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The Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace

03 September 1999

Message adopted by the Central Committee, Geneva, 26 August - 3 September 1999

Seek peace and pursue it.

(Psalm 34:14)

In response to a call by the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, we embark on a Decade to Overcome Violence in the years 2001-2010 and invite churches, ecumenical groups, individual Christians and people of good will to contribute to it.

We are gathered for the first Central Committee meeting after the Harare Assembly at the end of the most violent century in human history. We are convinced: the churches are called to provide to the world a clear witness to peace, to reconciliation and nonviolence, grounded in justice.

We remember the saints and martyrs who have given their lives as a witness for God against the powers of violence, destruction and war. We recall the witness of people who became signs of hope within and beyond their respective communities, opening up alternatives to the deadly cycle of violence. As representatives of member churches of the World Council of Churches, we are inspired by the Gospel message of the peace of Christ, of love and of reconciliation, and the rich biblical tradition of peace with justice. God's promise of life and peace for all humankind and creation calls us to make our lives consistent with our faith, as individuals and as communities of faith.

But we are also aware that Christians and churches have added, through words and actions, to growing violence and injustice in a world of oppression and graceless competition. We are yearning for a community of humankind, in which nobody is excluded and everybody can live in peace with human dignity. As we engage in constructive efforts to build a culture of peace, we know that we are required to embark upon a deep process of change, beginning with repentance and a renewed commitment to the very sources of our faith.

We must give up being spectators of violence or merely lamenting it and must act to overcome violence both within and outside the walls of the church. We remind ourselves and the churches of our common responsibility to speak out boldly against any defense of unjust and oppressive structures, of racism, of the use of violence, including especially violence against women and children, and of other gross violations of human rights committed in the name of any nation or ethnic group. If churches do not combine their witness for peace and reconciliation with the search for unity among themselves, they fail in their mission to the world. Leaving behind what separates us, responding ecumenically to the challenge, proving that nonviolence is an active approach to conflict resolution, and offering in all humility what Jesus Christ taught his disciples to do, the churches have a unique message to bring to the violence-ridden world.

There are a number of positive and encouraging examples from congregations and churches around the world. We recognize the steady witness of monastic traditions and of the "historic peace churches", and we want to receive anew their contribution through the Decade. There are congregations and churches that have become centers of reflection and training for active nonviolence in their own context. They show the kind of courage, skills and creativity that is necessary for active nonviolence and nonviolent resistance. They are sensitive to the destruction of nature and concentrate on the situation of the most vulnerable groups. Part of the contribution to building a culture of peace involves listening to the stories of those who are the primary victims of violence, including people who are poor, women, youth and children, people with disabilities, and Indigenous Peoples.
There are those who teach us through their example that presence in the situations of violence, on the streets and in the war torn areas, the active involvement with victims and perpetrators of violence, is the very key to every process of transformation and change. Prior to the Harare Assembly, the WCC Programme to Overcome Violence and the Peace to the City Campaign have shown: peace is practical, it grows at grassroots level and is nurtured by the creativity of the people. They cooperate locally with civil society and engage in dialogue and common action with people of other faiths. The groups from the seven cities participating in the campaign were strengthened and encouraged by each other, sharing their experiences across different contexts and gaining new insight from reflection and exchange at the global level.

The Decade to Overcome Violence will provide a platform to share stories and experiences, develop relationships and learn from each other. The Decade will build upon the initiatives that are already there; we recognize that our work is parallel to the work of the United Nations "Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World". We hope to connect with such initiatives and help them to motivate and strengthen each other. It will facilitate the churches to assist and support each other in their ministry. We offer with the Decade to Overcome Violence a truly ecumenical space, a safe space for encounter, mutual recognition, and common action. We will strive together to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence. We will work together to be agents of reconciliation and peace with justice in homes, churches and communities as well as in the political, social and economic structures at national and international levels. We will co-operate to build a culture of peace that is based on just and sustainable communities.

The Gospel vision of peace is a source of hope for change and a new beginning. Let us not betray what has been given to us. People around the world wait with eager longing for Christians to become who we are: children of God embodying the message of love, peace with justice and reconciliation.

Peace is possible. Peace is practical. Seek peace and pursue it.