Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’
A few months after the founding Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Amsterdam in August 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), created in 1946 in anticipation of the establishment of the WCC, had contributed directly to the drafting of the UDHR, especially Article 18 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Both the adoption of the UDHR and the foundation of the WCC were, in different ways and to different degrees, reactions to the atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War and in recognition of the need for unity and international cooperation for human dignity. As people of faith, we recognize the image of the Creator God in every human being as the foundation of our engagement for human dignity and rights.
This year, in which we mark the 75th anniversary of both the WCC and the UDHR the WCC central committee acknowledges the shared values that underpin both. At the same time, we acknowledge the many ways and places in which God-given human dignity is threatened and imperilled, by resurgent authoritarian repression of freedoms, by conflict, occupation and forced displacement, by discrimination and prejudice, by persecution, by rampant economic inequality and persistent extreme poverty, by violent extremism, by social media misinformation and hate speech, by the abuse of artificial intelligence and other new technologies, and by anthropogenic climate change and the lack of climate justice. Moreover, though recognizing the many advances in normative standards and human rights protection mechanisms achieved since the adoption of the UDHR, we acknowledge the grave threats posed by populist nationalism and rising authoritarianism to the “common standard of achievement” represented in the UDHR and the canon of international human rights law that flowed from it.
We recall the important processes and discussions leading up to and at the WCC 11th Assembly on the relationship between Christian faith principles and international human rights law, and we affirm the statement on ‘Christian Witness and Action for Human Dignity and Human Rights’ adopted by the WCC executive committee in November 2022.
Following the executive committee, we acknowledge the prophets’ call to God’s covenanted people to work for justice and peace, to care for the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized, and to be a light to the nations (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 49:6), and recognize the calling to a lived faith that embodies Christ’s example, affirming the dignity and worth of all, regardless of race, gender, class, religion or any other characteristic.
Therefore, in this 75th anniversary year, the central committee invites all WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to:
- Reflect on the common history and shared purposes of the WCC and the UDHR;
- Acknowledge our special responsibility as communities of faith who recognize the image of God in all people to renew our commitment for the human dignity and rights of all;
- Recommit to a compassionate, practical and active response to the voices, cries and lived experiences of the women, children and men who experience the violation of their human dignity and rights;
- Engage with and through the WCC in dialogue on the differences in perspective and approach within the ecumenical movement in order to work towards common conclusions and recommendations for churches to recognize and affirm the biblical roots of human dignity as a basis for the modern codification of human rights, and to advocate for human rights and for the rule of law as an integral part of churches’ life and witness.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preamble