From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
WCC Churches called to counter religious intolerance and violence
"WCC Media" <Media@wcc-coe.org>
Wed, 09 Oct 2002 11:01:06 +0100
World Council of Churches
For Immediate Use
9 October 2002
Churches called to counter religious intolerance and violence
by Philip Jenks
"Never has theological confusion and bigotry been expressed so openly and
publicly." The comment, on manifestations of religious intolerance in the
days immediately following the September 11 (2001) terror attacks in the USA,
was made by Dr Diana L. Eck of Harvard University and Harvard Divinity
Speaking at a three-day (3-5 October 2002) "ecumenical conversation" on
Orthodox churches and pluralism, Eck cited several cases of attacks against
US Muslims after September 11. "Getting to know each other has profound
theological dimensions," she said. And concluded that the church, especially
in the USA, must assume a higher profile in defending minority human rights.
Hosted by Holy Cross dean Rev. Emmanuel Clapsis, the "ecumenical
conversation" was held at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in
Brookline, Massachusetts, USA. The event was organized in cooperation with
the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Boston Theological Institute and
Initiatives in Religion and Public Life of Harvard Divinity School.
Contributors included Orthodox scholars and hierarchs, and Protestant and
Anglican theologians, including WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser.
The tone was established at the outset in a keynote address by Archbishop
Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The standard of
pluralism, said Demetrios, was set two millennia ago when the Apostle Paul
confessed that he had become "all things to all men, that I might by all
means save some." (I Corinthians 9:22)
For Demetrios, "pluralism" refers to the wide variety of cultures and
religions in a world where the poor and oppressed still vastly outnumber the
rich and powerful. As television, computers and other mass media bring
people more information about each other, theologians are wondering how
tenets of ancient faiths may be affected.
"If we were to attach a label to Saint Paul's approach to evangelism,"
Demetrios said, "we might call it 'personal pluralism.'" He encouraged
Orthodox Christians to practice a "parish pluralism, being all things to all
people" to create a "unity in diversity that could be a model for our whole
Professor Richard Falk, an international law expert from Princeton
University, noted that power centres are shifting dramatically in what he
called the "post-modern world". In the past, power was held by "territorial
sovereign states". But now power is moving increasingly to potent networks he
described as "high finance, criminal or terrorist". Out of that shift has
come a growing awareness of a worldwide resurgence of religion.
According to Falk, "The Iranian revolution was absolutely unexpected, only
slightly less of a shock to policy-makers than September 11." He also cited
Hindu activism in India, Christian fundamentalism in the United States,
Muslim fundamentalism and other movements that cause people to think of
religion as a "menace". One of the challenges facing the church is the
widespread fear "that making religion relevant is an invitation to religious
extremism," Falk observed.
But religion is necessary to provide a moral counterpoint to godless
capitalism, he said. The church "needs to address poverty as an urgent
priority. It is an intolerable condition from a spiritual perspective. Most
people live on $2 a day while a very few make millions."
Professor Christos Yannaras of Panteion University in Greece described the
contribution of ancient Greeks to human rights, and suggested that continued
support for the notion is an Orthodox legacy. "It is no accident," he said,
"that the first apostolic [created by the apostles of Christ] Christian
communities" were based on the Greek political model, or "ecclesia".
The church and violence
In a presentation on violence and religion in pluralistic societies, WCC
general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser described some of the challenges of
the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence, among them the fact that many people
see ambiguities in the Christian message of peace and nonviolence.
"The Bible, which in large part is common to Christians and Jews, is full of
stories of violence and of violent images even with reference to God," he
said. "At the very least, the Bible presents a very realistic picture of the
potential of violence in human life."
But "violence is not innate in human nature," Raiser said. "Humans are
capable of transforming the destructive energy of violence into a
constructive force nurturing life."
In reply, Rev. Stanley Samuel Harakas, professor emeritus at Holy Cross,
suggested that the New Testament paradox between peace and violence would
probably remain "paradoxical". Even so, he said, "the church's task is to do
everything in its power to minimize, and make unnecessary, the resort to
violence, coercion, the 'use of the sword', or the unnecessary use of
"There is no doubt in my mind that the church has frequently been coopted to
support wars and violence in ways that do it no honour," Harakas said. "Yet,
I think that it is also too easy to ignore the truth that the church has
sought frequently to stand at the side of its people in times of oppression,
injustice, attack and subjugation. While appealing to peace... it has stood
together with its people in their suffering and defeat."
At the end of the meeting, Archbishop Demetrios characterized the three-day
ecumenical conversation as an "act whereby we create the very thing we are
talking about. We are living out, albeit in a small way, Orthodox values and
priorities in a pluralistic world through this conversation with members of
the wider American and international theological community. We are not
merely talking theologically; to borrow a modern expression, we are truly
'producing theology' by the words that we exchange here in a spirit of mutual
respect, interest and love."
For a full list of participants and complete copies of papers, see the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese Web page at
Philip Jenks is communications officer in the US office of the World Council
of Churches, based in New York.
For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office, tel: +41
(0)22 791 64 21
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which
meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in
1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.
World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346
PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
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