From the Worldwide Faith News archives

'A different paradigm': Religious freedom, interfaith dialogue top list of WMD concerns

Date 13 Jun 2002 15:37:45 -0400

Note #7209 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


'A different paradigm'

Religious freedom, interfaith dialogue top list of WMD concerns

by Alexa Smith 

COLUMBUS, OH - Actions intended to help presbyteries and congregations with global outreach came before the General Assembly Council (GAC) on Thursday, among them recommended responses to human-rights violations abroad and opportunities for dialogue with people of other faiths.

"We're operating in a different paradigm," said the Rev. Will Browne, who supervises ecumenical partnerships for the Worldwide Ministries Division. "We're letting partners have a primary voice in our whole process, and we've built into the process our need to listen. ... It has always been an unspoken policy, but now we're trying to make it explicit."

The council approved a restatement of past General Assembly policies on international religious freedom, synthesizing the information in case-study and question formats in a document called "Guiding Principles for Ethical Decisions Concerning Religious Freedom Around the World."

The paper, created in response to a 1999 GA mandate to develop ways of responding to repressive governments, lays out 24 principles gleaned from past GA statements, among them:

* In addressing issues of religious freedom overseas, deference is to be given to partner churches in determining how this can best be done. The sensitivities of partner churches must be considered, but are not regarded as "determinative" in establishing PC(USA) policy. Faithfulness to God's will is the principal test.

* Despite maintaining a critical distance between church and state, it is appropriate for the PC(USA) to urge the government to act in keeping with policies the church considers sound.

* The church's concern about religious freedom must not be solely for Christians.

The document also says that the national church should speak with a voice distinct from that of the U.S. government; express concern about government policies that limit contact between U.S. churches and Christians and those in other countries, as well as between Christians and people of other faiths in foreign countries; be sensitive to the role of the media and educate members about stereotypes and oversimplifications related to curtailment of religious freedom abroad.

It recommends that other PC(USA) entities be concerned about and willing to take action to defend human rights and religious freedom for all people, and bear witness to the church's belief that issues of religious freedom cannot be separated from other human-rights issues.

In other business, WMD gave a first reading of a revision of a 2000 document titled "Presbyterians  Do Mission in Partnership," outlining six principles for Presbyterians involved in ministry abroad.

Among those are open dialogue with Scripture as the basis of prophetic challenge and honest mediation of differences.

After the Congregational and National Ministries divisions are given a chance to comment on the document, it will come before the GAC for approval during its September meeting. The Rev. Dwight White, the chair of the division committee, said the second edition of the statement will be more focused on the "person and work of Jesus Christ."

Also under development is a revision of another familiar statement, "Mission in the 1990s," as part of the division's visioning and planning process. That document will go to the 2003 GA for approval.

In interfaith matters, several developments were reported:

* An Interfaith Listening Pilot Project, in which two-person teams from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Italy, Niger, Kenya and Ethiopia will meet with PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries in September. Each team will consist of a Christian from a PC(USA) partner overseas, and a Muslim with whom the partner has been in dialogue. To arrange for a visit from a team, call Browne toll-free at (888) 728-7228, ext. 5348, or the Rev. Margaret Thomas, interim coordinator for interfaith relations, at ext. 5289. 

* An international Christian-Buddhist conference, to be held next summer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, under the auspices of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture of Payap University there.  A PC(USA) missionary, the Rev. John Butt, is directing the project. The Worldwide Ministries Division is listed as a co-sponsor, but is not providing financial support or direction.

* A WMD consultation on ways for seminaries to provide continuing education for pastors so that they can learn to "articulate their faith adequately in the context of interreligious dialogue." The program, requested by the 211th GA, will be designed in consultation with the Committee on Theological Education. WMD expects to present its final report on the project to the 2003 GA.

WMD also advised the GAC that the PC(USA) has suspended its longtime partnership with the Elgise Presbyterienne Camerounaise (EPC) in Cameroon, removed its mission personnel and withdrawn its financial support because of deep divisions in the French-speaking church.

Browne said mission personnel can't carry out their duties because of the disruption and a "perceived threat" of physical violence. He said the PC(USA)'s "relationship" with the church has not been suspended, although its "partnership" has been suspended until the EPC is able to free itself of violence and restore order.

The Presbytery of St. Andrew, based in Oxford, MS, also has terminated its partnership with the EPC.
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