Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit,
World Council of Churches
Ecumenical Strategic Forum, Geneva, 4 October 2017
9.5 THESES FOR A NEW QUEST FOR UNITY AND PEACE THROUGH ECUMENICAL DIAKONIA
(In the month commemorating 500 years of Reformation, a modest contribution to our joint reflection and actions for a new transformation of the world towards unity, justice and peace, might be expressed in one-tenth the number of theses that initiated the transformation called the “Reformation”.)
1 When our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for his disciples “that they all may be one” (John 17), he prayed that their being one should be defined by the qualities of their relations and the practical expressions of true human relationships: “that they love one another as you have loved me”. Their unity should be for the purpose of transformation of themselves and the world, “so the world may believe”. This is what the tapestry here in the hall says to us every time we come here.
2 The unity Jesus prayed for is a unity different from others in the world. This unity should neither be that of an imperial power dominating other peoples, nor should it be exclusive to national and religious communities, as “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 19). It should be a fellowship of diversity, a new relationship in “spirit and truth” (John 4), crossing traditional ethnic, geographic, and religious boundaries. It manifests itself as a prophetic message of critique, as light in darkness, but also as building new relationships through sharing bread, through healing, through including the marginalized, participating in the feasts of life, transforming human lives, creating friendship and through willingness to sacrifice something, even your own life, for others, counteracting ignorance, injustice, lack of integrity and selfishness.
3 When we try to discern the signs of our times, we see many tendencies towards different quests for unity. There is a sense of being one world through new possibilities of communication and sharing information, connecting people through enormous and sometimes unlimited openness, but also making the world a globalized marketplace dominated by a few and powerful actors, some with little or no ethical or value-based standards for a unity of economic justice for all. The global market creates opportunities but not equality. There is also a global trend towards building a sense of a safer and closed unity for some – but not for all – by actions that divide and polarize, manifesting national identity as exclusive, defining difference as a reason for superiority, discrimination, racism, or xenophobia. These signs can be seen in all continents, for example in Europe and in the USA.
4 We can observe a parallel trend in a globalized and even a post-globalized religious realm. There is a strong momentum towards openness to ideas other than one’s own traditions and given religion, and to a mixture of religious traditions and, even more, a life-orientation without religious identity. On the other hand there are strong movements towards manifesting those dimensions in religion that affirm an exclusive identity (we-they), politicizing religion, nationalizing religion, even using religion as basis for violence. We can see these tendencies as well on all continents.
5 There is a new momentum for the unity of the Church. This can be seen as a need for an alternative to destructive or divisive trends. The alternative approach to unity can be offered as a contribution to unity in the world and a just peace with all and with the whole of creation, crossing all kinds of boundaries and counteracting forces that make human beings enemies to one another. This unity can manifest itself through other qualities of relations based on faith in the God of life as creator of all human beings, created in the image of God, faith in God the Holy Spirit and life-giver of all, and faith in the God of love, compassion and critique, incarnated in Jesus Christ. This unity can be promoted in common actions and shared commitment to the values of the kingdom of God: joy, justice and peace (Romans 14).
6 There is a new momentum for church unity in our time that is manifested in a new willingness to work together for justice and peace, through a shared commitment to ecumenical diakonia. This is expressed in the WCC agenda and call for being “Together on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace”. It is expressed in Pope Francis’ constant call to search for new ways towards unity by “working, praying and walking together”. This was affirmed by him and the leadership of the LWF in the first commemoration of the 500 years of Reformation in Lund, 31 October 2016. It is also expressed in the exploration of new ways of acting together for sharing, justice and peace as churches, for example through ACT Alliance as an instrument for international, ecumenical diakonia. There are new and strong signals of making that alliance a more inclusive and church-based common enterprise. The WCC is experiencing a new openness for cooperation in diakonia for example from the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Pentecostal Fellowship, World Vision and others representing those parts of Christianity not organized in the traditional ecumenical movement.
7 The connection between a new quest for unity and a new quest for ecumenical diakonia should manifest itself in new initiatives towards more mutual accountability. This accountability should focus on shared values and faith traditions. This is to manifest the oneness Jesus Christ prayed for as an alternative, faith-based search for unity through concrete visible actions for the well-being and just peace for others and for creation. This means that actions and relations must all be established and tested by their accountability to these values and by their good intention and effect on those who need the common witness for just peace the most: the marginalized, the poor, refugees from war and conflicts, the sick, victims of violence, particularly victims of gender-based violence and children. The unity we seek through common service must be holistic as we are seeking the values of the kingdom of God, and must therefore seek to express how our ecumenical diakonia is both faith-based and right-based at the same time. Shared expressions of ecumenical diakonia from churches and their partners can show an alternative counter-movement to ignorance of, or disinterest in, spiritual and moral values, and an alternative to an understanding of unity (also religious unity) as a closed and exclusive reality and entity.
8 The pilgrimage of justice and peace is an expression of our faith and our search for transformation towards unity, justice and peace as disciples of Jesus Christ. Following the many lessons learned in the ecumenical movement and its practice, the 10th Assembly of the WCC invited all churches and “all people of good will” to join us in this pilgrimage of justice and peace. This means that we seek partners for the work we do and partners in developing the visions and the capacities of the churches to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is not to minimize or change our faith-based commitment and our Christian identity, but to be more able to contribute substantially to the care for, and the transformation of, human communities towards a fellowship of justice and peace.
9 The quest for new expressions of the Christian unity through ecumenical diakonia must be shown through visible and tangible practice locally and globally. Unity, love, service, justice, peace and hope are all best seen and perceived in daily and concrete practices. The way to visible unity for churches and for the churches’ contribution to life-giving unity of societies can be found through developing healthy, holistic and sustainable movements among the peoples, establishing alternative, inclusive and constructive populism. We can all go forward in manifesting and developing qualities of relationships as expressions of the basic values in Christian discipleship. These qualities must and can be shown in mutual accountability to our values, and through sharing our gifts and openness, through reliability and honest conversation. We do this to express our faith, love and hope. These attitudes can make a difference. These qualities of relationships must and can be shown in sharing in service/diakonia in daily, practical behaviour on both the micro-level and the macro-level, in families, schools, local churches, and communities – as well as in stewardship and advocacy at a national and global level.
9.5 The ecumenical movement and the WCC is not primarily what happens in Geneva. It is a poly-centric movement. For the constant renewal and reformation of the churches and human societies we cannot wait for figures like Martin Luther or Martin Luther King. We all have to be, and we all can be, agents of change for unity, justice and peace. The remaining half of this thesis has to be filled out by everyone for herself or himself, defining what we are and what we can do together to be the prophetic voice for another type of relationship, to bring hope to the world.