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Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age

International symposium exploring the challenges and opportunities for a more just digital future, 13-15 September 2021

This symposium, organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and World Association for Christian Communication, focused on the impact of digital transformation on communities and societies. Co-organisers include Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (Evangelical Church in Germany), Evangelische Mission Weltweit (EMW, Association of Protestant Churches and Missions in Germany), and World Student Christian Federation.

The event brought together research, experiences from different regions and marginalized communities, expert input on economic and political trends, and ethical and theological reflection as a contribution to the WCC 11th Assembly in September 2022. 

The symposium explored the challenges of digital communication with a social justice lens, and identified opportunities for concerted and collaborative actions with faith communities and among faith, civil society, academic, media and technological organizations.

Manifesto of the symposium "Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age" (DRAFT)

Key question: What do social justice and social injustice look like in the digital era, especially for marginalized people and communities?

See background resources for the day here

Times given are based on Berlin (10am Berlin, 11am Nairobi, 3pm Bangkok, 6pm Sydney, 3am Kingston, 4am New York, 5 am Santiago - find the time where you live)

Morning session (view recording)

10:00 am Words of Greeting
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, Acting General Secretary, World Council of Churches

Dr Dagmar Pruin, President, Brot für die Welt

10:15-11:15 am Symposium Keynote Presentation and discussion
“Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age”
Dr Ellen Ueberschär, President, Heinrich Böll Foundation

11:30-12:45 Introduction to the day's theme and structure

Video animation on Digital Justice

Moderators:
Rev. Christina Biere, regional pastor, Evangelical Church of Westphalia
Rev. Nick Elorm Ahialey-Mawusi,
founder and leading pastor, Living Generation Church, Hamburg

Digital Justice Keynote Presentation
Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria

Respondents:
Dr Erin Green, Ph.D., Theology and Artificial Intelligence
Dr Sarah Macharia, Ph.D. Gender and Communication Programme Manager, World Association for Christian Communication

Afternoon session (view recording)

14:00-15:00 Digital Justice in Words and Actions
Exploring existing statements and concepts impacting digital communication, and presenting an outline for symposium discussion.

15:00-16:15 Breakout groups
Participants will reflect on presentations and provide input for the symposium message and action plan.

16:30-17:30 Digital Justice: Case Studies and Good Practice
Community efforts to address key digital justice issues in their context – presentations and Q&A

  • IT for Change, India
  • Computer Professionals Union, Philippines
  • Community Media Centre, Palestine

19:00 Press Club: Digital Instruments – Blessing or Curse?

Press club (view recording)

 

Key question: In what ways has the digital era changed the notion of public space?

See background resources for the day here

Times given are based on Berlin (10am Berlin, 11am Nairobi, 3pm Bangkok, 6pm Sydney, 3am Kingston, 4am New York, 5 am Santiago - find the time where you live)

Morning session (view recording)

9:15 am Words of Greeting
Rev. Rainer Kiefer, General Secretary, Association of Protestant Churches and Missions in Germany (EMW)

9:30 -10:40 am Keynote presentations and discussion
Moderator: Casey Harden, General Secretary, World YWCA

Video animation on public space

The State of Digital “Public Space”

Hon. Emma Theofelus, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Namibia
Goran Buldioski, Director, Berlin Office, Open Society Foundation,

Respondent:
Frederike van Oorschot, Protestant Institute for Interdisciplinary Research

Afternoon session (view recording)

14:00-15:00 Creating Democratic Public Communication Spaces
Moderator: Embert Charles, WACC President

Presentation by pre-symposium working group and case studies.

15:15-16:15 Breakout groups
Participants will reflect on presentations and provide input for the symposium message and action plan.

16:30-17:30 Public Space: Case Studies and Good Practice
Community efforts to address key public space issues in their context – presentations and Q&A

  • ALAI, Latin America (Ecuador)
  • Ideosync, India
  • Berea Project, Brazil

19:00 Meet and Greet for Digital Justice (view recording)
Exploring in interactive ways how to tackle digital injustice.

Key question: What vision do we have of a more just digital – and human – society – and how do we help to bring it about?

