From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Ishmael Noko: Lutherans should promote justice and peace

Date 22 Oct 1998 06:53:06

In Chicago LWF General Secretary presents vision of the future

CHICAGO, Illinois, U.S.A./GENEVA, 19 October 1998 (elca/lwi) - The duty of
the Lutheran Church is to advocate justice and peace in the face of myriad
social, national and ecclesiastic divisions, declared Ishmael Noko, the
general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The remarks were
part of a keynote address on the future of the Lutheran communion which
opened the conference "Prophetic Voices: Envisioning a Lutheran Communion -
Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century" held from October 1 to 5 at
Chicago's Lutheran School of Theology. The LWF began its fiftieth
anniversary celebration last year at its general assembly in Hong Kong.

"The past of the LWF," he said, "is also its future - to foster a global
Lutheran cooperation for the sake of Christian unity and witness, despite
the forces and obstacles which divide us. The common faith and the sense of
hope which inspired the formation of the LWF must be a beacon to guide this
communion as we confront divisions, conflicts and injustices besetting us
and the world, on this, the verge of a new century and a new millennium."

Fifty years after the founding of the LWF in 1947, "we now live in an
interdependent world and yet we are riven by divisions as deep, if not
deeper, than those wounding the globe in 1947," he pointed out. As major
problems, he cited abuse of power between countries and within social
groups, the growing gap between rich and poor, as much between countries as
within them, rising fundamentalism, conflicts between different churches
and within churches, inequality between women and men, and "the shadow of
disunity" in the ecumenical sphere.

Equally divisive, according to the General Secretary, is the unrealized
partnership between men and women in church and society. Excluding women
from the ministry "is theologically incompatible with our understanding of
the whole church as a priesthood of believers," he stressed. "The gospel
was never intended to be proclaimed by one gender alone."

Realizing social and human rights

For the realization of a Christian vision and the necessary transformation
in church and society, "we can work and pray together", he went on. Among
the pressing measures that must be taken are the forgiveness of the debt of
the most indebted countries of the southern hemisphere, an economic policy
built on social justice and human rights as well as the international
prosecution of war crimes.

Noko emphasized the importance of the international criminal court:
"National sovereignty which allows the perpetrators of massive violations
of human rights and international humanitarian law to escape prosecution is
not worth protecting."

In his vision of belief and hope of the future, the General Secretary sees
not only a ban on landmines but "effective, respected and properly
resourced intergovernmental forums in which dialogue, the rule of law and
ethics will resolve issues of contention", and "continuous and open
dialogue with people of other faiths".

In reference to the coming millennium, Noko cited Jerusalem, imagining "a
city of two peoples and holy to three faiths, at peace with itself and a
model for peace and reconciliation in the world".

Ecumenism for the Lutheran churches, according to Noko, is "not one of the
many activities on the list of options from which the LWF may choose, but
is an integral part of what it means to be Lutheran. ... The unity of the
Body of Christ, given in and through the proclamation of the Gospel in Word
and in Sacrament... is expressed as communion in the common, and, at the
same time multiform, confession of the one and the same apostolic faith."

Continuing, Noko expressed a vision for "an ecumenical century in which the
ecumenical harvest will encompass the rich piety, theological and spiritual
insights of those communities who are so often forgotten," singling out
such groups as diaspora, and minority and refugees "silenced or made
invisible by forces of dominance in our churches and society."

His personal vision encompasses "a Lutheran communion whose faith is rooted
in the apostolic tradition; willing to take courageous steps forward in
search of a New World Order in which the concept of fundamental human
dignity and human rights of all people will provide for a just and peaceful

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Editorial Assistant: Janet Bond-Nash

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