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What’s Love Got to Do with It? The Ecumenical Future of the Churches

"What’s Love Got to Do with It? The Ecumenical Future of the Churches", Inaugural Michael Huffington Lecture by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit World Council of Churches general secretary on 3 April, 2019

01 April 2019

Inaugural Michael Huffington Lecture By Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary, World Council of Churches
Loyola University, Los Angeles, California, USA

April 3, 2019


What’s Love Got to Do with It?
The Ecumenical Future of the Churches

“Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”

1. What the world needs now…

“Man’s disorder and God’s design”—that phrase might sound like a description of some political realities familiar to many in the world today. It was, however, the theme of the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in Amsterdam in 1948. It was a new beginning, in many ways, for the churches to meet, to reconcile, and to develop their agenda for unity. They wanted to build serious, mutually accountable relations. Their conclusion was: “We will stay together.” In many ways they echoed the mood of the post-World War II times: “Never again!” Never again should the world be torn apart by wars. Never again to Nazism and fascism and their anti-human ideologies. Never again to genocide based on anti-Semitism and racism. Never again should the churches themselves be divided by wars and “man’s disorder.”

These events and convictions 70 years ago set agendas in the churches and far beyond for several generations. Now we are preparing the 11th Assembly of the WCC, in 2021. What is it that the churches want to say now? What is it that the world needs now? Well, I believe that the life-saving yet also profoundly theological answer is …. Love!

The word “love” has never come into any of the themes of the assemblies of the WCC, but it needs to do so now.

The theme of the 11th Assembly of the WCC, to be held in September 2021 in Karlsruhe, Germany, will be “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” This is a way to summarize the legacy of more than 70 years of the fellowship of 350 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Old-Catholic, independent churches and others in their longstanding work for unity, justice, and peace. But it is also a formulation that signals the way forward for all our work. It also provides a measure or gauge or test of what we are saying and doing. It even has an eschatological perspective.

With this theme we want to say that

  • Our identity and mission as Christian churches are defined by Christ
  • Christ’s love is the source, the heart, the centre of everything in our fellowship and in our mission
  • This love of Christ has changed the world and has the potential to move the world
  • The task of our fellowship is to enable the world’s moving toward reconciliation and unity.

This must be expressed by the WCC as a fellowship of faith, moving as pilgrims, humbly but resolutely. When Pope Francis visited the WCC – on a separate pilgrimage to us in June 2018 – we gathered as sisters and brothers under the theme “walking, praying and working together.” Together we affirmed that there is one ecumenical movement, with a shared vision for our ministry in the world. It was a unique, historic moment. One of the signs of the time is that there is common ground and a common vision for the mission and the service of the church – on our way to unity. Our unity must be an expression of the love of Christ poured out in our hearts.

All this can sound obvious, even naive. Yet it was an important and far-reaching process of reflection  to come to this theme. We have been brought back to the origins of our work in the WCC. We have struggled to see and to say what is particularly needed now. We have asked: What does faith in Jesus Christ mean today, in the world as it is? Further, we ask what is the practical relevance of love, even Christ’s love, when we work in a church organization for reconciliation and unity?

Further: What does it mean to be a “World Council of Churches”? We sometimes hear criticism from both sides. Some would ask how the WCC can be relevant to the real lives of people in the world today. Others might say that we are busier with the “world” than with the church or with faith in Christ as such. Both challenges help us to see the objective of being a World Council of Churches. But how could we think that we do not have a calling to contribute to positive movements in the world - as it is, in real time? We are not intending by this theme to be exaggerating or boosting our self-image, but we have to reflect on the biblical mandate that the church is called by Jesus Christ to do its mission in the whole world, and to share that God loved and loves the world.

Therefore: How could we ever accept that the church is divided and even a source of division? This was the question in 1948. This is the question today. We are neither called to promote, nor to be a source of conflict and polarization. That means that we cannot ignore tribalism, racism, nationalism, or any other form of exclusivism – if we are to be the followers of Christ in this world. But how to fight against these destructive forces? That is exactly why the WCC now asks the question – which is not at all an obsolete or rhetorical one: What does love mean – in practice – facing these realities? What does it mean to love your neighbour? Is it limited to those who are already within the borders of your country? Does God’s love make your love for your nation, for the stability, wealth, economy, and security you want – unimportant or illegitimate? How can the churches as a fellowship contribute to a world moved by Christ’s love toward reconciliation and unity? What do the churches have to offer a world endangered and imperilled?

