Inspired by the theme “pilgrimage of justice and peace”, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), a chief governing body of the Council, has set directions for the work of the Council from 2014 to 2017.
The Central Committee, which represents 150 members from all global regions, concluded its meeting on 8 July at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The theme “pilgrimage of justice and peace” is based on the final message from the WCC 10th Assembly in November 2013, which states, “We intend to move together. Challenged by our experiences in Busan, we challenge all people of good will to engage their God-given gifts in transforming actions. This Assembly calls you to join us in pilgrimage.”
The WCC Assembly was held last year in Busan, Republic of Korea.
Emerging concerns for the global church
Renewal of churches’ commitment towards Christian unity as well as solidarity with churches in conflict situations remained in focus during the meeting. Countries where churches’ work for justice and peace is being prioritized include the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Syria and Israel and Palestine. Strategies were also developed on how to promote churches’ work for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Climate change, ecological and economic justice, and sharing of resources among the churches emerged as major topics during the six-day meeting.
The need for stronger engagement from youth in the ecumenical movement was stressed in a message from the WCC Central Committee moderator Dr Agnes Abuom, during the opening day.
In his report, the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit highlighted the significance of ecumenical, inter-religious and ecclesiological dialogue, as well as Christian mission. He mentioned the need to enhance support for refugees and displaced peoples, as well as efforts from the churches in addressing issues related to HIV and AIDS.
In pursuit of “justice and peace”, Tveit encouraged a stronger participation in the churches from youth, women, as well as people with disabilities.
Despite hurdles, continuing pilgrimage of justice and peace
WCC president for Asia Rev. Dr Sang Chang stressed the importance of the WCC Assembly message for the work of the Council and its 345 member churches around the world.
She said, “We Christians are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). As a global body of believers in Jesus Christ, the WCC has always been committed to peace-making efforts.”
“We have embarked on a pilgrimage of justice and peace starting from the Busan assembly. We, of course, are well aware that there are and will be challenges and obstacles on the road along the journey,” she added.
The WCC president for Latin America, Rev. Gloria Ulloa Alvarado, expressed her hopes for positive outcomes in translating the theme of the meeting into concrete actions by the churches. “There is nothing that can clip our wings and can stop us from dreaming. We should achieve lasting peace that will better our lives as people,” she said.
Jayonta Adhikari, WCC Central Committee member from Bangladesh, called the “pilgrimage for justice and peace a continuous process.”
“It is not only a particular objective we are moving toward. We are on-going with many things; friends, colleagues, neighbours, in addition to this Central Committee. Eventually, that will lead us to a new understanding,” he said.
Statements adopted by the Central Committee
A number of statements were adopted by the WCC Central Committee.
One statement focused on promoting a nuclear-free world. Nuclear power is the pathway to acquiring nuclear weapons, the statement says, while pointing out parallel health, humanitarian, environmental and security dangers in civilian and military uses of nuclear energy.
Concern over the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution was the focus of another statement. Recently the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe proposed a reinterpretation allowing for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to use force alongside other national militaries. In the document, the Japanese government was urged to honour the spirit of the Japanese constitution which recommends nonviolence as a way to settle disputes.
The current situation in Mosul, Iraq was highlighted through a statement. The document acknowledges that Mosul had been completely emptied of Christian population during the recent conflict. While commending efforts for humanitarian relief from churches in Iraq, the statement urges the international community and United Nations agencies to ensure humanitarian assistance to all vulnerable communities. It urges the Iraqi authorities to launch an inclusive political process, and to strengthen human rights and religious freedom.
Continuing with expressions of solidarity with those working for peace in Israel and Palestine, the Central Committee adopted a statement encouraging churches to engage in advocating for economic measures that promote peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. To accomplish the vision for peace in the region, the statement encourages churches to “engage in dialogue with Palestinian churches, civil society actors, and Jewish partners”.
Membership within the WCC
The Central Committee accepted an application from the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa to be re-admitted as a member within the WCC after having parted ways with the Council due to fundamental disagreements on policy during the apartheid era. Applications from the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Blantyre Synod in Malawi, as well as from the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India, were also accepted. Action will be taken on these applications at the next Central Committee meeting in two years’ time.