World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Dossier: Understanding racism today

A revised and expanded version of a dossier produced for the WCC Harare Assembly, 1998

31 December 1998

a revised and expanded version of a dossier produced for the WCC Harare Assembly, 1998

document in pdf format


"We must not allow the manifestations of racism, which has not changed, to be swept under the carpet. We must be vigilant to the changing faces of racism and deal with it whether or not it is popular to do so. We must desmystify all the laws, declarations and charters etc., from fancy words (...) We must confront the government for programmes that will rid our country of racism, otherwise, it will go underground...".

Racism has been a concern of the ecumenical movement for at least 70 years. However there has been an special focus on the issue of racism since 1968, thirty years ago, when the IVth Assembly of the WCC set its face against the scourge of racism and thus gave impetus to the creation of the Programme to Combat Racism. Since then the WCC has played a significant role within the international anti-apartheid movement and extended solidarity and its resources to thousands of Indigenous and racially oppressed communities and organizations, and those who work in support of them, in almost every part of the world. This has been one of the major ministries of the WCC. But racism continues to be a gross scandal to the Christian faith.

The common calling of the WCC member churches includes a commitment to refuse "to turn away from the judgement that every form of racism, also in their own life, is contrary to the word and will of God". (CUV).The 1995 Central Committee noted that "institutional racism and the ideology of racism, in their most pernicious forms, continue unabated in contemporary societies and still affect churches dramatically while ongoing social, political and economic trends are producing new expressions of racism".

With its three decades of experience and insights the WCC is now challenged, not only to continue and strengthen its commitment, but to bring new energy and analytical skills to the many emerging manifestations of racism. It was in answer to these challenges that this paper has been prepared. Input was sought from each region of the world and a number of small international consultations were held.

It is important to note that, in spite of the relevance of issues of ethnicity and ethnocentrism the oppression of ethnic minorities, most significantly in Europe and Africa, ethnic issues are not directly addressed in this dossier. They must continue to be important for the WCC member churches and further studies are needed. For instance a study on Ethnic Identity, National Identity and the Unity of the Church, is being undertaken by Faith and Order and Justice, Peace and Creation team. However the focus of this present dossier is racism and its impact on the lives of African-descent, Blacks, Dalits and Indigenous Peoples.

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