2. Love, reconciliation, and unity: A personal experience

In the end, the world is about each one of us. My privilege in the last decade has been to serve as general secretary of the WCC. I still wonder how and why God found and called me to this ministry, for the churches and for the world. I have also strongly supported that the WCC focus on what “love” means in the work of the council, promoting a focus on the proper attitudes to address the multiple dimensions of our work. Perhaps another experience long time ago can shed some light on the deep truths and hopes embodied in this theme.

As a 10-year-old boy, I lived in a parsonage in the rural districts in Norway, near Trondheim, one of the largest cities of the country. I started to discover the public library, and particularly the books that were written about the Second World War as it happened in those areas and villages where I was living. It was a very strategic part of the country for the occupying German forces, and there was very heavy pressure from the Nazi regime on the resistance movement there. So, in one of the books I read about one of the raids in my village, seeking out the members of the organized resistance movement. The parsonage, our home, was confiscated and used as centre for interrogation of the suspects. I read more: One young man was tortured – and killed. Some of the details in the book made me draw the conclusion that it might have happened in the room next to my bedroom.

The cruel evil of war and abuse of power in the name of a certain ideology, a so-called national socialism with great ambitions on behalf of the nation and the pretended ethnicity of the white, arian race, had manifested itself in the house where I lived. Patriotism, love for the nation, for its freedom, democracy and justice, had a martyr – right next to my room. I was shocked and shaken. This was the brutal reality of war. I was no less shaken when my parents and I visited people I read about in these books, who had been tortured and imprisoned, and who showed pictures of what happened to some of them and the people they had helped to flee out of the country to Sweden.

A short time after my reading about these things, a ceremony was organized marking some of the brave men’s efforts. I had asked my father if I could come along with him, as he was asked to preach at the occasion. He accepted. I was fascinated and thrilled by listening to the speeches and stories of these war veterans, and how one of them escaped the German soldiers. But something upset my father, and later he explained me why. In some of the speeches there were messages saying that we should not forget. That was why we were there. But one of the speakers had said: “We cannot be in union with the people that occupied us and humiliated us. We had to ask in their language even to go to the toilet.” The was in 1972, when Norway was preparing for a referendum about membership in the European Union. For me it was quite understandable that some of them had that attitude, after what they had experienced. Then my father gave me another challenge, asking: “What will happen if we never can leave something behind us, and reconcile with one another – after we have said and known the truth about what happened? How will life be if we never can move forward into another time? And how can we hold everybody, every German woman and man, guilty for these brutal actions some experienced in Norway during the war?”

These questions have shaped a lot of my understanding of justice and injustice, truth and reconciliation, and what love means in real life. Later, I also understood more why my father reacted as he did, when we got visitors from Germany. In 1951 my father got a scholarship from the World Council of Churches. Coming from poor, war-ridden Norway, he was offered to study one year in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He made a friend there, a German student, who remained his best friend till his death, who also had such a scholarship, and who had suffered from the war in his way.

Reconciliation and unity are something that occurs between persons, face to face. Justice is needed to be able to proceed, but the guilty should not be brought to justice by making everybody guilty, collectively. That is not justice. The worldview he got from that year shaped his openness to other churches, his openness to other people, his openness to the world. I felt his strong support and presence when I was installed as general secretary of the WCC in Geneva in 2010, a few years before he died.

This is not a lecture about my biography. But I have become more and more aware that our theology, and particularly our reflections on reconciliation and unity, are not abstract issues and objectives. Many others, with far more dramatic experiences than mine, have also come to the same questions and convictions. The role of the churches in sharing the gospel of Christ’s love has an impact on the human beings, as persons and individuals. However, it is not limited to a private sphere, or to some pious people. Love is a huge issue, and not so easy to understand – and definitely nothing superficial. The call to preach the gospel of Christ’s love is a call to serve the reconciliation of the world. Nothing less.

Maybe I have projected some of my theological questions back into the experiences as a young boy, although I am not quite sure. Children have a sense of the real questions and the depth of them, addressing life and death.  We should recognize that more. We have tried to emphasize that in the WCC program “Churches’ commitment to children”.

3. Christ’s love

The theme of our next assembly alludes to the text from 2 Cor 5. There St Paul even says:

The love of Christ compels us, because we know that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all. So that those who live might not live any longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.... So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God. (vv. 14, 20)

Our minds ponder and might be disturbed by the questions related to the reconciliation through Jesus Christ, particularly as they are elaborated in different doctrinal models. How are the questions of justice, reconciliation, unity, and love actually connected at the heart of our faith in Jesus Christ?

