Letter to the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches from the women and men of the Decade Festival of the Churches in Solidarity with Women
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
We, as members of the body of Christ from different parts of the world and different confessions gathered at the Decade Festival, greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. We praise and thank God for the gift of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women given by the World Council of Churches ten years ago. Space was created for women to share their spirituality, their daily struggles and their gifts. But the Living Letters sent to you five years ago revealed the painful reality that many churches were not fully committed to this process. So we come once again as a living letter to invite the churches of this Jubilee Assembly to join us as we recommit ourselves to full Christian community as found in the Gospel. This is not an option, but a Gospel imperative.
Now that we are at the end of this journey, we must acknowledge that the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women became a decade of women in solidarity with women. We were reminded, as we gathered, that the spirituality of "not giving up" is a legacy of our forebears. We were carried on the wings of the Holy Spirit moving us from solidarity to accountability in the full promise that God does not give up on us. We now rejoice in our renewed strength.
Through the Living Letters, we listened and heard our sisters answer Jesus's question, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Women responded by revealing their secret pain of isolation, economic injustice, barriers to participation, racism, religious fundamentalism, ethnic genocide, sexual harassment, HIV/AIDS and violence against women and children. We lamented. We searched the scriptures and we prayed. We found the Holy Spirit interceding with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Empowered, we have begun the journey of healing.
With regard to our young sisters, we acknowledge that at times we have failed them. We embrace the challenge they presented us to affirm their gifts and mentor them as they assume the legacy we pass on - not to give up. We rejoiced in anticipation of our developing partnership.
We appreciate the solidarity expressed by our brothers and those church leaders who journeyed with us. Together we seek to live out the biblical affirmation that we are created in the image of God, male and female (Gen 1:27), and the baptismal vision that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
As women and men of the Decade Festival, we are committed to God's mission of a world where all God`s people can live fully, care for and share the resources of the world equitably, dwell in harmony with creation and affirm one another in the image of God.
THIS MEANS THAT WE HOLD FIRMLY to the vision of a human community where the participation of each and every one is valued, where no one is excluded on the basis of race, sex, age, religion or cultural practice, where diversity is celebrated as God's gift to the world.
TO THIS END, we, women and men of the Decade Festival, urge our churches of the 8th Assembly to embrace this vision, and to direct the resources of the WCC to create programmes, educational materials, networks and opportunities that support and empower women.
We urge our churches to devote time and energy to confront the evils of domination, and discrimination. We call upon our churches to monitor church structures and practices so that all forms of exclusion are eradicated. Let our initiatives include:
- theological education opportunities and programmes for women that honour their voices and experiences;<br<></br<></br<><//br<></br<><//br<></br<><//br<></br<><//br<>theological curricula that include gender studies and women's perspectives;
- training for women, girls and boys in how to live as just communities of women, men and children;
- liturgies, gender and language policies that confirm and affirm all who participate;
- policies that promote a balance of gender, age and race in leadership positions and roles, and honour people's cultural identities.
We recognize that there are a number of ethical and theological issues such as the ordination of women, abortion, divorce and human sexuality in all of its diversity that have implications for participation and are difficult to address in the church community. During the Decade, human sexuality in all of its diversity emerged with particular significance. We condemn the violence perpetuated due to the differences on this matter. We wrestled with the issue, aware of the anguish we all endure because of the potential to create further divisions. We acknowledge that there is divided opinion as women and men on this particular issue. In fact, for some women and men in our midst, the issue has no legitimacy. We seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit that we may continue the conversation in order that justice may prevail.
WE HOLD FIRMLY to the elimination of all violence in various forms (sexual, religious, psychological, structural, physical, spiritual, military), and the Culture of Violence, especially as they affect the life and dignity of women. And we declare our readiness to confront any attempts to excuse, cover-up or justify violence. We declare, as Festival women and men, that its presence in the church is an offence against God, humanity and the earth.
TO THIS END, we call upon this 8th Assembly to announce to the world that violence against women is a sin. In order to be accountable to God and ourselves, we recommend that the Assembly's theme, Turn to God: Rejoice in Hope, be taken as an opportunity for repentance for the church's participation in this violence, and for renewal of our theologies, traditions and practices for justice and peace among women, men and children in our homes and communities. The 9th Assembly should be used to hold ourselves -- our churches and the WCC -- accountable for our work on this issue.
Let our initiatives include:
- Creating opportunities and places for women to speak out fearlessly about the violence and abuse they experience, so that the culture of silence can be broken.
- Exposing all sexual abuse, especially by those in positions of church leadership.
- Creating restorative justice processes where both the victims of violence and the perpetrators can experience, in truth-telling, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Eliminating all biblical and theological justifications for the use of violence.
- Denouncing all initiatives of war, taking steps to de-legitimize war, and seeking alternative, non-violent, ways to handle conflict.
- Denouncing female genital mutilation, sex-tourism and trafficking of women and children.
WE HOLD FIRMLY to a vision of a world of economic justice, where poverty is neither tolerated nor justified, where the peoples of the south and east flourish with the peoples of the north and west, where a balance of power and wealth is restored, and where women and children no longer endure enforced and debilitating labour.
