Organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), United Evangelical Mission and Evangelical Church in Germany, the conference “Christian Perspectives on Human Dignity and Human Rights” took place on 9-12 April in Wuppertal, Germany and online, addressing the challenges for a common vision of churches on human rights today.
Looking at the state of the world today, it is clear that universal respect for human rights has not been achieved, said Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC acting general secretary, addressing the conference. On the contrary, nations evidently hold very different perspectives on the validity of human rights, or of international law in general.
“In this time of renewed conflict, confrontation and division, in which the lives and dignity of so many people around the world are under increasing threat, it is of utmost importance that the ecumenical movement strive for unity of understanding and approach to the protection of the God-given dignity of every human being,” said Sauca.
Dr h.c. Annette Kurschus, chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, noted there are things that cannot be left up to grace and favour: the protection of dignity and life, and freedom of expression – “everything that human rights guarantee for a person just because they are human. But for human rights to become hands-on reality, they need people who fight for them – even where it seems impossible,” said Kurschus.
“Human rights do not create heaven on earth, but for us Christians, like the commandments, they are protective fences of law, which contain injustice and protect against uncertainty,” said Rev. Volker Martin Dally, general secretary of the United Evangelical Mission. “Those who violate and trample on human rights will have to answer for it. This is the hope of the many victims of injustice and violence, expressed in the biblical traditions.”
During the public session of the conference, a panel of the keynote speakers shared biblical, theological and practical perspectives on human rights and dignity. Panelists included Natallia Vasilevich (Centre Ecumena, Belarus), Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata (Zimbabwe Council of Churches), Dr Mathews George Chunakara (Christian Conference of Asia), Protopresbyter Dr Nicolas Kazarian (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America), Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt (FAU, Germany), Rev. Ute Hedrich (EKD, Germany), Jochen Motte (United Evangelical Mission, Germany) and Peter Prove (CCIA, World Council of Churches).
Ecumenical solidarity along with international multilateral accountability mechanisms is a key to promote and protect human rights and dignity, noted Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. “But human rights and human dignity become compromised where there are no shared standards of truth telling and objective mutual accountability.”
“What shows the value and essence of our theology, is how do we address certain situations of human rights violations, and how do we apply our understanding of human dignity,” said Natallia Vasilevich, Orthodox theologian and human rights lawyer from Belarus. “Human rights is a very critical tool for us as churches also to look at ourselves and judge ourselves, and to repent if we have failed. Our ecumenical responsibility is not only to theorize about human rights, but to address the particular human rights violations, bringing change.”