Two answers I have found to open such a theological mystery, were found in reflecting precisely on that very text from 2 Corinthians 5. It has also shaped my theology and my calling since then, particularly as I have been working ecumenically and in the WCC. The biblical authors struggled to see the deeper meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So there were references to legal, forensic practices and particularly to cultic traditions. Many models of human experience and structures for reconciliation are relevant to describe the mystery of our faith.

One such experience I learned about in a visit to Samoa, in the Pacific. There, if anything wrongful was done, the family of the perpetrator sat down outside the house of the victim’s family expressing their shame and guilt. They would sit there till the victim and the family were ready to come out and stretch their hands toward the others. Revenge would destroy everybody. Unity in the island could be restored, without covering up for the sin done.

That there are different models for expressing what this ultimate love of Jesus Christ meant, is the case also in this biblical text. The most significant statement in this whole letter helps to answer this. Paul, with his Jewish roots, and the readers in the new community established in the multicultural Corinth, belong together in a “new creation”. Then it is proper to conclude: “But all this is from God” (v 18.)  This is what is the bottom line in all these reflections and images in the New Testament. It is God the creator, the saviour, the life giver in action. In human realities.

The other clear message in the text from 2 Cor 5, which is alluded to in the theme of our next assembly:  It is one motivation, one attitude, that matters, that even compels us: The love of Christ for us, for all. It changes our relationship to God – and therefore to all others. This is about God’s attitude to us and our attitudes to one another. God has reconciled the world to Godself in Christ. This is an attitude that we are called to show to the world, to anyone in the world. It is an attitude of love seeking the transformation of love, the new creation, shaped in the image of Jesus Christ. We are not ignoring the reality of sin, but we are finding that God can deal with sin in a way we could not, in Jesus Christ.

Why do we refer to the well known Christian doctrine when we define the theme for a unique meeting in this time of church history and human history? Because the world needs it. It doesn’t take much of an analysis to say that we actually see the opposite: The world is not moving in love towards reconciliation and unity.

Even the communities of Christian faith are sometimes quite self-centred and themselves a source of division and even conflict – with a negative effect far beyond their own circles. In fact, now is actually a time when religion is one of the dividing factors in the world, or at least used and misused to divide, for other purposes than the strictly religious motivation. We have to add: As it has been many times before in the history of humankind and our civilisations.

This is, therefore, a time when the churches themselves need to reconsider their own relations and mission. Many churches struggle with their roles, and many leaders in churches and in the ecumenical movement are struggling with their personal, professional, and ecclesial roles as peacemakers and bringing reconciliation. Why are we not able to focus on the important issues? Why are we here, as churches in a fellowship, in a world threatened by climate change, by division and fragmentation based on economic injustice, by escalations of violence, and by the deconstruction of open, representative democracies?

It is time to go back to basics and, going forward, knowing and showing what the basics really are. That is why it is time to say: Christ’s love moves us.  And, even more: Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.

4. Christ the crucible

When the modern ecumenical movement was organized, particularly as the WCC was established in 1948, there were strong impulses from theologians that had a clear focus on Christology. This is expressed in many reports, as well as in the themes of the assemblies that followed after the first.  But since 1991, assembly themes emphasized other dimensions of the Trinitarian God, focusing on God the creator who sustains and transforms all life. We find this in thematic expressions like “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” (2013) or “Come Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation” (1991) or in references just to “God”:  “Turn to God, rejoice in hope” (1998); and 2006: “God in your grace, transform the world.” We now have agreed to focus on Christ again, for several reasons and with definite significance.  I will reflect on some of these concerns that led to this focus.

Whatever we say about God in Christian theology, in Christian witness, or through our Christian life, it is somehow defined by how we understand what Christ means. The Greek translation of “Messiah,” Christos came into the language and the references to Jesus very early in the first confessions of the communities that we later call church. “Jesus Christ” is a confession. It professes that in the human being Jesus we meet the one that is sent by God, the Logos, even Godself. This caused many questions about “how” this can be understood and therefore also led to significant debates in the first centuries, which to some extent were brought to a common conclusion in the Council of Chalcedon (451). I will not go far into these questions here. But it is proper to reflect more, again, on how the shared Christian faith in Jesus Christ defines the relationship between God and the world, between God and humanity, as well as between God and creation.