See background resources for the day here

Times given are based on Berlin (10am Berlin, 11am Nairobi, 3pm Bangkok, 6pm Sydney, 3am Kingston, 4am New York, 5 am Santiago - find the time where you live)

Morning session (view recording)

10:00 am Words of Greeting
Philip Lee, General Secretary, World Association for Christian Communication

10:15 am Introduction to the theme and the day

Moderator: Christiane Gebauer, chairperson, WSCF-Europe

Video animation on Vision of our Digital Future

10:30-11:30 am Our Vision for the Future
Marcelo Leites, General Secretary, World Student Christian Federation

Respondents:
Tijana Petkovic, University of Tübingen
Prof. Anita Cloete, University of Stellenbosch

Words of Greeting
Dr Silke Lechner,
Deputy Head of Division "Religion and Foreign Policy" Federal Foreign Office, Germany

Afternoon session (view recording)

13:00-14:00 Intergenerational Perspectives on our Digital Future

14:15-15:15 Plenary: Open Discussion
Moderator: 
Rev Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, Member, WCC Central Committee

  • Where are the main challenges for justice in the digital societies?
  • What are the challenges for the churches and agencies?
  • What is the role of state in implementing just and inclusive digital societies?
  • How to improve the dialogue between the faith communities, civil society networks and big tech companies?

15:30-17:00 Plenary: Our Message and Action Plan
Moderator: 
Rev Dr Angelique Walker-Smith,
Member, WCC Central Committee

Summary of symposium by rapporteurs and presentation of draft message and action plan. Discussion of process going forward.

Special regional discussion at 10:30am ICT (Bangkok) in Asia and Pacific on Tuesday's presentations and follow up discussion to feed into message and action plan (regional registered participants will receive link)

Closing Plenary slideshow (view the video)

Closing Prayer

Monday, 13 September: Digital Justice

Speakers

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Ellen Ueberschär

Ellen Ueberschär, president, Heinrich Böll Foundation

Since July 2017, Ellen Ueberschär is, along with Barbara Unmüßig, one of the presidents of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. As president of the foundation, she is responsible for the foundation’s domestic policy department, for foreign and security policy, and for the European Union/North America department. In addition, she is in charge of the scholarship department, the Green Academy—a think tank of scholars and politicians—as well as the research archive “Grünes Gedächtnis” (Green Memory Archive). Between 2006 and 2017, she was the secretary general of the German Protestant Church Assembly (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag). In this function, she coordinated six Protestant Church Congresses and one ecumenical one. Before, the ordained pastor was dean of the study program for theology, ethics, and law at the Evangelische Akademie Loccum.

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Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm was born in 1960 and studied Theology in Erlangen, Heidelberg and Berkeley (USA). From 1989 to 1992 he was a teaching assistant at the Chair of Systematic Theology and Social Ethics at Heidelberg University where he earned his doctorate in 1992. By 1995 he was married, and the father of three sons. In that year he accepted a Dietrich Bonhoeffer guest professorship for Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York. In 1998 he was granted his ‘habilitation’ (enabling eligibility for a full professorship) at Heidelberg University. From 1999 to 2001 he had an acting professorship for Systematic Theology at Giessen University. From 2004 to 2011 he was professor of Systematic Theology and Current Theological Issues. He headed the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Research Centre for Public Theology at Giessen University from 2007 to 2011 and was also dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 2006 to 2011. 

Since 2009 he has been extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and since 2011 honorary professor for Systematic Theology and Current Theological Issues at Bamberg University. Bedford-Strohm gathered experience as a parish minister from 1992 to 1994 as an assistant pastor from Bavaria loaned to the Protestant congregation of Heddesheim (Baden). He also served as a pastor from 1997 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2004 at the Moriz Church in Coburg. He is a member of the Society for Protestant Theology and is on the board of the journal “Evangelische Theologie”, having been its CEO until 2011. Since 30 October 2011 Bedford-Strohm has been bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and since 11 November 2014 chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Deutschland.

Respondents

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Erin Green

Erin Green, researcher and activist

Erin Green, PhD, is a Canadian-Belgian researcher and activist working in the area of AI, democracy, and the militarisation of digital technologies. She is lead editor of an upcoming collection on AI ethics and higher education. Erin’s interdisciplinary work draws on her training in science, theology, philosophy, and communications to develop a novel interdisciplinary approach to historical, ecological, and social impacts of AI and robots. Erin also has over 15 years experience working in communications in the NGO sector and is dedicated to ecological and social justice as an expression of faith. She loves biking. 

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Sarah Macharia

Sarah Macharia, programme manager for Media and Gender Justice, World Association for Christian Communication

Sarah Macharia coordinates the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), a transnational longitudinal research and advocacy initiative for gender equality in and through the news media running since 1995. She is the editor of the Who makes the news? The Global Media Monitoring Project reports 2010-2020 and co-editor of the UNESCO-published Setting the gender agenda for communication policy (2019). Sarah holds a PhD in Political Science and has worked extensively with feminist movements worldwide.

