace and non-violence at the Forum.

Forum issues

Several ecumenical organizations including churches, related agencies and various faiths have been involved in the WSF events in Porto Alegre since it began in 2000.

The WSF is not an organization, not a united front platform, but "…an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person" (WSF Charter of Principles).

The ecumenical community has pursued the ideal of a world based on justice and peace for many years prior to and after the formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the development of a broader ecumenical family of churches and agencies. It has a rich and long history of articulating spiritual, moral and ethical perspectives on economic and social life. Today, the ecumenical community is searching for alternatives to economic globalization. This search is rooted in values that have been expressed by the churches over the past 30 years. The WCC in particular has moved towards the formulation of a new social vision of just, participatory and sustainable societies.

Why is the ecumenical community challenging the ideology and practice of economic globalization? Globalization, as under-girded by the neo-liberal ideology, competes directly with the ecumenical vision of a united humanity where diverse communities and peoples live in solidarity with each other.

What we as churches envision is not so much the "wealth of nations" (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations), but the "health of nations" (Carol Johnston, The Wealth or Health of Nations?).

  • The WCC Canberra Assembly (1992) stated: "What we need, therefore, is first of all a new concept of value, based not on money and exchange but rather on sustainability and use."
  • WCC consultations on economic globalization held in various regions in 2001 and 2002, suggested that "… Humble people are beginning to understand that by getting together in small and medium-sized models of economy of solidarity, they can face this enormous threat to sustainable life" (Latin America).1  
  • We need the "creation of a new world order based on the values of equality, justice, co-operation, sharing and mutual empowerment-ultimately, for the globalization of humanity" (Asia).2  
  • We need "unconditional cancellation of all illegitimate debts and elimination of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) and call the international community to invest heavily in the fight against HIV/AIDs" (Africa). 3  
  • Youth were also concerned about their future when they said at a consultation in 2001: "Never before has it been so important for young people to search for alternatives to the current dynamics of globalization. It is our future that is being threatened."5
  • At a 2003 consultation, women, who are the most affected by globalization, called for an alternative caring economy that "moves away from values of accumulation and profit to values of redistribution and reparation" and "recognizes and values the essential contribution of social reproduction."6
  • "We continue to believe that the scandal of world wide economic injustice is the main challenge in the structuring of global development, said the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) synod in 2002."8  
  • And the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) in 1997 said, "We cannot be silent if so many people are excluded and discriminated against. We are called to resist the mechanism which serves mammon in the first place and requires both human and environmental sacrifices. We are challenged to seek a system which affirms and promotes life."11   The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) is focusing on trade and HIV/AIDS.
  • Peace and overcoming violence, human rights and inter-religious dialogue have also long been focal concerns of churches and church-related organizations. The WCC launched the Decade to Overcome Violence and various campaigns aimed at promoting peace in the Middle East, ending the illegal occupation of Palestine and condemning the US-led war in Iraq, among others.

Many of the above-mentioned concerns are going to be discussed at the

  • Imperialist globalization
  • Patriarchy
  • Militarism and peace
  • Communalism (religious sectarianism and fundamentalism)
  • Casteism & racism (oppression, exclusion and discrimination based on descent and work)

Coordination of Ecumenical Events

It is essential to identify specific panels and/or seminars to be organized by the ecumenical community, including church-related agencies, under the above-mentioned themes.

Affirming life and human dignity will be the WCC's central theological message at the WSF. In conjunction with related interested organizations, the Council will organize an interfaith panel on "The Spirituality of Life and Human Dignity" focussing on religious resources to overcome violence. This theme will also underlie the five seminars that the WCC will be running jointly with the World YWCA, Church World Service and other ecumenical organizations. These seminars will focus on the following topics: 

  • Ecological debt and trade: what are the links?
  • Women for just, sustainable and caring trade
  • Youth promoting just trade
  • Dignity of children
  • Spirituality of life and human dignity  

The WCC will also help coordinate ecumenical youth activities at the youth forum.

The WCC and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) are planning to:

  • Prepare a list of ecumenical organizations participating in WSF and their activities. This will be done through an ecumenical listserve.
  • Suggest possible joint ecumenical activities and resource persons at the Forum.

Critical to the success of ecumenical participation at the WSF is the development of a local ecumenical platform led by the National Council of Churches in India in coordination with other related organizations. The local ecumenical platform will ensure that local concerns are taken into account and that global ecumenical organizations do not step on the toes of local ecumenical organizations. It will also assist with logistical issues.

Interfaith Approach

In all its activities at the WSF, the WCC, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), EAA and other ecumenical organizations will endeavour to follow an interfaith approach, given India's multi-religious context. An important message that the ecumenical community can convey to Forum is the Lund Principle (i.e., what we can do together, we shouldn't do separately). Therefore, as much as possible, resource persons will come from various faith backgrounds. The point is not to individualise religions, but to approach burning issues from a common humanitarian discourse, transcending religious differences.

Notes

1. WCC Consultation on Economic Globalization: The Island of Hope, August 2001.
2. ibid.
3. Spirituality of Common Future: Asia Africa Beyond Globalization. Consultation co-organized by the World Council of Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, local NGOs both Christian and Muslim, June 2002.
4. Latin America Council of Churches Assembly,2002
5. WCC-Youth Consultation Statement, Fiji , August, 2001
6. WCC Consultation on "Women Transforming Economic Globalization: Towards a Caring Economy," February 2003.
7. Economy in the Service of Life, Analytical Report, June 15-19, 2002 in Soesterberg/The Netherlands organised by WCC, WARC, LWF, CEC, Dutch Council of Churches and facilitated by OIKO Credit.
8. EKD Synod Statement 2002
9. Churches in Central and Eastern Europe, Statement on Economic Globalization , WCC, WARC, LWF and CEC consultation June 2001
10. Agenda, Exhibit 10, LWF Tenth Assembly, Winnipeg, Canada, 21 to 31 July 2003. Excerpts from the Assembly Message that relate especially to the SWT on Globalization: Transforming Economic Globalization.
11. Processus Confessionis, Process of recognition, education, confession and action regarding economic injustice, and ecological destruction, Background Papers, No 1, World Alliance of Reformed Churches 1997 p.9