This affects all we say and do related to God, and of course in our reflections on the Trinitarian God. The Christological controversies that were addressed in the councils of the early church are of great relevance in our time as well if we in any way try to talk about God as Christians, as connected to the stories and the communities carrying his name. In a time when we are more and more urgently challenged by the threats to the created world as the place to live as human beings and other creatures, we have to ask what the incarnation means. Can we respond to Christ’s love without loving the creation, this world, wounded and threatened by sin? “God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). There is no way to speak about this message of God incarnated in Jesus than through the words and the acts interpreted as signs of love. Being church today requires a renewed reflection and a renewed orientation to the world as created by God, springing from our confession of Jesus as Christ.

The relationships of love that are expressed in faith in Jesus as one of the three persons in God, defines all that we can say and applies to the relationships we are experiencing and trying to develop as visible unity in the church. This is expressed in many ways in the text of John 17, where the motivation for the modern ecumenical movement often is found. To be one as followers of Jesus is to reflect the relationships between Jesus and the Father to whom his prayer is directed. The expression “such as” (you Father and me are one) is the key to understand the meaning of the remarkable Farewell Discourse of Jesus, which also became the definition of the new and the lasting relationships to God through Jesus Christ.

The decision about this theme was supported by voices in the WCC’s central committee who said that this formulation inspires, encourages, and empower us as a fellowship of churches to carry out the good news about Jesus Christ in the whole world. This was particularly significant for some voices from the global South, as they paid attention to the 11th Assembly’s being held in Europe, in Germany. The duty and the privilege of bringing the gospel back to the lands from which they had received it was seen as a strong motivation to have the assembly in Europe at this particular moment in history. The focus on Christ in what was described as a secular context was seen as particularly relevant. This was the essence of the preaching and the evangelization of the churches that sent missionaries to their own lands – particularly in the last two centuries.

This was also supported by some of those who emphasized the inter-religious amity and sometimes also confrontations in our time, in all continents. If we are to have something particular to contribute to those dialogues, whether it is a dialogue of clarification of our common roots and values as human beings, or a dialogue about our specific context. for Christians it must always be a contribution about the meaning of our faith in Jesus Christ.

My gift to Chairman Kim in DPRC last year when visiting Pyongyang was an icon of Jesus Christ. “This is our Prince of Peace, our vision and inspiration for peace”, I said. And it was understood and appreciated.

This is to be shared according to the principles set out in the joint document WCC, PCPCU and WEA “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World.” This document clarifies the way and with what attitudes Christian witness should be shared in our time and in a context where people of different faith must live peacefully with one another.

The message of Jesus Christ is exclusive in the sense that in a Christian church nothing else can define what the church is. And in our struggle for unity, there is no other name who can unite the church, as St Paul proclaims emphatically in 1 Cor 2:2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified..” Yet the attitude with which this message is shared should not be exclusive in the sense that it is without love and care for the other and the diversity we experience. Only Jesus Christ can unite us in the Church. This exclusivity is the principle of inclusion. He stretches out his arms on the cross to the whole world.

The WCC has focused in the last period on how the ecumenical movement is a pilgrimage together; a pilgrimage of justice and peace. We are seeking the signs of the kingdom of God in this world and particularly also seeking to manifest these signs ourselves. In this we learn that following Christ is an exercise in humility with a purpose.. It is a humility that expresses the genuine and unique approach given in the stories and the messages about Jesus Christ. The uniqueness of the God present in a human being was and is Jesus’ being-for-others as the sign and criterion of what God is, and what God love means.

This radical being-for-others has always been a challenge to those in power who use their power to glorify themselves, to reduce the dignity and the potential of others, particularly those who might be a stranger to us. This is a counter-sign to all political powers who primarily their own interests in a narrow sense and not the whole of humanity and the whole of creation.

This is also a challenge to all who might think or act according to the question: ”What’s in it for me, for us?” This self-interest is normal, but if it is given priority, it contradicts the Christian message and ethos, and it contradicts our claim to being followers of Jesus Christ. The ecumenical movement itself, its institutions and organizations, might provide a temptation to serve the interest of one’s own community and church, or even one’s own personal interests. This is a contradiction-in-terms. It is always timely to remember this, and to challenge not only others but particularly oneself with a question like: How can we be something for others in this relationship? Or even more dramatically but also more theologically: Whom are they meeting in me and in us? Are they seeing the image of Christ, the signs of love that he asked for and cared for in all his teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection?

