From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Churches preparing for major role in new European Union
03 Jun 1998 15:36:36
June 3, 1998 Contact: Linda Bloom*(212) 870-3803*New York
NEW YORK (UMNS) -- European churches are preparing to play a major role
in the continued development of the new European Union, according to an
ecumenical leader there.
One part of that preparation is the merger of the European Ecumenical
Commission for Church and Society into the Conference of European
Churches. The result, said the Rev. Keith Clements, the conference's
general secretary, is the Commission on Church and Society. The new
commission, which first met in January, will have its second meeting
later in June. Members include Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists,
Anglicans and the Orthodox.
"For the first time in centuries, there's the possibility of creating a
Europe without barriers," Clements said. "The challenge to the churches
is whether they themselves can contribute to the unity."
Current members of the European Union are Belgium, Denmark, Germany,
Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria,
Portugal, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The Conference of European Churches itself, with offices in Geneva,
comprises 123 different church bodies and also cooperates with the Roman
Catholic Church. Clements, a Baptist from England, has served as general
secretary since last September.
During a June 2 interview at the U.S. National Council of Churches
offices, Clements explained that a major concern of the churches is that
the European Union "should not be based on policies of exclusion." Those
who might be excluded range from refugees and asylum seekers on the
outside to the unemployed and socially marginalized on the inside, he
Other concerns include the pursuing of economic justice, safeguarding
the environment and promoting human rights, according to Clements.
Another challenge is to ensure that the process of union won't lead to
new divisions, such as the economic disparity which already exists
between western Europe and the former Soviet bloc nations of Eastern
For the churches, this challenge also translates into the separation of
the Protestant and Catholic West and Orthodox East. "The old divide in
Christendom is capable of reinforcing itself," he warned.
The conference hopes to deepen dialogue among its members, of which the
Orthodox are the "largest single family." It also is in dialogue with
smaller evangelical and Pentecostal groups.
It continues to monitor the development or passages of laws effecting
religious liberty, such as the Russian religion law adopted in 1997.
"What we're committed to do is following the situation very closely in
Russia," he explained. "The crucial issue is how it (law) will be
Clements predicted that United Methodists should have fewer problems
under the Russian law than first expected and may be allowed to
officially register as a church.
Other countries where religious freedom is an issue include Bulgaria,
where the Orthodox Church could be placed in a privileged position;
Austria, where the small but active Baptist population has no
recognition from the government; and Portugal, where the Catholic Church
may receive official preference.
In Bulgaria, after discussions with both the government and an
evangelical alliance, "we have reason to hope the constitution will not
be changed," Clements said.
The United Methodist Church in Europe is divided into the Northern
Europe, Germany Central and Central and Southern Europe central
conferences. The Northern Europe conference includes the newly organized
Russian church and United Methodists in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
Autonomous Methodist churches include the British and Irish Methodists,
United Protestant Church in Belgium, Evangelical Methodist Church of
Portugal, Evangelical Church of Spain and Methodist Evangelical Church
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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