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The year that shook the world: 1968 in retrospect

The year that shook the world: 1968 in retrospect

Outdoor worship service in Stockholm's Sergels Square on 4 July 1968, involving participants in the WCC fourth Assembly.

18 October 2018

1968–that pivotal year in politics, popular culture, and geopolitical turmoil, also ushered in a new era for the worldwide ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Only 20 years after the WCC’s founding, its 4th Assembly, held in June in Uppsala, Sweden, decisively shifted the WCC into social engagements on the world’s stage.

After the April assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., only weeks before he was due to preach at the opening worship of the WCC assembly, it was novelist James Baldwin who delivered a stinging indictment of Christianity’s complicity in racial prejudice to the assembled delegates and fired up the vision of ecumenical engagement against racism around the world.  That resolve would later lead to establishment of the Programme to Combat Racism, with its controversial yet ultimately effective efforts to dethrone apartheid in Southern Africa.

"Behold, I make all things new" was the unforgettable message of the assembly, and through its alliance with liberation movements in the "Third World," including with the anti-apartheid movements in Southern African and the Civil Rights Movement in the US, the assembly took up political and liberation theologies into the ecumenical movement.

The current issue of The Ecumenical Review focuses strongly on the crucial meeting in Uppsala in June 1968 and its context. The 13 feature articles from noted theologians, including Ivone Gebara, John W. de Gruchy, and Jürgen Moltmann, as well as Annegreth Schilling and Stéphane Lavignotte, connect the ecumenical movement to the tumultuous events of that year–from the Prague Spring to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, from worldwide student protests to the emergent counterculture, from Vietnam to the first lunar orbiting. The issue opens with an essay on the lasting challenges of 1968 by one of the delegates at the Uppsala assembly, Paul Oestreicher.

"The assembly was keenly in tune with the worldwide upheavals of the year," says contributor Michael Nausner. "It indeed sought to discern the signs of the time and produced a number of creative suggestions, for example by emphasizing the aspect of inclusiveness in catholicity, by stressing the multilateral dimension of mission, and not least by highlighting the churches' inherent responsibility to be agents of justice and peace in a fractured world."

"The articles that make up this issue of The Ecumenical Review offer the possibility of a more nuanced interpretation and reassessment," says ER editor Stephen G. Brown. "One is struck by the challenges identified at the Uppsala assembly that still need to be faced today, such as on economic structures, isolationism, racism, and the arms race, as well as a sense of unfinished business. Is it not time to set up again a joint committee of the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church on society, development, and peace? How do we now see the relationship between the unity of the church and the unity of humankind?"

In November, the WCC returns to Uppsala for a meeting of the WCC executive committee and a daylong joint programme with the global Christian development coaltion ACT Alliance.

See the full table of contents of “Behold, I Make All Things New: 1968 and the Churches”

Sample article from the issue for free download

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