Plenary examined questions on wholeness of life
By Catherine Ferguson SNJM
With a focus on Jesus' compassion, "Affirming the Wholeness of Life" was the theme of the third plenary Sept. 5 at the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Karlsruhe, Germany.
In the biblical anchor, John 9:1-12, Jesus heals the man born blind. WCC Acting General Secretary Ioan Sauca explained that "at some point in our lives we have been blind and Christ in his compassion opens our eyes to the sufferings of others."
Tara Tautari, a delegate, pastor and general secretary of the Methodist Church from New Zealand, led the plenary as a Talanoa, a Pacific Islander style of meeting.
"We offer the gift of the Pacific, Talanoa, which is a way of meeting, encounter and dialogue," she said.
"In the Pacific, we sit on mats and share in conversation. Talanoa is a space where truth telling and vision embrace each other," Tara said. "We come as we are, for we are enough in a world of so much suffering and brokenness. We bring our own stories of pain, challenge and hope."
Tara introduced five guests to share their truth.
• Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, general secretary of ACT Alliance, is from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brazil.
• Ruth Mathen, a youth delegate of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India, is a former consultant with the Christian Conference of Asian Churches.
• Canon Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest in Uganda, is an HIV/AIDS public health and social activist who founded Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV.
• Jocabed Solano from the Gunadulag people in Panama, is an indigenous theologian specializing in theology and memory. She is the director of Memoria Indigena and a missionary with the United World Mission.
• Iemaima "Maima" Jennifer Vaai from the Methodist Church in Samoa was an ecumenical enabler for the Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice Desk at the Pacific Conference of Churches. She is doing postgraduate studies on climate change at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.
The speakers responded to three questions on the wholeness of life: "Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?"
On "where are we now," Rudelmar highlighted, "We are in a world facing a serious crisis of values, a world where violence is everywhere, a world based on fake news, new truths and narratives that are used to sustain economic models undermining life."
He saw two blocs of people. The first supports excluding groups like migrants, women, blacks and indigenous people to keep their culture "safe." The second bloc promotes values of compassion, inclusion, solidarity, equality and justice.
He challenged, "If more than 80 percent of the world's population identifies with a religion or faith, why is the world like this?"
Ruth said India is largely agricultural, but farmers receive negligible attention, leaving 18,000 farmers in debt because of unfair remuneration, extreme weather and expensive genetically modified seeds. Thousands have protested, and many thousands have committed suicide.
She decried vaccine nationalism driven by greed of pharmaceutical companies and noted the doubling of wealth for the world's richest.
"For every person that died in a rich country, four died in a poor country," Ruth reported.
She said the statement from the ecumenical youth gathering was mostly lamentation: "Young people are motivated but not supported. The future of young people is on fire."
Maima agreed and spoke of the moral crisis in Samoa from injustices caused by forced relocation and the loss of sovereignty of indigenous peoples.
"Those in power tell us as front-line people that we need to water down our language. They want to control our knowledge and narratives where the whole of life approach shapes our everyday living," she said.
As an indigenous theologian from Panama, Jocabed identified her people as the sons and daughters of the earth, singing with all creation and resisting colonialism in society caused by the imposition of western knowledge.
Gideon, an African religious leader with HIV, sees the two worlds the others talked about. One follows Jesus' path of justice and solidarity. Because of that world, when "I should have died in 1998 after the doctor said I had two months to live, we were able to get medicines and now I am here."
The other world he sees is one of self-righteousness and selfishness, which leads to the crises communities and the planet experience now.
"The world is heating up and flooding. It costs millions of lives. Millions of young people, not educated or employed, lack resources that could keep them from dying early," Gideon said. "Every 20 minutes a young girl somewhere gets HIV. In the same two minutes, another faces gender injustice. Thank you for calling us to the path of justice and reconciliation so no young person is left behind."
Listening to those responses, Tara noted that in Talanoa, the stories weave together. The weaving continued as participants discussed the next two questions: "Where do we want to go and how do we get there?"
Maima called for people to unweave the mask of development, reweave the ecological mat in the Pacific and let indigenous people define their own form of development.
In a similar vein, Rudelmar called on the assembly to motivate people of faith to help each other and rethink structures from legacies of post-colonialism and neoliberalism that prevent everyone from sharing a place at the table.
Ruth challenged participants to a metanoia as a foundation for focusing on the needs of others and nature.
Gideon agreed, "If we do that, then coming from this assembly must be our ardent prayer and action as faith communities to have the moral courage to reconcile with those who have sinned against us. Unless our strategies include those who suffer, the strategies won't work."
Jocabed dreamed of a world without evil, based on harmony with land producing food for all and no violence, where the Christians do not demonize the spirituality of indigenous people but see in them Christ's love.
With these dreams, the answer to "how we get there" is simple.
Ruth said: "All we need is ready to be employed. We don't need more. We need to stop talking, start acting and commit to the uncomfortable compassion of Christ. Our young people are showing us that a reimagining, a re-creation is possible."
The others echoed her call for urgent action that is interfaith and inclusive.
Rudelmar emphasized engaging in policy-making spaces.
"We cannot leave the future of humanity in the hands of a few people," he said. "As faith actors, we need to stand in solidarity with all marginalized groups. We cannot support God's plan for humanity if we exclude them."
Gideon proposed three outcomes he wants from the assembly: 1) a reflective, thoughtful, theological look at the questions raised, 2) a wholistic accompaniment of those at most risk, including young people living in poverty, and 3) churches and faith communities undertaking their roles in advocacy.
Maima ended the Talanoa by calling on all not only to empower voices of youth but also to embrace them to transform philosophies and theologies driven by the commercial market that underpins today's world.
"In telling our stories, we make the whole-of-life ideology a process of changing the story, so it is not someone else's story but our own and provides a spirituality that makes the world a home for all," she concluded.