The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, met with church leaders and politicians in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand last week. The meeting occurred almost one year after his latest visit to the region. On request of the church leaders a meeting took place with political leaders to discuss follow-up on the Paris Agreement, peace in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula, and the challenges the region is facing.
Tveit met with the former co-leader of New Zealand’s Green Party, Metiria Turei, the new leader of the Labour Party, Jacinda Ardern, and the attorney-general, Chris Finlayson. He was accompanied by members of the New Zealand National Dialogue for Christian Unity.
New Zealand is uniquely addressing climate change both as a matter of prevention and of mitigation. In the Pacific - and with a significant Pacific indigenous Maori population - New Zealand has a crucial role to play in leading the world to address climate change as an urgent matter. Church leaders raised the need to establish a category for climate change refugees in legislation.
Tveit said the churches have a clear focus on advocacy and the role of a strong prophetic voice, and that the nation itself has high regard for indigenous people. “I find no other country that has such advanced legal rights and respect for their indigenous people as New Zealand,” he said.
“The ecumenical work on advocacy—raising a voice together with those needing accompaniment for justice and peace—is a genuine task for a fellowship of churches who together express faith in the triune God of life,” he said. “This faith dimension of advocacy for justice and peace should convey hope.”
Discussions between the political leaders, church leaders in New Zealand and WCC’s general secretary covered the integral role of spirituality in the Pacific, the need for an authentic voice on climate change, and New Zealand’s role in WCC’s regional structure.
“Monitoring and implementation of the Paris agreement are of the utmost importance now,” Tveit continued, adding that pressure for environmental action must be maintained by religious bodies, civil society, business people and scientists.
“We have to be strong in our conviction that implementation of the Paris accord is possible,” he said, “and we must act to hold world leaders accountable to the commitments they have made.”
Particularly in this landscape, hope must be the characteristic message of the church, said Tveit. “The advocacy of the church can only be based on a Christian faith that has a prophetic, critical approach aiming at transformation and hope; not marked by fatalism, by indifference or cynical words of devaluation of others, but by love,” he said. “Hope is a quality of faith. And a necessary condition for hope is that it expresses itself in love for others, whoever and wherever they are.”