World Council of Churches: for peace, against sanctions, and sexuality talks continue

From this small city in southwest Germany, impacts of the WCC Assembly may be felt from Cape Town (9,284 km) to to Phnom Penh (9,519 km).

KARLSRUHE – As sometimes happens in large gatherings, I found myself on a single track in this Assembly of the World Council of Churches. For several years, I have participated in Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith, a global coalition that has accompanied the WCC work on sexuality (specifically) and gender justice (generally). 

Here in Karlsruhe, I led the group’s media work: blog posts, news releases and a few interviews. My colleagues managed more direct forms of engagement with delegates and other participants through an information booth and in various panels and workshops. 

At the same time, 660 delegates and more than 2,000 other participants from all parts of the world worked to shape ecumenical priorities for the next eight years or so.

Signs are positive that WCC will continue work on sexuality (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression), but that was just one thread in a tapestry of concerns addressed here.

There are many documents and scores of news releases to pour over, but two stand out for me. 

One, the more theological or spiritual of the two, is A Call to Act Together. For inspiration, it drew from the last book of the Bible, Revelation, and its themes of human suffering at work in the world: war, death, disease, and famine. “We were conscious of their manifestations in the world today. In their wake come injustice and discrimination, where those who have power often use it to oppress others rather than to build inclusion, justice, and peace.”

The message continues: “As the climate emergency accelerates, so does the suffering experienced by impoverished and marginalized people.”*

A sign of peace in Toronto’s distillery district.

The second document, The Things That Make For Peace, is also worthy of attention. It is longer and more focused on policy options.

“We understand that making peace involves addressing racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, hate speech and other forms of hatred of the other (all of which have increased and intensified during these years, in large part encouraged by populist nationalist movements); crisis and competition for essential resources for life; economic injustice and inequality in the marketplace; interstate conflicts and re-emergence of war; and the raising of the spectre of nuclear war.”

It is specific about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other armed conflicts – from Colombia to Eritrea and Ethiopia – calling for a global ceasefire “as an urgent moral imperative.”

Particularly close to my heart are sections that call for “support for the churches and peoples of Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and Zimbabwe in the midst of oppression due to international sanctions that affect these populations’ human rights and dignity.” 

Syria is an important case in point, the document says. “International and unilateral sanctions are contributing to worsening the humanitarian situation, harming a civilian population already made vulnerable by war. Moreover, sanctions are damaging the historical multicultural and multi-religious fabric of the Syrian society, forcing Christians and other indigenous groups to flee the country.”

The document calls for the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism and to “accompany the churches as prophetic voices of peace, hope, cooperation and mutual respect.”

* There is a third, equally-impressive document that I found later: The Living Planet: Seeking a Just and Sustainable Global Community. The document calls governments to “practical actions… to meet the pressing need to avert ecological disaster.”

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