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Statement from the Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Consultation

Statement by the participants of the consultation organized by the WCC and the South African Council of Churches.

10 June 2016

The Place of the Church

Soweto, South Africa – 8-10 June 2016

Invited by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the South African Council of Churches (SACC), fifty-five representatives from Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa, South Sudan and Sudan, as well as representatives from the SACC, specialized ministries, WCC commission members and WCC leadership and staff met 8-10 June 2016 in Soweto, South Africa, for the “Peace-Building and Reconciliation Consultation: The Place of the Church.” The event was aimed at providing safe space where the churches from conflict- or post-conflict countries could engage in a mutual learning for effective participation of the church in peacebuilding and reconciliation.

We met on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the student uprising that began in Soweto, South Africa, and later spread throughout the country. This was a turning point in the struggle for liberation and the involvement of the global ecumenical movement.

We discussed the best ways to take a proactive role in engaging and supporting initiatives for peacebuilding and justice, as a calling to fulfill God’s mission in the world. In peacebuilding and reconciliation, church leaders are called to promote those things that make for peace, and to denounce and stand against those things that threaten peace or sustain injustice.

The WCC and its member churches have witnessed the trauma of people in conflict- and post-conflict situations. We have condemned the violence and accompanied and supported suffering communities and human rights defenders in their struggles for freedom and peace. During our time in South Africa, we acknowledged and learned from the South African experience in their struggle for freedom, peacebuilding and reconciliation. We learned that there is a role for the churches in all phases of the struggle, from the first indications of unrest through conflict itself, as well in the post-conflict situation.

We recognized that this consultation was a space in our pilgrimage of justice and peace to reflect together on what the churches should do when they find themselves in situations of conflict. We discussed racism, tribalism, nationalism, colonialism and imperialism, including the violence emanating from these. We acknowledge that gender-based violence is a sin against God and humanity. In our conversations, we offered examples of how people were victims of different forms of violence. We acknowledged the enemy outside but also the enemy inside. We also identified people who were left behind in this pilgrimage, such as youth, women, children, indigenous peoples and other oppressed minorities who experience exclusion and violence. We affirmed that this pilgrimage cannot be successful in its mission if anyone is left behind.

We also discussed the struggle of the impoverished and the dehumanizing effect of poverty. We also confessed the fear that is paralyzing us in responding to God’s call. We need to reflect theologically on the challenges we face to be able to speak to our contexts, acknowledging the changing context as God continues speaking to us. We do not need to be stuck in the past but to learn how to adjust our actions based on prophetic theological thinking and to move on in God’s holy mission as commanded by Jesus.

We discussed the painful realities of Christian minorities. Even when we are minorities in number, we are majority in action. We were reminded that in this pilgrimage the international community recognizes our role in peacebuilding and reconciliation. We are agents of change, and we need to own the space that God has given us by acting accordingly. We should be in solidarity with the struggling churches, and we need to engage the global church community to accompany them in their mission. We are part of the body of Christ; if one member suffers, the whole body suffers.

In this pilgrimage of justice and peace, we are all walking together. This includes Christians and people of other faiths, as well as the whole international community. What brings us together is our common struggle for justice as the only path to lasting peace.

We acknowledged that issues of truth and reconciliation in post-conflict situations need further discussion. Drawing from the experiences of those countries represented in the consultation, we acknowledged the hard work of forgiveness, reparation and reconciliation, as well as issues related to restorative and transitional justice as critical to ensuring just and lasting peace. Healing of memories plays an important role in this context. But, most importantly, reconciliation is a process of moving from a divided past to a united future.

Considering the historical role of churches in promoting peace and reconciliation, we identified ways to help the churches engage in peacebuilding in the context of justice and peace. Among them we identified the following:

  1. Solidarity and witnessing together (accompaniment) at national, regional and international levels, such as Program to Combat Racism (PCR), the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), International Center for Inter-faith Peace and Harmony (ICP), the WCC’s Ecumenical Office to the United Nations (EUNO).
  2. Theological reflection and teaching, such as Kairos South Africa and Kairos Palestine, and the Palestinian and Israeli Ecumenical Forum (PIEF).
  3. Capacity-building for peacebuilding, such as the Ecumenical Framework for Advocacy for Peace, the Ecumenical Peace Advocacy Network (EPAN), and the Arms Trade Treaty campaign.

We affirm that the pilgrimage of justice and peace is a process; it is willingness to move, to be changed and to change. It is an expression of hope coming from the power of resurrection – the empty tomb. The pilgrimage of justice and peace is how we stay faithful and keep our faith accountable to God’s plan. Hope that is not for all people is not a Christian Hope.                                 

As leaders with a common vision, we commit to promoting all things that make for Just Peace in its four dimensions: Just Peace in the community – so that all may live free from fear; Just Peace with the earth – so that life is sustained; Just Peace in the marketplace – so that all may live with dignity; Just Peace among the nations – so that human lives are protected. We carry with us our Christian values as we continue our pilgrimage.