Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Rising populism, racism and xenophobia - how can churches act against this tide?

Practitioners, ecumenical officers, and representatives of mission and church-based humanitarian agencies came together in Geneva from 1-3 September to formulate an answer.

They discussed how rising populist tendencies can manifest themselves in hate speech, racism and xenophobia, particularly against migrants and refugees.

Participants in the seminar, “Capacity Building for Multicultural Ministry,”organised by the World Council of Churches, agreed that churches have a particular moral responsibility in protecting migrants’ rights within their own faith traditions and to mutually support and learn from each other in offering a firm public witness against disintegrating and dehumanising societal trends.

Christian Wolff, migration and refugee officer at ACT Alliance, stressed how important investment in capacity building and advocacy is by stating: “It is crucial to bring decision-makers out of their cocoon, and to offer them exposures to real life situations at the grassroots level.”

This inspired the group to think strategically on how churches can share lessons learned about the central role of education programmes equipping clergy and laypersons for their ministries against racism and xenophobia.

Evie Vernon of United Society Partners in the Gospel – an Anglican project in the UK  -emphasised the prophetic and corrective role of the church: “The church needs to use tools existing in the context to critique xenophobic tendencies and by making stereotypical messages, for instance in the media, visible.”

The group urged that churches need to denounce all forms of racism and xenophobia  incompatible with the Christian faith and the ecumenical vision of unity in the one body of Christ.

Creating safe spaces for an encounter between migrants and a longstanding resident population could help to address sentiments of fear and scapegoating.

The group agreed on an action plan for a multi-year initiative for annual roundtables to exchange ideas on strategic advocacy work and multicultural ministry among church leaders, as well as on anti-racism and inclusivity training and workshops. Plans will be further elaborated in consultation with member churches, migration-related networks, and specialised ministries.

WCC work on migration and social justice

WCC work on Ecumenical Theological Education