From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Peace, justice issues dominate WCC discussions

Date 08 Feb 2001 13:55:50

Feb. 8, 2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York

NOTE:  Photos and a sidebar, UMNS story #064, are available for use with
this report.

By United Methodist News Service

United Methodists were among those participating in vigorous discussions on
issues of peace, reconciliation and justice when the World Council of
Churches' (WCC) Central Committee met Jan. 29-Feb. 6 in Potsdam, Germany.

The Rev. Bruce Robbins, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, is a veteran of the central
committee meetings and said he considered it "the most exciting and hopeful"
he had ever attended.

He added that he was led to that conclusion by the rich level of
conversation, "the need to reflect theologically on everything we do in the
council" and the imperative to act in response to suffering and to
life-threatening situations around the world.

The meeting site itself - for the first time in the reunified Germany - was
significant for an event where committee members and guest speakers debated
whether military force was ever justified, how foreign debt can be
considered "immoral and unjust" and whether Orthodox and Protestant members
of the council can reach a deeper level of understanding and agreement.

United Methodist Bishop Walter F. Klaiber of Germany said he was heartened
by the "relatively positive" interim report of the Special Commission on
Orthodox Participation in the WCC and applauded the launch of the Decade to
Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace. He also
considered the discussion on debt relief for poor countries to be an
important one for the council.

 From the meeting's beginning - when H.H. Aram I, the committee's moderator,
the protection of civilians, violence was a key topic.
for humanitarian intervention - to its end, with the release of a report on
sparked a debate by raising the question of whether violence was acceptable

Richard Grounds, a United Methodist lay member of the Oklahoma Indian
Missionary Conference and professor of anthropology at the University of
Tulsa, noted that "a lot of people are coming from areas in the world where
there are people using military power and oppressive violence ... to
suppress and destroy local populations."

While some in the WCC, such as Aram I, support military intervention as a
means of last resort, others from traditional "peace" churches oppose any
endorsement of force. A 13-page report on "The Protection of Endangered
Populations in Situations of Armed Violence, Toward an Ecumenical, Ethical
Approach" was produced for study and reflection by WCC member churches.

That report, Robbins said, "honestly talks about the need to look at the
protection of civilian populations" but also recognizes the use of force as
"extremely problematic." He said he would encourage United Methodist
reflection on the report through the denomination's Board of Global
Ministries and Board of Church and Society.

The issue of military intervention is not a focus of the Decade to Overcome
Violence, according to Jan Love, a United Methodist laywoman from South
Carolina and decade organizer. Instead, it deals with preventive strategies.
"We're convinced that Christians on a daily basis in very ordinary
circumstances and very trying circumstances are committed to overcoming
violence in their situations," she explained. "We want to learn from that,
lift that up and support that."

Beate Kraus, a committee member and United Methodist seminary student from
Germany, pointed out that the decade's theme touches everyone. "The Decade
to Overcome Violence will not change the world easily, but this decade will
put the finger on violence in families as well as in societies, structures
and even churches," she said. "It will build a network between the many
nonviolent actions and peacemakers around the world."

Grounds, a Native American, was pleased with an awareness of indigenous
perspectives in the decade message. "It was appreciated that we ended up
with a document that was up front about the importance of the critical
nature of violence against not only human societies ... but also the earth
itself," he explained.

The Rev. Kathy Bannister, a United Methodist pastor from Kansas who serves
as one of the WCC's eight presidents, believes the decade will provide a
framework "for us to do our work in a more integrated way across the
council." She also sees interconnections between violence and issues of

Bishop Aldo M. Etchegoyen, Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina,
offered one of the bluntest assessments of the effects of globalization
during the meeting. He called foreign debt "immoral and unjust," and an evil
that keeps poor countries in perpetual poverty.

The central committee charged the WCC and its members to develop a
"comprehensive ecumenical theological analysis" of economic globalization
and its impact on churches and society. The WCC also needs to focus on
alternatives to such globalization and highlight violence linked to economic

An interim report from the special commission set up to study Orthodox
participation and propose changes in the structure and style of the council
was well-received, according to Robbins. He said the report raises questions
about "what it means to be the church" that all WCC members should consider.

Tied to the re-evaluation of the relationships among member churches is a
long-term financial picture that Bannister described as "dismal." She is
hopeful the WCC can refashion itself in such a way "that may generate new
enthusiasm for the council."

In other business, the central committee:

·	Reaffirmed its position that industrialized countries "bear the
major moral responsibility for precipitating climate change" and asked
member churches in those countries to encourage their governments to reduce

·	Called upon the WCC staff to "continue their efforts towards a
negotiated peace in the Middle East based on international law."

·	Joined the Latin American Council of Churches in opposing a U.S.
plan providing additional military equipment and action in Colombia.

·	Called upon the government of the Sudan to immediately stop bombing
civilian targets and abide by international law.

·	Renewed the WCC appeal for "justice, peace, reconciliation and
reunification in Cyprus."

·	Reaffirmed support for people and churches in Indonesia, where
Muslim-Christian conflicts have left thousands dead or displaced. 

·	Recognized new member churches, increasing the overall membership to
342 churches.

·	Decided to hold the WCC's ninth assembly in 2006 but did not set
specific dates or a location.

# # #

United Methodist News Service
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