2000: The year in review
Lifting up the voice of church in society
|The World Council of Churches (WCC) last year continued its tradition of speaking out on behalf of measures to build a human society that meets the needs of all its members, and allows them opportunities to live a fully human life.
Addressing both perennial problems of discrimination and particular issues arising in various parts of the world, Council staff made many appeals for the respect of human rights. But they advised caution regarding a trend to approve more military interventions on behalf of humanitarian causes.
|Horrors perpetrated in places such as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia led some observers to argue that the international community should be quicker to move into such situations with troops. But in a February address to the International Military Chiefs of Chaplains' Conference in Geneva, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser said funds that would be spent on military action might be better used in strengthening other efforts to protect human rights.
He also announced that the WCC was undertaking a study of ethical issues surrounding humanitarian intervention. Invited by the WCC International Relations team, 35 people from various regions and disciplines gathered at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in April to discuss the issue.
Another sphere of WCC activity has been the United Nations Human Rights Commission, based in Geneva. Again in 2000, the Council supported representatives of Indigenous Peoples attending meetings of the commission and other UN groups focusing on Indigenous issues. Assisted through the Council's Indigenous Peoples' Programme, Indigenous representatives were able to continue - as they have been doing for the past twenty years - to submit their demands for the right to self-determination. The WCC also made submissions to the UN on issues such as the situation of the Dalits in India.
|Young casualty of the Rwanda genocide|
|Rwanda government forces at one of many ceasefire meetings (1994)|
|Bombed-out buildings in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (1998)|
|Indigenous representatives demonstrate at a session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, Geneva (1997)|
|Mitrovica, Kosovo (1999)||A Croatian returns to the ruins of her home (1992)|
|At a meeting in March, the WCC executive committee called on the Russian Federation to protect the human rights of the people in Chechnya and allow access to the region by responsible international humanitarian agencies.
In July, Eunice Santana, a Disciples of Christ minister and former WCC president from Puerto Rico, delivered a WCC statement at UN headquarters in New York in support of decolonization of Puerto Rico. Addressing a UN committee on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, she appealed for a legitimate process of self-determination by the Puerto Rican people.
Santana also called for UN support of efforts to get the US navy to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for practice operations.
|WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser speaks to the press after a meeting with Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (2000)|
|Indonesia was among the countries receiving special attention for its human-rights situation last year. In January, a letter from the WCC acting general secretary Georges Lemopoulos to Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid expressed concern about violence there, particularly in the port city of Ambon, and warned that allowing impunity for leaders of the security forces who had committed grave abuses of human rights would tarnish the image of the Indonesian government in the eyes of the international community. Raiser visited Indonesia in March, had a substantial and very focused conversation with Wahid.
When the WCC general secretary expressed concern about conflicts between religious communities, Wahid reaffirmed his support for a spirit of tolerance, and his opposition to government interference in the life of religions.
|Lugasa, a small village about 150 km east of Dili (2000)|
|But the conflicts continued. At a meeting in March, the WCC executive committee expressed its concern about the deaths of both Christians and Muslims in Indonesian violence. In July, the Council appealed to Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to make an immediate visit to Indonesia to urge that its government stop intruders from entering the Malukus region, and that it immediately bring to trial those guilty of committing human-rights violations. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia had warned that violence in the Malukus was threatening the very existence of its Christian community.
The WCC also gave attention to the issue of impunity as it affected many other countries throughout the world. WCC officials warned against efforts to produce a too-easy reconciliation after a period of bloody dictatorship by granting impunity to government and military officials responsible for killings, torture, disappearances and other abuses. WCC publications in 2000 included Beyond Impunity: An Ecumenical Approach to Truth, Justice and Reconciliation by Geneviève Jacques, director of the WCC Cluster on Relations. Justice requires that the perpetrators of human-rights violations be brought to account, she wrote. In a preface, Raiser said that acceptance of impunity for those holding political, military or economic power erodes the very basis of the social order.
Many of the particular and perennial issues facing society also drew WCC attention last year. Following up on the WCC Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-98), a steering group took actions that were part of a long-term process encouraging women to articulate their vision of being church, says Aruna Gnanadason, the Councils executive for womens programmes. Women don't want just to complain as victims, but to be more pro-active, and claim for ourselves our spiritual space. The WCC advisory group on women met in February and approved a new reflection-action study, Being church: women's voices and visions, and a programme to combat violence against women. At a November meeting in Seoul, women theologians of Asia discussed "how we model the church", and reviewed the kinds of ministries that were being provided for groups such as rural women in Korea or battered women in India. Orthodox women started two theological journals (MaryMartha in Australia and the St Nina Quarterly in the US), Gnanadason reported. Lesley Orr Macdonald and Helen Hood of Scotland opened an office there to coordinate a WCC programme on violence against women. Material on the study and reflection process titled "Being Church: Women's Voices and Vision" was prepared for publication in the January 2001 issue of The Ecumenical Review.
|The WCC Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network (EDAN), formed at the WCC's 1998 assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, and coordinated by Samuel Kabue, a blind man working in Nairobi with the Kenya Council of Churches, met last year and worked on a theological statement on the role of churches in this field. It also took steps to promote education for the pastoral care of people with disabilities.
A reference group on human sexuality, named as a result of widespread discussion about homosexuality among WCC member churches, met in November.
|WCC workshop on communicating HIV/AIDS concerns, Thailand, 1996|
|Even when war ends, landmines continue to take their toll: disabled landmine victims at a rehabilitation centre in Luanda, Angola (1994)|
|It became evident that the issue of homosexuality can best be addressed in relation to human sexuality in the broader sense, Raiser says.
During the year, the WCC's health desk pursued its work with Christian health networks around the world, enabling them to reflect on their approaches to primary health care, HIV/AIDS prevention programmes and the growing role of church-related health-care facilities and workers in post-conflict situations. During 2000, the WCC's Mission and Evangelism team, of which the health desk is a part, also organized and co-sponsored training in community health and primary health care.
|The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) was launched in Geneva in December 20000|
|The HIV/AIDS work links with a new ecumenical venture. The WCC joined with other organizations last year to form an Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA). Leaders said they would seek to "harness the collective energies of the churches by focusing their advocacy efforts together on a limited number of priority issues". A broad range of Christian voices can sound in harmony through the Alliance, participants said. Raiser welcomed the Alliance as "a new model of ecumenical cooperation". An initial meeting 9 December drew participants from regional ecumenical organizations and fellowships, church agencies, specialized networks in the South, Christian world communions, international ecumenical bodies and Roman Catholic organizations.
Participants decided that they would concentrate initially on two issues: global economic justice, with a special focus on world trade; and the ethics of life, with a special focus on HIV/AIDS.
Trade is dominated by a few economic powers, and trade inequities are a major cause of economic injustice, they said. HIV/AIDS is not only one of the gravest health challenges facing the world but equally challenging to prospects of development and global security. In addition to these two special emphases, the Alliance will promote closer cooperation in addressing conflict situations.
Those joining in the Alliance committed themselves to "promote approaches to political, economic, social and cultural issues based on a shared commitment to the gospel and concern for those people who suffer from injustice". Linda Hartke from the US, who formerly worked for Church World Service, was chosen to begin work as coordinator in 2001. Her office, located at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, will be administered by the WCC, and the programme guided by a ten-member ecumenical advocacy committee, to be convened by Jacques.