Moderators

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Christina Biere

Christina Biere, regional pastor, Evangelical Church of Westphalia

Christina Biere is a professional in theology and pastoral care with 20 years of experience in inter-church dialogue and international collaboration. Biere was working in different church congregations before moving towards project leadership with a focus on digital ecumenism, international affairs, diversity and inclusion, and critical analysis of racism and whiteness for the Evangelical Church of Westphalia in Germany. Between 2006 and 2013 she was a member of WCCs central committee and its Commission on Youth.

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Elorm Nick Ahialey-Mawusi

Elorm Nick Ahialey-Mawusi, founder and leading pastor, Living Generation Church, Hamburg

Elorm Nick Ahialey-Mawusi is a doctoral student in the department of Theory of Religion, Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the Philosophical Faculty at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn in Germany. With a special interest in the field of Post-Migration Churches as Agents of Theological Knowledge Production, Ahialey-Mawusi researches theTranscultural Functions of Theology in Negotiations with a special focus on the Cultural Dual Belonging of the Second Generation German Protestants of African Heritage. He has published numerous articles on topics in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, intercultural theology, mission and diakonia.

Ahialey-Mawusi holds a MA in Extended Ecumenical Studies at the University of Bonn and a BA in Mission Studies and International Diakonia from the University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology, Hermannsburg (Germany). He holds a ‘Diplom der Missionsakademie’ from the Academy of Mission at the University of Hamburg. Nick is founder and leading pastor of the Living Generation Church in Hamburg, and the director of the Center for Theological and Ministerial Formation-Germany.

Tuesday, 14 September: Public Space

Speakers

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Emma Inamutila Theofelus

Honourable Emma Inamutila Theofelus, deputy minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Government of Namibia

Before her government appointment, Honourable Emma Inamutila Theofelus was a youth activist around issues of gender, children’s rights, sustainable development and youth unemployment. She served as deputy speaker of the Youth Parliament of the Republic of Namibia and the Junior Mayor of the City of Windhoek, amongst other roles.

Hon. Emma holds an LLB Honours Degree from the University of Namibia, a diploma in Business Management from Amity University and a diploma in Afrikan Feminism and Gender Studies from the University of South Africa.

In her role as deputy minister and member of parliament, Hon. Emma plans to better communicate the activities and programs of the Government of the Republic of Namibia and assist in preparing the Namibian nation for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

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Goran Buldioski

Goran Buldioski, director, Open Society Initiative for Europe

Goran Buldioski is director of the Open Society Foundations’ Berlin office and the Open Society Initiative for Europe.

Buldioski’s areas of expertise include democratic transition, civil society, citizen participation, and effective government in Europe, notably Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. Before joining the Open Society Foundations, he worked for the Council of Europe, the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, and the National Youth Council of Macedonia. Buldioski’s publications on democracy, think tanks, and policy-relevant issues have appeared in Politico Europe, Foreign Policy, ZEIT Online, openDemocracy, Mediapart, and the Independent, among others. He is member of the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Buldioski holds MA degrees in public policy from Central European University and in organizational behavior from George Washington University.

Respondent

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Frederike van Oorschot

PD Dr. theol. Frederike van Oorschot, department head, Religion, Law and Culture, Interdisziplinary Research Institute, Heidelberg

PD Dr Frederike van Oorschot* studied protestanti theology in Göttingen and Heidelberg. During her PhD on public theology and globalisation she did research in Princeton and Stellenbosch. She worked as a lecturer and theological staff of the bishop of the Protestant Church in Baden. Her research interests are digital theology, public theology and hermeneutics. She is head of the department Religion, Law and Culture at the Interdisziplinary Research Institute Heidelberg.

* PD, or ”Privatdozent,” designates scholars who are allowed to teach at universities after their “Habilitation," or second doctorate.

Moderators

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Casey Harden

Casey Harden, general secretary, World YWCA

Casey Harden joined the YWCA movement 20 years ago and is herself a testament to the YWCA’s mission to create space for young women to be leaders, and in doing so, define and contribute to gender equality.

She joined the World YWCA in 2018 as the deputy general secretary and in January 2019 was appointed as the 15th general secretary. Through various executive and leadership positions, Harden has worked in the local and national sphere on issues around health and wellness, gender-based violence, economic security, racism and social justice, while growing into a professional adept at administration, strategy, governance, and activism. Harden has shown how to harness a movement that is rich and wide-reaching in its diversity toward a common goal for collective impact.

An aspiring astronaut, proud mama, and YWCA torchbearer who is passionate about the simple joys of life, Harden believes that young women and girls will lead the way in realizing the global goal of leaving no one behind.

