The symposium, “Christian Witness and Action for Human Dignity and Human Rights,” was organized in cooperation with the United Evangelical Mission, and it was attended by Masters students at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. The symposium was a follow up to relevant discussions at the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe where the WCC, EKD, and United Evangelical Mission presented the results of a three-year study process with a message to strengthen the Christian witness for human dignity and universal human rights.
Biblical insights on human rights, the state of human rights in the world today, and churches’ joint action and advocacy for human rights were among the topics discussed during the symposium, held as a collaboration between the WCC Public Witness and Diakonia programme, and the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, Diaconia and Training & Empowerment units of United Evangelical Mission Communion of Churches in Three Continents.
“It is very important for us as theologians to see things on a more practical side rather than just reflectional,” said Andrei-Dumitru Ursulean, Bossey student from the Romanian Orthodox Church. “Sometimes we are stuck in books and we only reflect on things, forgetting that there are more practical things in life that need our input and involvement.”
Students reported that the meeting helped them understand better the structures behind international human rights, and how the WCC and United Evangelical Mission act on it. “Also, the testimonies from people across the world raised awareness on how pressing some of the issues are and how important it is for us and for the churches to act together in resolving them,” said Ursulean.
"I have been enlightened on different entry points to bring out human rights concerns in my context—and that you do not need to be a lawyer to speak up of human rights violations and seek justice,” said Eva Abel, Bossey student from the Anglican Church of Kenya. “To be a true witness in the public space, the church should not distance itself from engagement in human rights.”
Promoting human dignity means also connecting to the spirit and legacy of the WCC since the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs contributed to drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II, added Abel.
“I come from a place where my grandfather, my father, and now also me, we are facing the human rights violations based on militarization,” said Lempang Phom, Bossey student from the Council of Baptist Churches in North East India. “It is a long history of struggle for our movement of an independent nation. It is a process of continuous solidarity and, as a young theologian, I look forward for a collaboration with the wider church fellowship standing together with this movement. Because I believe that a human right is a Christian right.”
Rev. Dr Jochen Motte, resource person and United Evangelical Mission deputy general secretary, expressed the insight from the WCC, EKD, and United Evangelical Mission study process that advocating for human rights is not an additional external challenge to churches but is an inherent part of Christians striving for justice.
From the perspective of Rev. Dr Andar Parlindungan, United Evangelical Mission executive secretary, “justice” is not a sub-issue but the central part of belief in God, who has revealed himself to Israel and then in Jesus Christ to all people as a God of love and of justice.
WCC director for International Affairs Peter Prove noted that 2023 marks the 75th anniversary both of the WCC and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that “reflecting on this heritage with the Bossey students was a powerful way to bring this legacy and the current challenges of today into the thinking of a new generation of church leadership.”
The symposium was hosted at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey by Prof. Dr Simone Sinn, director of the institute, and Rev. Prof. Dr Benjamin Simon, professor of Ecumenical Social Ethics.