TO THIS END, we denounce economic and political conditions that create uprooted and internally displaced people, migrant workers and refugees. We urge our churches at this 8th Jubilee Assembly to declare poverty and all its dehumanizing consequences a scandal against God. We implore our churches to do everything within our God-given power and accountability to unmask the economic forces of death and destruction, to name the oppressive global economy, the liberalization of markets and the accompanying cut-backs in social and welfare services as enemies of God, and to fulfill God's creative intention for accountable stewardship of the earth. We call on the WCC and its member churches to adopt the UN Beijing Platform for Action and the UN Decade of Eradication of Poverty 1997-2007, and to work with other non-governmental organizations on this common agenda. We urge our churches to raise our voices together against all vestiges of colonialism and all forms of neo-colonialism, and the unjust and unwelcome intrusion by states and other powerful actors in the affairs of other nations. And we urge our churches to call upon the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to halt immediately all Structural Adjustment Programmes that hurt the most vulnerable, especially women and children.
Let our initiatives include:
- a demand, at this Jubilee Assembly, for cancellation of the internal and external debts of the world's poorest nations, and that the resources so saved be used to improve the quality of life of the poor, especially women, youth and children;
- the establishment, in local, regional and national churches, of specific programme desks for economic issues;
- the call for laws that protect women's rights to property and other rights, such as reproductive rights;
- the creation of just economic systems and just structures in church and society so that women and men together may know the blessings of justice, equal pay for equal work, sustainable and livable wages, and honourable labour practices.
We, the women and men of the Festival, declare that fullness of life in Christ and Christ's prayer for unity require women's participation, the elimination of violence against women and that the image of God in women be valued and recognized.
Further, we declare that fullness of life in Christ and Christ's prayer for unity require that no race be valued over another, that churches in the name of Christ challenge all acts of ethnic cleansing, caste atrocities, xenophobia and genocide. We declare that racism and ethnocentrism are against the will of God and have no place in God's household.
The WCC and its member churches must maintain a strong commitment to eradicate racism in all contexts. We call on our WCC and its member churches to provide a strong voice of solidarity with indigenous peoples and black communities, and support for programmes and organizations such as SISTERS (Sisters In Struggle to Eliminate Racism and Sexism) and ENYA (Ecumenical Network of Youth Action) which seek to honour the biblical vision of a world where "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
In the spirit of the Living Letters, we direct a special word to you as church leaders at the Assembly. We recognize that you have been entrusted with gifts of power and authority, delegated to you by God and the church community.
In a world of increasing abuse of power, arrogant assumption of authority and mis-use of position, we are reminded of Jesus' words "that it shall not be so among you". Decade visits demonstrated, however, that such abuses take place in many church circles. We, as women have been, and are the victims of this abuse. We make it clear that we shall not tolerate its presence anymore. We call upon all church leaders to be examples of God's authority in Christ, exercising power not over but with God's people for the enhancement of all.
TO THIS END, we call upon you to initiate actions to correct the gender imbalances that exist in your midst, and make all levels of administration in churches and ecumenical organizations accessible and just for women. We urge you to encourage more women to take up leadership roles and support them so that they can offer new understandings of and ways of using power.
We, the women of the Festival, invite you to join us in the vision and commitment of this letter. At the Festival, the tears of women from around the world were poured out in lament at the hurt and sufferings in women's lives. In the tears that flowed, we recognized each other, from continent to continent, from country to country. Through our tears, we looked at each other and, because of those tears, we promised to stay together and move forward. We include your tears with ours and your stories with ours, and invite you to work, pray and dream with us for the world of God's promise.
The young women at the Festival reminded all of us that this new world can not be, however, if women are content merely to exchange positions with men in systems of domination and oppression. The young women were clear. They see new models of organization where power is shared and every voice is heard. They envision new forms of partnership where a leader is someone who helps others to flourish. They see a church where young and older women work together, and where each is recognized for who they are and what they have to offer.
This is a new day. This is a renewed church, and a transformed community of faith, and we join with you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in its creation.
We, the men of the Festival, address you, the men of the Assembly. It is impossible to express in words the joyous hope that permeated the Festival days, even in the presence of woman's suffering. As men, we have to face the reality of our complicity in the suffering, in the cultures of violence and dominance that have been its source. It is impossible for us as individual men to extricate ourselves from such evil, or pretend that we are free from its power and influence.
We invite you as men of the Assembly to join us in a process of confession and repentance as we seek to turn to God for transformation. Our sisters of the faith have broken the silence, the truth of our actions is now exposed. But in the midst of that truth, we are experiencing not a spirit of recrimination and blame, but a graceful invitation to live out the freedom that is a gift to all of us through God in Christ.
We, the women and men of the Festival, have heard your challenges. We have been lifted up and inspired by your visions and commitments. We pledge to you our spirituality of "not giving up" until there is a church where you are seen not just as the players of tomorrow, but as gifted people of God for today. We also pledge to do whatever we can to free you from abuse and violence, from economic and social injustice. We seek your partnership and guidance as we move toward a church and society that is inclusive and just.
In conclusion, we hope that a clear plan for Decade follow-up can be agreed upon. We suggest that the next ten years be a decade of action and theological reflection with a time-line such as a mid-decade forum and end-decade evaluation.
We ask you to receive this letter in the spirit of the Living Letters that preceded it. We invite your prayers, and ask you to come with us to the fountain of all life, where the sustaining and refreshing waters flow unceasingly, "opening new paths, cleansing, healing, connecting, nourishing the roots of our dreams.... never running dry".
Ecumenical Decade Festival
Visions beyond 1998
27-30 November 1998