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Embert Charles

Embert Charles, communication and media specialist; President, World Association for Christian Communication (WACC)

Embert Charles, is an experienced communication and media specialist from Saint Lucia, West Indies, and is currently President of WACC. He worked with civil society grassroots organizations in the eastern Caribbean for over two decades focusing on cultural research and advocacy, nation languages and popular communications. Charles has held senior managerial and leadership positions in the public sector, including Managing Director of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (2008-2017) Executive Director of the Folk Research Centre.  Previously, Director of Information Services with the government of saint Lucia, and Communications and Public Awareness Consultant for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). His published works focus on to communications, telecommunications, media development and culture He holds a Masters degree in Telecommunications Regulation and Policy from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 15 September: Vision for the Future

Speakers

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Marcelo Leites

Marcelo Leites, general secretary, World Student Christian Federation

Leites is from Uruguay.  He comes from a long history of involvement with the Student Christian Movements in Uruguay and World Student Christian Federation (Latin America and the Caribbean). He was regional secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean from 2012 and director for the World Student Christian Federation’s Global Program on Ecological Justice since 2016. Prior to this, he was a member of the Student Christian Movement of Uruguay from 2005 to 2011. He worked as a social educator, campaigner and accompanier for youth-related programs and projects in Montevideo, Uruguay before joining the World Student Christian Federation as the interim regional secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2011. Leites studied social work for two years and philosophy for four years at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay, and graduated in 2011. He has been involved in climate justice advocacy since 2012 and is a member of the WCC Climate Change working group and the ACT Alliance Climate Justice Group.

As general secretary for the World Student Christian Federation, he coordinates and provides overall leadership to the work of the federation. He is responsible for the organization’s consistent achievement of its mission and objectives, in global programme development and administration.

Respondents

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Tijana Petkovic

Tijana Petkovic, Ph.D. student, University of Tübingen

Tijana Petković is a theologian who finished her Bachelor's and Master's program at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Belgrade. She then studied at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, University of Geneva, and also spent two semesters as Erasmus Student at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg.

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Anita Cloete

Prof. A.L. Cloete, asociate professor, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

Anita Cloete is an associate professor at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. She has teaching experience of about 17 years and successfully supervised several postgraduate students. Her research areas are spirituality, youth work/ministry within congregational contexts and religion and media.

Her latest publications include: 2020. Living in a Digital Culture: The Need for Theological Reflection. Ecumenical Review: World Council of Churches. 72 (2) 255-269. 2019. Unstoppable: A critical reflection on the socio-economic embeddedness of technology and the implications for the human agenda. HTS Theological Studies. 75 (2) 1-8. 2019. Interdisciplinary Reflections on the interplay between Religion, Film and Youth. (ed) Stellenbosch: Sun Press. 2017. Film as medium for meaning making: A Practical Theological reflection. HTS Theological Studies. 73(3) 1-7

Moderators

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Angelique Walker-Smith

Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Faith Engagement, Bread for the World

Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Faith Engagement at Bread for the World in Washington D.C.  She brings global, national and local experience as a faith thought leader, journalist, speaker, preacher and author.  President Clinton, Senator Richard Lugar, former Indiana Governor (VP) Mike Pence and two of her alma maters, Yale Divinity School and Kent State University have awarded her with high distinctions of leadership.  She received her doctorate degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is former executive director/minister of the Church Council in Indianapolis, Indiana, is ecumenical liaison/officer for the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., a WCC central committee member and rapporteur of the related communications committee, Governing Board member of the National Council of Churches in the USA, WCC-Ecumenical Theological Education commissioner and a president of Historic Black Churches at one of the widest represented ecumenical bodies of Christianity in the USA, Christian Churches Together. She is also the international convener for the Africans and Africans in Diaspora-Manchester Conference, convener of the Pan African Working Group for the Advocacy for Africa Network in Washington D.C., and convener for the Pan African Womens Ecumenical Empowerment Network-WCC. Most recently, she was selected to be a member of the Preparatory Working Group for the new UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent.

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Christiane Gebauer

Christiane Gebauer,  chairperson, World Student Christian Federation-Europe

Christiane Gebauer is chairperson for the World Student Christian Federation-Europe Region, and is also studying theology. Gebauer joined the World Student Christian Federation in 2016 and served from 2017 as programs coordinator, organizing conferences on issues of social justice, peacebuilding and youth leadership as well as media literacy all across Europe. Since 2019 she has served as chairperson of the European region, responsible for the strategic development as well as networking and team management. As a theologian, Gebauer studied in Jena, Pretoria, Vienna and Goettingen and found her fields of interest in reconciliation studies, ecumenism, digital and feminist theology.

