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What does it mean for the church to call for peace in a world where many forms of racism persist? This is one of the questions a World Council of Churches (WCC) conference on racism tried to answer.

At the conference hosted by the United Church of Christ (UCC) 30 participants from 15 countries gathered 26-29 August in Cleveland to discuss rationale and strategies for a sustained ecumenical engagement in confronting racism and related forms of prejudice.

“Racism and casteism are weapons that inflict deadly wounds on the society as well as the church - the body of Christ,” Paul Divakar, a lay Christian from India and convenor of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, said. “It is time that the church calls for united action to a disarmament of these deadly weapons.”

Participants discussed many concerns, ranging from anti-Muslim and anti-Roma discrimination in Europe to the experiences of First Nations people in Canada to the persistent caste-based discrimination in India. Discussions were informed by the global rise of anti-immigrant policies and right wing ideologies.

“The churches have a prophetic task to denounce all forms and expressions of existence which constrain the reality of abundant life which God offered to us in Jesus Christ,” the conference participants said in a draft statement that was being prepared for release later in September. “When racism and caste-based discrimination are allowed to persist in both obvious and subtle forms, calling into question the right of many to exist as human beings, the churches have abandoned their mission."

The draft statement continued saying that "if we are to be known by the love of others," this love needed to be concretely expressed by upholding "the sacredness of all as being created in the image of God.”

The group’s next steps include producing comments that will inform a declaration on just peace to be issued in May 2011 in Jamaica when the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation will gather to culminate the churches' decade-long emphasis on overcoming violence.

“We affirm and define just peace as the result of the harmonious relationship between the whole and each one of its parts, rather than the mere absence of conflict,” said Mayra Gomez-Perez, an Indigenous Peoples leader from Bolivia.

“Peace is a gift that we begin to enjoy when justice in human relationships becomes a reality,” said the Rev. Dr Deenabandhu Manchala, WCC programme executive for Justice and Inclusive Communities and one of the organizers of the conference. “So, we need to work for justice to create conditions for peace. Peace has no meaning in Christian parlance without justice. The reflection, in Cleveland, on stories of violence caused by racism and caste discrimination made it clear that we need to 'tame' the aggressors if peace is to be real.”

As part of a draft summary of the meeting, the group concluded that the persistence of economic, social and political exclusion demands that churches must assume an even greater leadership role in battling racial and caste discrimination.

Countries represented were Aotearoa, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, Peru, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. A representative from Palestine was scheduled to attend but was denied a visa by the US government.

More information and a video clip are available on the UCC website

WCC work for Just and Inclusive Communities

Statement from the conference