8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
5. Actions on Issues of Current Global Concern

5.1. The work of the Policy Reference Committee II
Chaired by Marion S. Best (United Church of Canada), Policy Reference Committee II addressed four issues specifically related to the engagement of the churches in the world. The Committee's final report thus consisted of four sections; three additional texts were included as appendixes to the report though not adopted as such by the assembly. The four issues were:
  1. a response to the Africa plenary (section 6.4), including a background paper on Sudan (see section 8.3);
  2. international debt (section 5.2);
  3. globalization (section 5.3; section 8.4);
  4. the Ecumenical Decade -- Churches in Solidarity with Women (section 8.1; section 8.2).
The Committee presented proposed texts on these issues in plenary session on 12 December, received recommendations for revisions and presented the final texts for action on 14 December. The texts were approved by voice vote.

5.2. The Debt Issue: A jubilee call to end the stranglehold of debt on impoverished peoples
Five people spoke from the floor, offering recommended changes, many of which were accepted by consensus.

5.3. Globalization
Six people spoke from the floor. Some of their recommendations were incorporated into the text before a final vote on the afternoon of 14 December.

5.4. The Work of the Public Issues Committee
Public statements are one means enabling the churches in the WCC to speak with a united voice about significant international and ecumenical concerns. The authority of the statements is rooted "only in the weight which they carry by their own truth and wisdom" (WCC rule X).

In 1976 the central committee formulated guidelines to clarify the basis for making public statements. These are:

  1. areas and issues on which the WCC has had direct involvement and long-standing commitment;
  2. emerging issues of international concern to which the attention of the churches should be called for action;
  3. critical and developing political situations which demand the WCC to make known its judgment and lend its spiritual and moral voice;
  4. expectations from the member churches that the WCC should speak;
  5. to se a policy mandate for the WCC secretariat.
The eighth assembly Public Issues Committee, chaired by Trond Bakkevig (Church of Norway), considered and presented statements on three issues: child soldiers; the status of Jerusalem; and human rights. In addition, when the Committee made its initial report to the plenary on Friday, 4 December, Aaron Tolen presented a text marking the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights on 10 December. The Committee presented its final recommendations to a business plenary of the assembly on 12 December.

5.5 Statement on Child Soldiers
This statement was adopted unanimously, with one abstention. Nineteen people wanted to speak about this statement when it initially was presented, but time constraints prompted the moderator to request that they put their comments in writing and give them to the Committee. The one comment from the floor, made by delegate Eden Grace, urged a clearer definition of children as "up to the age of eighteen".

5.6. Statement on the Status of Jerusalem
The statement was adopted with 15 opposing votes and 17 abstentions. During the discussion by assembly delegates, several comments and concerns were voiced: the statement did not draw sufficient attention to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and to concern for the security of the state of Israel; this issue is of great concern to churches around the world and of particular concern to churches in the Middle East; rather than calling for Jerusalem to be "a shared city", the sovereignty of Jerusalem should be protected for Israelis and Palestinians; Palestinians should be given the right of repatriation.

5.7. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights
In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, delegates adopted (with two abstentions) on 5 December a text to be released on 10 December, the day of the anniversary. On 12 December the secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan addressed the assembly via video, voicing admiration for and appreciation to the churches because their faith shows true dedication to the common good of humanity. The text adopted by the assembly began by quoting the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the Third General Assembly of the United Nations, meeting in Paris on 10 December 1948.

5.8. A Statement on Human Rights
From its inception, the WCC has been an advocate of human rights. At the Nairobi assembly in 1975, an official policy was adopted. Because the international context has evolved since then, a consultation was held in May 1998 to review that policy and consider necessary changes. The proposed guidelines were submitted to the Public Issues Committee and the assembly for consideration.

The statement was adopted (two against, three abstentions). The text evoked many responses and proposals for amendments, some expressing concerns about particular situations. The following issues were raised: the need to mention the dangers experienced by Christians in the Indian sub-continent and other parts of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith; regret that the statement did not more specifically include the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people; the need to respect the mandate for evangelism in newly freed territories, and the importance of developing good practice; the importance of supporting fair and accurate voting procedures. An affirmative vote was taken to eliminate the phrase "as they experience the invasion of exogenous religious movements and proselytism" from the section (3.21) on religious freedom and proselytism. "A full life" was substituted as the goal for people with disabilities. Some thought the section concerning elimination of the death penalty should be strengthened. Appreciation was voiced for the emphasis on the whole creation.

Some frustration was voiced because the grave situations experienced by delegates in particular countries -- for example the Congo and the Sudan -- were not mentioned. The general secretary drew attention to WCC policy to limit assembly statements to matters of general policy rather than specific situations of crisis. Attention was drawn to the variety of ways the WCC can respond to situations: pastoral visits to churches, discussions with governments, interventions through intergovernmental agencies, confidential expressions of concern, and support of churches in affected areas.

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