5. The ecumenical movement of love

Even if it is the first time in the WCC’s history, the term “love” has been included in a theme for an assembly, it is not an absolute new perspective. We have been helped by some of the major projects of Faith and Order (whose texts will now be made accessible in a digitized version) to see our fellowship as koinonia, as a shared gift, participating in the love of the triune God of life, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is love. The church is invited to be one – as the Holy Trinity is one – in love. The church is called to be the expression of this love in a broken and sinful world. How could the ecumenical movement, trying to unite the churches in this call and to bring forth the signs of the reign of God – that is, justice, peace and joy – into this world – how could this movement be something other than a movement of love?

When I began my ministry for the WCC as general secretary some years ago, I found that I had to see this movement in the light of the cross. Everything is proven by the cross. The cross is the sign of God’s love for all. The cross is also the sign of the challenges and of the suffering, even death, that might come when we do what we are called to do as disciples of Jesus Christ. We cannot have unity of the church or the ecumenical movement without the cross. The meaning of what we are doing is not to be measured in normal indicators of “success” or some great wind in our organizational sails and applause from everybody.

Yet this is only possible to see in the light of the resurrection. The call to unity and reconciliation, justice and peace, is driven by the one who died and was risen – so that those who live might no longer live for themselves. We are called to find the proper expression of the love given in Christ to us – in our way of living together. We serve the God of life, leading us to justice and peace. The WCC has challenged the powerful and everybody who has responsibility for making decisions on behalf of many. We have spoken truth to power. We do so driven by love for all, and particularly for those suffering, occupied, colonized, excluded, non-privileged, marginalized, discriminated against. It is in this perspective that we also should see a very important shared ecumenical theological point, “the preferential option for the poor.” This axiom is expressing God’s love for the world in a particularly profound and relevant way. This is our shared faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

The whole biblical story shows why human beings are in need of divine love, both individually and collectively. There is no reason to understand human life in another way in our time. Our situation as people, as nations, as a planet perhaps exhibits this need for divine aid more demonstrably than ever before.

The encounter with Peter in chapter 21 of the Gospel of John must be read in light of the famous words of chapter 17. The prayer “that they may all be one” is fulfilled in a unique expression of love. The way forward to the ministry of unity is reopened in Jesus’ generous invitation to the meal at the shore for the disillusioned fishermen. This expression of love is also a call to accountability: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The question of Jesus is not leading to sentimentality and emotional self-preoccupation, but to a new and wider and much more demanding task, namely to share the new sign of fellowship and unity in the meal also with others – in all dimensions of the meal: “Feed my lambs – tend my sheep.” Human beings of all ages are within the reach of Christ’s love through us. This story has motivated many, myself included, for ministry in the church and in the ecumenical movement.

There is no reason to believe that we who are involved in this movement, which is meant to heal wounds and mend broken relationships, are ourselves in any less need of divine grace and love. There is no sense in talking about an ecumenical movement of love without being honest about ourselves and realistic about the people involved in this movement as human beings – sometimes able to lose sight of our purpose and objective and why we are here.

Yet Jesus Christ did not ask for perfectionism but honesty and love.  The world is not in need of perfectionism, but desperately in need of love.

The call to work for unity, justice and peace requires some kind of shared attitudes that make it possible to pursue shared objectives. These attitudes can to some extent be defined and can be pursued and used as criteria for what kind of professionalism and capacity are needed for this particular type of work. It is not only individual and emotional dimensions of love we are talking about.

In my analysis of the texts from our ecumenical history (in The Truth We Owe Each Other), and from my daily experience of our discussions and our practices, I have found that there is required an attitude of mutual accountability. This means a firm position reflected in practice and in established relations of openness and reliability. Willingness to share but also to learn from others and their contributions must be articulated through constructive criticism that also includes proper self-criticism. Accountability for our common, shared Christian faith and values is essential, as is accountability to the common mission of the churches.

I see this attitude of mutual accountability and its corresponding structures and practices as ways to embody the quality of relations needed for a fellowship of diversity. Mutual accountability is a concretization of what the attitude of love means, particularly in an institutional setting like ours.

The attitude of love is more than softness and gentleness. It is the reliable and solid relationship that also allows for expression of disagreement and differences for the sake of necessary clarity. Love means the ability to say both yes and no and to discern when to say which – even if it sometimes hurts, for a while for some, and even for those who have to say it.

