The synod of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau in October 1970 voted to provide 100,000 German Marks from its main budget to the WCC anti-racism programme’s Special Fund, which provided humanitarian assistance to liberation movements engaged in armed struggle in Southern Africa.
This decision was a sign of ecumenical support and solidarity “not only with the global ecumenical movement but especially with those oppressed by racist policies and actions,” the moderator of the WCC central committee, Dr Agnes Abuom, said in a video address on 26 November to a special session of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau synod held online to commemorate the 1970 decision.
The WCC’s anti-racism programme, created in 1969 and widely known by its initials PCR, was one of the ecumenical organization’s most controversial initiatives, not least because of the grants to liberation movements fighting racist and colonial regimes in Africa.
The first such grants were announced by the WCC in September 1970 and the decision the following month by the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau synod to provide financial support from its regular church budget to the Special Fund led to fierce criticism in German media as well as disapproval from senior German Protestant leaders.
“Facing such criticism, the church of Hesse and Nassau could have decided to play down or even reconsider it its decision,” Abuom, an Anglican from Kenya, stated in her address.
Instead, she said, the church adopted a different strategy, with an extensive programme of meetings in congregations and elsewhere “both to explain the decision about the Special Fund and to raise awareness about the World Council of Churches, and the place of your church within it.”
The Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau is one of the 20 regional Protestant churches that make up the Evangelical Church in Germany. Only one other regional Protestant church followed the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau in offering formal financial support to the PCR’s Special Fund, though others set up special accounts for donations.
Opening the commemoration, the synod president, Ulrich Oelschläger, praised the “steadfastness” of the synod, which in December 1970 reaffirmed its support for the Special Fund, despite the public criticism and hundreds of protest letters received in the church headquarters.
The church president of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, Volker Jung, in his comments to the synod, described the 1970 decision as representing a “continuing obligation to oppose all forms of racism and inhumanity.”
Abuom told the synod that with xenophobia, racism, and populist nationalism increasing worldwide, the WCC executive committee had decided to make overcoming racism a major priority looking toward its next assembly in 2022 and beyond.
“In this,” she said, “we can all be inspired by the action of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau 50 years ago.”