WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Assembly gathers people for dialogue and solidarity
By Kaye Hult
Speaking at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference (EWLC) Jan. 21, Gen Heywood, pastor of Veradale United Church of Christ and convener of Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience of Eastern Washington and North Idaho, shared insights from the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly, in Karlsruhe, Germany in September 2022.
Addressing "Care for Our Common Home: Now and Forever," she opened with a WCC prayer, asking God's presence "on a pilgrimage to a new world of justice, reconciliation, unity, peace and wholeness."
Hoping EWLC participants would be encouraged for local action by learning of global action, she described the relationships built through the WCC's diversity, gathering more than 3,000 people from its 352 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal and other churches every six to eight years. Delegates from 140 different countries set WCC policies.
Participants included Roman Catholics who have long worked with the WCC, and new observers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "The WCC brings people together to share in dialogue and concern for marginalized people," she said.
Gen quoted the acting general secretary, Ioan Sauca, about the importance of relationships and having "an open and free space for dialogue on any topic with which our world is faced. We cannot and will not take any stand on an ethical issue or faith matter that may divide us."
She also shared moderator Agnes Abuon's comments on the relationship of delegates as "a living image of humankind in all its diversity," bringing stories of people struggling for justice and peace and seeking reconciliation and unity.
Agnes called for confronting the world as it is, broken and marked by human sin—violence and war, communities divided by hate speech, racism and ethnic tensions, and land and communities affected by the climate emergency and economic exploitation.
"In our relationship with one another at the Assembly," Gen said, "just gathering such varied expressions of Christian faith into one place was an amazing success."
She asked EWLC attendees to "build relationships and embrace with gratitude those gathered for the conference. We are together in the care of our common home. We have hope. We believe that together we can move the arc of justice."
Gen recognized the danger of speaking the truth. At the Assembly, the WCC was criticized for including the Russian Orthodox churches, given their role in aggression against Ukraine.
Ioan said the WCC is as an open platform for dialogue and encounter, discussion and challenging one another on the path to unity.
Instead of using the language of politicians to exclude or demonize, he invited using the language of faith to offer a safe platform of encounter and dialogue, "to listen even if we disagree," said Ioan. "I believe in the power of dialogue and the process toward reconciliation."
Agnes asked: "When today hate speech is normalized through social media networks; when xenophobia and racism are nurtured by national populism and politics of fear; when the poor face the consequences of climate catastrophe and exploitation driven by the lifestyles of a few who are rich, does it not make sense to call all Christians and churches to re-envision prophetically their mission, witness and unity in relation to Christ's compassionate love?"
Agnes called for those in churches to be "bold and prophetic. To proclaim Christ's love and to struggle for human dignity and the life of creation is our call."
Gen said: "We must have courage and energy to face the danger of speaking the truth. Just as this is necessary in the global context, it is an even more difficult reality in our local context, which brings us to the moral imperative to learn from those most affected."
She told how WCC leaders visited and listened to communities around the world to raise awareness about rape and gender-based violence through the Thursdays in Black program. Differently-abled leaders were intentionally included in the Assembly leadership, programs and worship. WCC leaders listened to concerns of youth on climate and others who experience exclusion by churches.
Gen was uncomfortable with the theme for the Assembly, "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity," noting that before there can be reconciliation, there must be genuine repentance. She found that Pan African Women of Faith Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN) and the Gathering of Indigenous People had similar concerns.
"There can be no reconciliation without speaking the truth about the treatment Black women have endured from other women, men, churches and societies," she said. "Genuine apologies are essential."
PAWEEN creates opportunities to celebrate women leaders, creates resources and shares knowledge to strengthen their relationships, Gen said.
The Indigenous Peoples gathering made a statement to the WCC on the theme. They told how Green industries had impact. For the Sami people, Green industries, coming without permission of the people, have brought heavy equipment into a fragile ecosystem to build windmill farms, destroying Sami land and driving the Sami from their homes. Green energy can be dirty.
"Great Grandmother Mary Lyons and others spoke of the connection between generational trauma and healing connected with the land," Gen said. "Generational knowledge is still available. Indigenous people must be on committees about climate change."
Indigenous people said there can be no reconciliation without understanding and healing from the spiritual violence they have experienced from boarding schools, mining and property laws.
In their statement to the WCC, Indigenous peoples called for the WCC to join with them in their healing journeys to recover their God-given identities.
Gen invited EWLC participants to celebrate the relationships they form, to have courage to speak truth, and to listen to and learn from those most affected by systems of injustice.
Gen's full presentation will soon be online at thefigtree.org under the menu item "Videos."For information, call 926-7173 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.