Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary, World Council of Churches
Tirana, Albania, 2 November 2015
1. The whole body suffers
St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26). Nobody asks of the confession and church tradition of the Christian martyrs of our time. They are uniting us in a way we could hardly imagine. Indeed, it is a costly unity. As the unity in the crucified and risen Christ is costly.
This consultation on ‘Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together’ comes therefore timely. It is very much needed that we come together as Christians from different confessional families and discern how we can work together in supporting those sisters and brothers that go through these challenging times. The suffering of so many makes all of us sad and vulnerable.
It is encouraging that so many responded positively to the invitation to come to this joint consultation. It us so significant that we start with listening to those of you whose churches are going through challenging times right now. All of us need to learn from those voices among us that on a daily basis experience the reality of discrimination and persecution. We need to listen to those of you who know how martyria, witness, and martyrdom are closely interrelated and inter-connected. You need to help all of us to understand what we can do jointly to support one another in following Christ.
Meeting many of you and many of those who are faithful in these challenging times, I also see the hope we share in Jesus Christ. We are all coming together here in this consultation around the cross of Christ. Reflecting on Christ’s life and suffering for his love for the world, we seek to understand God’s message of hope for our world today. Our faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ guide us in discerning practical ways of solidarity with those who are suffering today. As Christians from different parts of the world, from different realities, can become beacons of hope, light of the world, through our support to one another.
2. Light of the world
Dear sisters and brothers, in the text for All Saints day, which we celebrated yesterday in my Norwegian Lutheran church, we are reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: You are the light of the world. (Mathews 5:14 ) We remember this day those who has been and those who are a light to us.
We are gathered here because an increasing number of churches and Christians go through different types of darkness at this moment of our history as one humanity. On this, you are the light of the world. Many of them, many of you, are in a special way light in the world. You are not alone when you are experiencing this darkness. We are together here to say and show that.
There is no limit to for whom we are called to be the light of the world. This solidarity with all who suffer from injustice is what we are taught by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our calling and our sign as we discuss how to support all who suffer because they follow Jesus Christ.
There is another way you are not alone. There are so many from all cultures and faith communities who are also suffering injustice and violence. We are all created by the same God, loved by the same God as every other human being suffering from the increasing brutality in the world. God is hearing you as God hear them all.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ. As we talk about your and our suffering, we are in a world where many, many of Gods beloved human beings are suffering like those who follow Christ. This perspective is our perspective as we meet here, in deep solidarity with all God’s creation, being light of the world, on our pilgrimage of justice and peace, working and praying for justice and peace for all. This is the call to all who follows Jesus Christ. There is a particularly strong light from those who suffer for being such a light. A light of truth and hope.
3. Carrying the image of God
During my visits to churches in countries in the Middle East, but also in Africa and Asia, Latin-America, Central-America and in North America, and also in Europe recently I hear and I see and meet with many who are not treated properly, as we know that “in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). They are loved by God, they are seen by God, but they are under threat, suffering from evil done to them because of what they are, because of the ethnic, cultural or religious identity they have. Their human dignity is under attack by violence, war, discrimination and persecution. Their basic human rights for security, for justice, for a safe home, food, shelter, health, are not respected. I have become deeply saddened by the harsh realities, the violence and suffering, of so many people because of tensions and conflicts in our time.
Not so many armed conflicts of our time are between countries, but conflicts between different groups, conflicts driven by injustice, greed, inherited conflicts and injustices. Some of them have become conflicts between religious and ethnic groups or violence, some are results of injustice and oppression by unjust laws or dictatorial regimes.
We are called to work and pray for the will of God to happen on earth as it is in heaven.
Two weeks ago I met a couple carrying their two small children and their belongings, less than I brought for this meeting, on their way from their home in Homs in Syria towards another life here in Europe. They were like my son’s family, parents and children of the same age. The situation of people who have to leave their village, town, country, because they are afraid of losing their lives is heart-breaking. The number of refugees has increased beyond imagination, in this continent now, but they come from conflicts in other continents where there are many more refugees. They have lost hope for a good future in their own country. They want to give opportunities to their children to build up a life without fear and violence. “They are all carrying the image of God, and most of them are Muslims,” said metropolitan Dimitirios in the Church of Greece as we met refugees in his diocese near the border between Greece and Serbia.
From my experience in the World Council of Churches, I have become convinced that even in times conflicts and oppression we need to hold on to an inclusive approach. It will not help us if we think in terms of Christians over against the ‘others’. In many countries, not only Christians are suffering under discrimination, persecution and violence. Also other religious and ethnic minorities go through difficult times. Similarly it is not helpful to generalize in accusing a particular religion for causing troubles. Today, almost all religions struggle with tendencies towards radicalism in their own constituencies. In some cases this leads to outbreak of violence in the name of a particular religious conviction, in other cases it leads to violence against religions. For this reason, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches asked me to give specifically attention to religion and violence and to find ways how the Christian family can follow Christ in bringing peace and hope. As the 10th assembly in Busan, 2013, called us to embark together as churches on a pilgrimage of justice and peace.
I hope that this consultation will go beyond sharing stories and help us to move from reflection to action. As World Council of Churches we are engaged in practical work to support the churches. New plans are under way to support churches in Syria and Iraq to see how we can work with the churches and the international community to developed safe spaces in the future. With ACT Alliance we are engaged in humanitarian assistance in many parts of the world. However, the uniqueness of this consultation is that we are here together as representatives of the Catholic Church, evangelical and Pentecostal churches and the ecumenical family. This vivid expression of Christian unity in solidarity has not taken place before. It shows the urgency of the problems we want to address, but also the readiness to move forward together.
4. The common "Yes"
St Paul reminds us that “In Him it is always “Yes”” ( 2 Cor 1:19). Let also this gathering be a true reminder to all of us about the image of God we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Following Jesus Christ is to say “yes”: “Yes” to one another as Christian sisters and brothers as the One body of Christ, particularly when some are suffering. “Yes” to his call to be the light of the world. “Yes” to the love and care for everyone created in the image of God, in dialogue, in living together with the attitudes of Jesus Christ.
Finally I want to thank the Global Christian Forum, especially its secretary Rev.Dr Larry Miller and the planning group of this consultation, for bringing us together. I pray that we will use this God-given opportunity to find ways of supporting one another in the way Christ has taught us. May the Holy Spirit guide us in our work!