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Fight for sustainable and just world, WCC says

09 September 2022

Assembly hears call for ‘ecumenical decade’ of action

Albin Hillert/WCC

A moment of prayer for the newly elected WCC presidents takes place on Monday

A moment of prayer for the newly elected WCC presidents takes place on Monday

THE World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly, meeting in Karlsruhe, Germany, has heard calls for “urgent action” on climate change and biodiversity, as well as the protection of marginalised Christians in the Middle East.

In a draft resolution, the WCC called for an “ecumenical decade to fight for a just and sustainable world”, with an immediate end to coal and gas extraction in favour of renewable energies.

The resolution went on to say, however, that ecological restructuring should not be at the expense of already disadvantaged countries, and urged rich states to pay compensation for damage already suffered.

The WCC should set up its own environmental commission and work to become carbon-neutral by 2050, the resolution said, and ensure that member Churches refrained from air travel and saved greenhouse gases, while working “in a more environmentally friendly way”.

The resolution was set for adoption yesterday, at the close of the eight-day Assembly. About 4000 delegates from 120 countries attended (Comment, 2 September).

It also warned that Christian communities were threatened in the faith’s “historic cradle” by “war, extremism, and human-rights violations” in Syria, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, and called for the rights of Christians, Muslims, and Jews to be equally protected.

The draft resolution condemned Israeli “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territories, but also said that attacks on Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups were fuelling the “spiral of violence”.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, the director of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, the Revd Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, warned that non-Catholic Christianity was currently splintered worldwide into some 70,000 denominations and communities, and called for an “ecumenism of hearts” which moved beyond “intellectual debates”.

Prayers for action on human dignity, racial equality, gender justice, disability, and the protection of indigenous spiritualities were also heard at the Assembly, as well as calls for reconciliation in Ukraine and the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. A pilgrimage, for “building bridges — living reconciliation”, took place along the Rhine.

The Assembly, the first WCC plenary to be in Europe for half a century, took the theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”. It drew in members of 352 mostly Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican member Churches, representing 580 million Christians.

Its opening on 31 August was marked by tension over the arrival for the first time of Ukrainian Orthodox Churches alongside a large Russian Orthodox delegation. The Assembly included daily inter-confessional prayers and Bible studies, as well as language-based home groups and thematic and business plenaries.

In a message, Pope Francis said that the Roman Catholic Church, although not a WCC member, had nevertheless consolidated a “strong relationship” by sending observers to the Council’s plenaries, held every eight years since 1961.

He said that reconciliation among Christians was a “fundamental requisite” for the Church’s credible mission, and that Christians also needed a “common witness to the gospel” to address injustice and division.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, said that past Christian failures to achieve reconciliation and unity could best be countered by “self-criticism and self-sacrifice”, and a commitment to “advancing the ministry of creation care”.

He reiterated his view that, even alongside the coronavirus, climate change still posed the greatest threat to the planet, and backed calls by the World Economic Forum for a “great reset” of capitalism, based on sustainability through “drastic lifestyle changes”.

“There is a need for cosmic repentance and cosmic resurrection — what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices,” Patriarch Bartholomew said.

“By perceiving the world through this lens of cosmic transfiguration and transformation, we are capable of embarking — as individuals and as society — on restoring the shattered image of creation: a process that begins with and involves acknowledging responsibility for the sin of ignoring the divine presence in all things and in all people. The entire universe, all of creation, constitutes a cosmic liturgy.”

A new 150-member WCC central committee was elected on Tuesday to carry out the policies adopted by the Assembly, manage the WCC budget, and review and supervise WCC programmes at biannual meetings. A new 25-member executive commission was also expected this week.

In a opening address to the Assembly, the President of Germany, Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an active member of the Evangelical Church in Germany, recalled that his country’s Churches had been accepted “on an equal footing”, despite recent wartime horrors, at the WCC’s first assembly at Amsterdam in 1948, even before the establishment of the separate Federal Republic and German Democratic Republic.

“Vibrant diversity” had always been a defining Christian characteristic, he said, but the faith was now also marked increasingly by “rich and poor churches”, some “persecuted by the state” and others “politically tolerated”, along with minority denominations and churches’ “strongly shaping politics and culture”.
Some Churches, he said, had “followed the wrong path, often going in destructive and dangerous directions”, such as by endorsing anti-Semitism.

He criticised Russian Orthodox leaders for leading their Church “down a dangerous and indeed blasphemous path that goes against all that they believe” by justifying “a war of aggression against Ukraine”, and urged WCC delegates to speak out against “a nationalism which arbitrarily claims that a dictatorship’s imperial dreams of hegemony are God’s will. . .

“The cross is the symbol of commitment to the innocent Man of Sorrows. . . It can never be a secular sign of domination. It stands for compassion and mercy, for prioritising the poor, those who suffer, all those in need. Yet compassion should not only take the form of charity: it can and must also have political consequences, and prove its worth in the fight for justice, the commitment to giving a voice to the marginalised.”

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