Sometimes I wonder why we are not able to embrace more of the differences and diversity among us in all aspects of human life and human nature. We try to contribute to this process as the WCC, and also in issues where the churches are struggling within themselves. We are, for example, working carefully to find a common ground for conversations about issues related to the personal issues of human sexuality. The question for all of us remains: How can we express more clearly the love of God for all human beings, regardless of who they are and to which community they belong?

Love is “the better way” to take on all issues, challenges and tasks we are addressing as a church fellowship, as the body of Christ, seeking unity, justice and peace, as St Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 13. It was so 70 years ago in “man’s disorder,” it is so today, and will be so tomorrow. This is what makes it one ecumenical movement.

6. One church for one humanity

We are experiencing a new momentum in finding new expressions of unity. It is an urgent task to move on for us as churches, and for the service, the ecumenical diakonia, we can do in the world. This is happening in a time when also there are so many polarizing and even dividing forces in the world, even using religious faith and identity as a tactic for dividing people.

The three values of unity, justice and peace held together in love are the core of the mission of the WCC. Their interconnectedness responds to the questions I raised as a boy which I referred to. I believe that precisely this ability to keep these three together is the genuine and critical contribution of the WCC in the time ahead of us. It has been possible to see how they are connected in the way we have pursued the idea of pilgrimage, discipleship, and fellowship. This must continue as we move on, in a counter-movement to many other strong movements and forces of our time, affecting our churches as well as the world at large.

The “realpolitik” of the church is defined by the gospel’s call to be one with another. Being one is a sign of this love so that the world may believe. God is love, and there is no way to love God without loving the sister and brother in need (1 John 4:17-19).

“The power of love” is a message to the world, to the powerful and to the powerless, to all who are longing for a different reality from what we see in today’s world. This is to be expressed in our quest for the unity of the church and the unity of humankind, serving the sustainability and unity of God’s creation. We cannot leave the quest for unity on a side-track. We should include all our reflections on church unity in the wider horizon of work for a sustainable, just and peaceful unity in the world. The ecumenical movement of love has much to contribute in these efforts.

There are many forces promoting conflict and violence. There are enormous powers of division and polarization, widening the gaps between the rich and poor, the privileged and the non-privileged (in terms of wealth, security, health, etc.). The list goes on.

Another 70th anniversary of high significance last year was that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This has been the common basis for a new beginning after the 20th century’s world wars and the worst slaughters of humankind. Human dignity and human rights, have to be at the core of our advocacy as Christian churches following the command of Jesus Christ.

The WCC collected all documentation about HR-violations in Brazil during the military regime, together with a lawyer and the catholic archbishop in Sao Paolo. I brought a copy of all of this back in 2012, a project called “Brazil nunca mais!” “Brazil, never more”. Now the new president of Brazil wants to celebrate the anniversary of the military coup.. Never again?

This year we focus particularly on racism in all its forms in our pilgrimage of justice and peace. It is needed, again. Racism ss a human failure to recognize the diversity of humankind as given by God, and it is a sin against God. All the ways we categorize others in order to exclude or discriminate against the other, are per se an attack on the faith in the God of life and love we uphold.

Even our own high-ground objectives of unity, justice and peace are sometimes reinterpreted or abused by powers to dominate or to discriminate. Through a serious dialogue among us, even a critical one, we can discern when they are serving the love we are called to promote.

Unity, for example, might become a means of enforcing an oppressive uniformity or demand for agreement, or a frontier, a border, a wall against others who are not included in the protected and unified area or country. This might happen even in the churches, not serving primarily the needs of those who are suffering or supporting those who are struggling. A reference to justice is in some cases seen as the rule of the stronger and privileged, neglecting the needs of those who are excluded from having the safety of citizenship with equal human rights. Peace, too, might be defined as an objective but pursued by some in practices dividing and creating conflict. This might happen by gaining total dominion over the other or less powerful or privileged, as we have seen in the attempts to make Jerusalem an “undivided capital” for Israel before an international and bilateral agreement with the Palestinians is even on the table.

There are strong powers undermining the need to see one another as participants in the one humanity, seeking our common good and our common interests. There needs to be somebody and something that represents a counter-sign and counter-weight of unity, justice, and peace and that expresses nonpartisan, universal love. We can make a difference together, as people of faith, hope, and love. Christ’s love can move the world, even us.