Indigenous Peoples, the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, the Just Community of Women and Men, and the Ecumenical Youth Gathering were the fora for in-depth analysis and debates on issues challenging the global family of churches represented in the WCC.
All the pre-assembly participants gathered together in a closing session on August 30 to share highlights from the messages each is taking forward to the Assembly.
Youth pray for justice and healing in the midst of laments
The Ecumenical Youth Gathering voiced a series of laments “on the killing, violence, and brutality against human beings”, especially women, children and girls. It identified specific situations of war and oppression, terrorism and genocide, unjust imprisonment, and extra-judicial killings in countries around the globe.
They also lamented the forced displacements of people and nations due to the climate crisis and violent conflicts - in the Middle East, in many Pacific Islands, in most African countries, and in Latin America, as well as unilateral and unjust blockades that some countries have over countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
In their message, the youth recognized and prayed for justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation of the wounds the church has inflicted and continues to inflict in the world. They affirmed that “the healing of wounds is a process that requires a community grounded in the love of Christ”. “That love is the greatest gift to raise up all human beings from their deepest wounds and transform it into divine strength to make the Body whole,” they stated.
The youth called upon the WCC to provide a meaningful space for an equal representation of young people in all its processes, to establish a permanent youth desk focused on advocacy and reconciliation towards unity, and to listen actively to the cries of the young people, especially those in oppressed communities and those fighting for climate justice.
“As people pushed to the margins”, Indigenous Peoples seek “to make visible what is hidden”
Participants from 40 different Indigenous nations acknowledged in their message that “the road to reconciliation leads through restoration of justice, because without justice, we cannot stand as equals.” Such reconciliation is not only needed in human relationships but also “in humanity’s broken relationship with the creation.”
In naming violence and injustice experience by Indigenous Peoples, including by the church, the message lifts up Christ’s love as “radical” to dominant systems and traditions. Such love which “heals and restores, and confronts and transforms” ... “can make reconciliation lasting and unity real.
Indigenous Peoples called upon the WCC and member churches to support them in their own healing journeys to recover their God-given identities. This healing from historical trauma is intergenerational; it affects their mental and physical well-being, that of their children, grandchildren, and generations to come, and is directly tied to the healing and well-being of their lands, their waters, and the air they breathe.
The message from Indigenous Peoples underscored that land is at the root of their identity and existence and call on the churches in the North to impress upon their governments to halt or restrain extractive and exploitative projects for economic growth on the land. They also appealed to the WCC to ensure that the Indigenous Peoples program be supported with adequate space and resources.
Recognizing and including gifts of people with disabilities
The Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) recognized the God-given gifts of people with disabilities and the importance of making available those gifts for the body of Christ to function fully. It called on churches to continue to develop and encourage more people with disabilities to be involved in church leadership at local and denominational levels, and for wider representation in WCC assemblies and activities, especially for non-speaking people: people who communicate through alternative and augmentative devices and people who are neurodivergent, have learning disabilities or invisible disabilities.
The pre-assembly recommends the development of a theology of disability and disability training in ecumenical education, in co-operation with EDAN.
Acknowledging that persons with disability are disproportionally numbered as the poorest of the poor, EDAN urged WCC member churches and para-church development agencies to urgently develop programs and projects to prioritize economic development of people with disabilities, especially in the most economically disadvantaged states.
Recognizing the impact of crises and armed conflicts on persons with disabilities, EDAN highlighted the need to advocate for cessation of armed conflict and accessibility within any emergency migration and evacuation efforts.
Affirming respect and dignity in building a just community
The biblical-theological focus for the Just Community of Women and Men was Acts 8:26-39, the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. In their report, participants recognized they were challenged to reflect together on their “understanding of inclusion and transformation”, and how “injustice occurs on the basis of identity and particularity, including sexual and gender identity, class, ethnic, racial, and religious identity.”
The pre-assembly noted the continuing and even exacerbated tragedy of gender-based violence and abuse in multiple forms, in all regions, and within and outside churches. “The need for safe spaces in faith communities“ was highlighted: “for women in all churches, for vulnerable men, for creating dialogue and affirmation around gender diversity, and for solidarity and accompaniment with victims of violence”.
As they stated, “We seek a fellowship through the WCC that reflects Jesus’ advocacy for women, and his model of a community where all are included and honoured with dignity and respect.”
Participants called for a number of concrete actions, including implementing commitments already made by churches; for church leaders, pastors, and male clergy to open space for feminist dialogue in the body of Christ, when women’s issues are often confined to women’s ministries; for the nurturing of intergenerational women’s networks and the women’s potentials and leadership, especially those of young women; for the visible recognition and appointment of male allies and champions for gender equality; for addressing the intersectional dimensions of gender justice with racism, exploitation, militarization, marginalization and more.
The report acknowledges that “sociocultural realities that impose themselves on our religious lives distort God’s vision of life in fullness, abundance, and love”. In this context, patriarchy “hurts and exploits women, men, and people of all genders”. Recognizing power imbalances between genders even in efforts for inclusion, they state, “As Christians, we are called to employ the ‘power of love’ and not the ‘love of power’”.