The leadership and representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) met in the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland to explore and discuss possible areas of future cooperation.
The 20 May meeting featured introductions to the work of the WEA and the WCC, and participants reflected together on current developments in society and churches, and on evangelical and ecumenical movements. The WCC general secretary and WEA secretary general took part.
The two organizations shared current plans and discussed possibilities for closer collaboration on thematic areas such as “public witness and peace-building in inter-religious contexts” and “theological reflection, education and formation.”
This was the second meeting with the leadership and representatives, although it was the first meeting with both heads of the organizations present and where perceptions about both the WEA and WCC were discussed.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC said, “Christians and their communities around the world are aware today, as never before, that life itself is in peril. So many dangers - climate change, certainly: but also poverty and economic injustice, threats to health and well-being, violence and war - endanger humanity and can drain our hope.“
Tveit noted, “The ecumenical work and collaboration on advocacy - raising a voice together with those needing accompaniment for justice and peace - is a genuine task for a fellowship of churches who together express faith in the triune God of life,” he said.
“This faith dimension of advocacy for justice and peace should convey hope. In my view, a commitment to convey hope should also be considered as a criterion for the critique of religion.”
Tveit underlined, “That is why the World Council of Churches calls on churches everywhere to walk together, to view their common life, their journey of faith, as a part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace, and to join together with others in concrete work for a transformed world. We have to get together to talk, listen and pray.”
The need for a closer cooperation between the WEA and the WCC was affirmed by the WEA general secretary, Bishop Efraim Tendero: “In our growing cooperation we can build on years of discourse and mutual understanding. This is not a quick rush into a changing situation, but a thought-through move towards more cooperation of Christians on a global scale. We owe it to our constituency that we talk with the leadership of global Christian bodies and seek better understanding and closer cooperation wherever possible.”
An important issue discussed in the joint meeting was the increasing concern about religion and violence in different parts of the world.
“All religions can generate extremists,” Tendero observed, “but Christian teaching about salvation through Christ rejects all kinds of religious violence.”
However, he said: "It is the nature of religions to make truth claims, about what ultimately exists, and how people relate to the divine.
“A religion becomes extremist when it uses force or violence to impose truth claims on other people or to apply those truth claims to its own members. As religious leaders, it is our duty and call to promote, to teach, to foster the peace in our traditions."
Dr Wilf Gasser, associate secretary general for the WEA, added that the question of religion and violence is also important in the context of the growing stream of refugees. “We are very glad to hear the stories of how many refugees are finding peace through faith in Jesus. At the same time, we are considering how churches can offer support without fueling tensions between religions. We are working with a code of conduct that defines the ethical relationship between mission and practical support.”
Nearly five years ago the WEA, the WCC and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) published an historic document on the ethics of Christian mission, “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct.”
Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC associate general secretary for Mission, Unity and Ecumenical Relations said, “This historic document is in part a response to criticisms leveled at Christians by some religious communities in what they perceived to be a use of unethical methods in mission.”
“In some cases these objections to mission have led to anti-conversion laws and violence. The three main world Christian bodies were able to respond with this document that not only identifies the biblical call to evangelism but outlines the ethical mandates related to the Gospel.”
Dr Clare Amos, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, suggested that not all religious traditions currently find it easy to acknowledge that their own religion could be complicit in violence.
“There is a tendency to try and protect the religion itself from such an accusation by suggesting that those who commit acts of violence are not really authentic representatives of that particular faith tradition,” she said.
Placing human rights in the “right place” as a core concept of the Christian worldview was the central tenet of Prof. Dr Thomas Schirrmacher’s presentation at the leadership meeting. He underlined that “human rights are rooted in God’s creation of humans and not only in their redemption; therefore, all people have equal rights and people from many different faiths may be moved to protect human rights.”
Schirrmacher said, “Because the ultimate foundation for human rights stands in God’s work as Creator, all people have, and can know something about, human dignity, the basis for human rights.”
The meeting between the WCC and WEA leadership proved to be an important step forward in the growing relation and cooperation between the two organizations. There was a strong feeling that the vulnerable situations today in many parts of the world need a united voice from Christians supporting all efforts to build justice and peace.
The WEA representatives at the meeting were;
Bishop Efraim Tendero, Secretary General/CEO
Dr Wilf Gasser, Associate Secretary General
Prof. Dr Thomas K. Johnson, WEA Ambassador to the Vatican, Senior Advisor to the Theological Commission
Prof. Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the WEA Theological Commission and Moderator of Intrafaith and Interfaith Relations of the WEA.
The WCC representatives at the meeting were;
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary
Georges Lemopoulos, Deputy General Secretary
Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Associate General Secretary Public Witness and Diakonia
Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, Associate General Secretary Unity, Mission and Ecumenical Relations
Dr Clare Amos, Programme Executive Inter-Religious Dialogue and Cooperation
Prof. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, Director Faith and Order