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Racism today: Rationale for ecumenical commitment

The World Council of Churches convened a meeting at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva on December 4 & 5, 2008 with some of those who have been involved in the work of the Programme to Combat Racism to consider appropriate ways in which its 40th anniversary might be commemorated in 2009.

06 December 2008

Geneva, 5 December 2008

1. The World Council of Churches convened a meeting at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, 4-5 December 2008, with some of those who have been involved in the work of the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) to consider appropriate ways in which its 40th anniversary might be commemorated in 2009.

2. Ever since its inception following the Notting Hill Consultation in 1969, the PCR had been a major concern of the ecumenical movement, a conscience-keeper of the WCC, mobilized the churches in the struggle to combat racism worldwide and affirmed fundamental theological and spiritual principles for the churches' imperative to combat racism.

3. Since the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994, the WCC as part of its efforts to overcome racism has attempted to focus on other similar struggles elsewhere, including the Dalits in India, the Indigenous Peoples, the ethnic minorities and migrants in Europe, etc. It also addressed questions related to race, ethnicity and identity through other instruments. However, with the changes and restructuring that have taken place at the WCC since 1994, the PCR could no longer remain as a visible manifestation of its commitment to end racism. As a result, in the eyes of many, the WCC has moved away from its involvement in one of the most important prophetic challenges of the time in the struggle for justice in the world.

4. The working group believes that there are factors that demand that the churches' renew their commitment to the issue of racism once again:

 i)  that the World Conference on Racism held in Durban 2001 failed to address many of  the critical issues in the global struggle against racism - much was promised and  so little delivered;

ii) that at the level of the United Nations and multilateral fora, e.g. the Millennium Development Goals, the issues inherent in racism are receiving only tangential recognition in the absence of strong commitment on the issue, a call that  WCC needs to respond;

iii) that many of the issues behind current world conflicts, e.g. militant expressions of Islam and the so called War against Terror, the crisis in the international financial markets, ways of addressing migration, especially in Europe - all have their roots in resurgent racism in the world and there is no voice that articulates the fundamentals of racism at a source of world conflicts;

iv) that the election of Mr Barack Obama as President of the United States on a platform of change signals a major change of approach to world affairs by the world's singular power.

 5. We believe that as the WCC had for decades bequeathed to the member churches a sensitivity towards racism as an outrage against God, and a heresy against the belief that all people are born equal and in the image of God, and that all human suffering was a mark against God, it was now time to affirm the strides that had been made by member churches in establishing dedicated units and centres for mission and evangelism in recognition of the divine injunction that all were welcome and equal in the household of God.

6. Notwithstanding such affirmation, however, the churches' witness was weakened by the fact that the churches were without a coordinating centre and driver in the ecumenical movement of the kind that PCR used to play. The power of common action and common witness on racism has become an imperative of our times.

7. The group, however, firmly believes that nothing would be served by a mere revival of the PCR. What is required instead is a new prophetic voice that could call the churches to action and be a witness to the world, and yet drawing on the undoubted initiatives within member churches to raise our collective voice and action on racism. It is believed that the WCC is, once again, called to give leadership to this mission inasmuch as no other international or multilateral forum has shown commitment to this path. The Group is also convinced of the urgency of ongoing theological reflection on the roots of racism and human identities to respond to the needs of multicultural societies in our globalized world.

8. We are firmly of the view that without paying attention to racism most of the world's conflicts would remain without resolution.

9. In order to advance this project, it is resolved that

 a) the World Council of Churches convenes a consultation for ecumenical networks, social partners, church leaders and units dedicated to overcoming racism in member churches during 2009, as a mark of the 40th anniversary of the PCR; and

b) that such a consultation adopts a concrete programme of action to overcome racism during the next decade.

The working group consisted of the following:

Prof. Barney Pityana, former Director of the PCR, South Africa

Rev. Chandran. P. Martin, Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Ms Doris Peschke, Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, Brussels

Ms Geesje Werkman, Kerkinactie, Netherlands

Rev.  Ineke Bakker, Oikos Foundation, Netherlands

Dr Michaela R. Told, International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism, Geneva

Rev.  Dr Michael Jagessar, secretary, Racial Justice and Multicultural Ministry, United Reformed Church, UK

Dr Mukti Barton, an Anglican lay theologian and bishop's adviser (Birmingham) on Black and Asian Ministries, UK

Ms Sandra Ackroyd, United Reformed Church, UK

Mr Peter Prove, LWF

Rev. Elenora G. Ivory, WCC

Ms Maria Chavez, WCC

Ms Sydia Nduana, WCC

Rev.  Dr Deenabandhu Manchala, WCC