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Forum asks: “How are churches accountable for racism?”

Forum asks: “How are churches accountable for racism?”

Ecumenical Strategic Forum - Racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination, 9-10 May 2019, Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Photo: WCC

10 May 2019

At an Ecumenical Strategic Forum, convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) on 9-10 May, religious leaders examined the painful history of racism and also asked difficult questions about how churches may be accountable for racism today.

Representatives from WCC specialized ministries, roundtable partners and other global actors explored the complexities of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination.

In welcoming remarks, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said that racism is an ongoing concern of the ecumenical movement. “So often racist behaviour stems from inherited hatred reinforced by self-interest and group identification,” he said. “Invariably it results in diminished prospects for its victims and even in generations of discrimination, gender violence, and poverty; and so race is a constant factor in all the other work you do.”

Dr Fernard de Varennes, United Nations special rapporteur on Minority Issues, reflected that, just in the last few weeks, horrific massacres have occurred in a mosque in New Zealand, in churches and other targets in Sri Lanka, and in a synagogue in the United States. “There are many, too many more examples in recent years,” said de Varennes. “It saddens and disturbs me to say that intolerance of the other has almost become a new normal in some societies, often linked perhaps to insecurity, unease, the zeitgeist of our times being one perhaps of fear for the future – and as history unfortunately has shown much too often religious and other minorities are often used as scapegoats.”

Topics on the forum programme included discrimination against people of African descent, indigenous peoples, and Dalits; and the cultures of dominance and white privilege that perpetuate discrimination.

Baldwin Sjollema, first director of the WCC Programme to Combat Racism, said that, today, many do not know or have forgotten about the past. “We  seek to forget rather than to remember,” said Sjollema. “There is no doubt that the issue of refugees and asylum, of hospitality to and solidarity with people of different races, religions, cultures and sexual identities are part and parcel of the racism and discrimination today.”

Addressing racism will continue to be priority for the fellowship of WCC member churches as they move toward the 11th Assembly in 2021.

Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Racism - Photo gallery

Welcoming remarks from WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

Address of Dr Fernard de Varennes-UN special rapporteur on Minority Issues to the Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Racism

"Remembering the legacy" - Baldwin Sjollema

"Combating Racism - an ecumenical legacy": visit the photo gallery in the WCC photo archive

Forum, photo exhibition to portray complexity of racism

WCC work on racism