Panelists

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Sarah de Roure

Sarah de Roure, Latin America feminist and ecumenical activist, international development consultant

Sarah de Roure has more than 15 years of practice in strategizing and leading organizational change to promote gender equality in Brazil and Latin America. She has extensive experience working alongside civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, social movements, local governments, universities and vulnerable communities on communicating, planning, campaigning and grassroots advocacy—both as a leader and expert consultant.
 

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Lorenzo Vargas

Lorenzo Vargas, program manager, Communication for Social Change

Lorenzo Vargas is a communication for development specialist and researcher on citizensmedia. A Colombian-Canadian, he directs WACCs Communication for Social Change Program, which supports grassroots sustainable development initiatives in the Global South. He holds degrees in international development and communication from York University and McGill University, and is pursuing a PhD in Communication and Culture at Ryerson University, where he is affiliated with the Global Communication Governance Lab. He has also pursued studies on media and internet policy at DiploFoundation, the University of Brasilia and the University of Oxford.

His publications include Citizens Media as a Tool for the Local Construction of Peace in Colombia (2013); Indigenous Community Media Aid Reconciliation in Canada (2015); and Expanding Shrinking Communication Spaces (ed. with Philip Lee) (2020). Staff liaison for the WACC Caribbean and WACC Asia Region, he speaks Spanish, English, and French.

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Rev. James Bhagwan

Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary, Pacific Conference of Churches

Husband to Maelin and father to Francisco and Antonia, Rev. James Bhagwan is from Fiji.
Bhagwan is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and is also licensed to preach and celebrate the sacraments in the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia. 
He currently serves as general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

Previously he served as the secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission as well as theological college staff and pastoral work in the Methodist Church in Fiji. Prior to entering the ministry, he worked in the radio and television broadcast industries in Fiji (1992 - 2006) and had a regular weekly column in the Fiji Times newspaper for a decade (2008-2017).

He is a passionate advocate for ecological stewardship and climate justice, with particular focus on care for the ocean, gender justice, and self-determination issues. Bhagwan is also a keen stand-up-paddler and long-time volunteer chaplain and crew member of the Fijian traditional voyaging canoe, Uto Ni Yalo.

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Ashley Green-Thompson

Ashley Green-Thompson, coordinator, The ACT Ubumbano

Ashley Green-Thompson is coordinator of The ACT Ubumbano, a network of Southern African and European organisations working for economic, gender and environmental justice. Green-Thompson has extensive experience in the region doing work in the nonprofit sector that is rooted in a commitment to social justice activism. He has worked across sectors, from the nascent electoral processes of 1994 through formal church structures and in philanthropy. Green-Thompson has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in African Politics and Law.

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Rev. Meelis Süld

Rev. Meelis Süld, Outreach coordinator for the Council of Lutheran Churches in Great Britain, assistant to the Bishop in the Lutheran Church in Great Britain

Rev. Meelis Süld has been a religious radio journalist for more than two decades in Estonian Public Broadcasting. Since 2021 he works as the outreach coordinator for the Council of Lutheran Churches in Great Britain, assistant to the bishop in the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and assistant pastor in St Annes Lutheran Church in London. He has studied both theology and journalism, and is vice chair of the Estonian Union of Journalists. He has been active in different human rights, civil society and Christian communication initiatives throughout the career.

Digital Justice

Digital justice manifesto: A call to own our digital future
The Digital Justice Manifesto, “A Call to Own Our Digital Future”, was launched in Berlin in November 2019 by the Just Net Coalition, a global network of civil society organizations and individuals, including the World Association for Christian Communication. The coalition was founded at a meeting in New Delhi in 2014, which agreed “The Delhi Declaration for a Just and Equitable Internet.”

The Spirit of Truth in a Digital Age
This special issue of The Ecumenical Review, the quarterly journal of the World Council of Churches (WCC), offers theological and ethical perspectives on the digital age. Contributors to the issue – titled “The Spirit of Truth in a Digital Age” – explore the implications of digital transformation for economics and politics, as well as for theological reflection, and what it means to be human in a digital world (free to read).

Includes articles by organizers of and contributors to the symposium:

Digital Justice: animation explaining key concepts of communication rights, prepared for the symposium Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age

Public Space: animation explaining key concepts of communication rights, prepared for the symposium Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age

Vision for the Future: animation explaining key concepts of communication rights, prepared for the symposium Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age

Vision for the Future: Closing Plenary slideshow

Follow the symposium

Video recordings of the livestreamed sessions are available through the links in the programme and at the WCC Youtube channel.

For more information, please contact us at media@wcc-coe.org.