WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Decisions impact the vulnerable, excluded
Just about every injustice, hatred, oppression, disaster, inequity, exclusion and sin was mentioned in speeches, documents, prayers and public issue statements during the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 in Karlsruhe, Germany.
More than 4,000 Christians and people of other faiths and no faith were among those who gathered in person, plus thousands more online to follow this once-in-eight-years gathering, which was held nine years after the 2013 Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea because of COVID-19.
The agenda of the world is the agenda of the churches around the world.
At the first Assembly in 1948, there were 147 member churches, predominantly from Europe and North America.
This year, delegates came from 352 member churches, which have grown to include more and more from Asia, Africa and Latin America, plus Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
The witness of the first assembly—to welcome the German churches into membership, despite the complicity of many with Nazism and the Holocaust—was repeated before this Assembly when the WCC Central Committee affirmed that it would not exclude the Russian Orthodox Church for its support of the aggression in Ukraine.
The spirit is to include all at the table so dialogue can happen.
Ukrainian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox representatives were both there. Ukrainian Orthodox observers were given space in the plenary on Europe to speak and denounce the war begun by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 in Ukraine.
Even though a Russian delegate in a closing session expressed frustration that Russians had limited time in public sessions, Russians participated in developing the statement on the war.
That statement denounced all war and militarization as contrary to the love of Christ. It denounced the Russian government for starting the war in Ukraine that displaces millions, kills thousands, and perpetrates and continues to perpetrate war crimes. It also expressed concern about people in Russia, Russian soldiers and suppression of Russian war protestors.
However, the top concern was the climate "crisis"—re-named from climate "change" to indicate the imminent threat it poses. Youth decried its threat to their very existence.
Climate was the focus of one of six statements adopted, four at the Assembly and two by the newly-elected, 150-member Central Committee. They are:
1) "The Living Planet: Seeking a Just and Sustainable Global Community" calls for urgent action because "we are interdependent in God's creation" and "we are running out of time."
It calls people to repent their selfishness that contributes to the climate emergency in which those who contribute the least to it suffer the most. It calls for listening to Indigenous Peoples to combat climate change by restoring creation, "reimagining and deconstructing the prevailing worldview and theology" to redirect resources to protect and renew ecosystems. The statement is at oikoumene.org/resources/documents/the-living-planet-seeking-a-just-and-sustainable-global-community.
2) "The Things that Make for Peace: Moving the World to Reconciliation and Unity" affirms the commitment "to peacemaking through interreligious dialogue and cooperation," and calls for a global ceasefire in all armed conflicts.
It acknowledges the pain that violence and conflict put on vulnerable communities, the elderly, women, children and youth. It challenges the use of "religious language, authority and leadership to justify, support or 'bless' armed aggression or any kind of violence or oppression."
It urges churches to promote peacemaking to challenge division, polarization and injustice.
3) "Seeking Justice and Peace for All in the Middle East" urges dialogue to bring lasting peace and security for all in the Middle East. It says authorities are squeezing the Christian presence in Jerusalem, threatening the multi-religious and multi-cultural identity of the city, displacing Palestinians, and undermining prospects for a two-state solution.
4) "War in Ukraine, Peace and Justice in the European Region" denounces "the illegal and unjustifiable" Russian invasion of Ukraine and renews the call for a ceasefire, as well as the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops. It appeals to all sides in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and infrastructure, and treat prisoners of war humanely.
It asserts that war is incompatible with God's very nature.
"We urge all states to provide for safe, regular and accessible pathways and opportunities for human mobility in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights obligations, and to take proper measures against the abuse of the vulnerability of migrants and refugees."
5) "Reconciliation with Indigenous People" urges continued advocacy with Indigenous Peoples to defend their human rights, their right to self-determination and to participation in decision-making within churches and society. Since the first contact with colonizers, Indigenous Peoples have experienced continued harms to their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the land, water and air.
The statement invites churches to address their need for healing from historical and intergenerational trauma through Truth and Reconciliation processes that restore justice and heal relationships. It calls on WCC member churches to fund a WCC desk for the Indigenous Peoples Program and to recognize the complicity of churches in the genocides.
6) "Confronting Racism and Xenophobia, Overcoming Discrimination, Ensuring Belonging" declares "there is no justification in faith or science for the racism, xenophobia and discrimination we are witnessing in the world."
The WCC urges that "these words lead to action against the injustices perpetrated against vulnerable communities." It also calls for faith leaders to urge government policy makers to dismantle structures and to revisit their own complicity in slavery and colonialism and to journey towards repentance, confession, reparations, reconciliation and healing. It identifies misuse of social media and anti-foreigner nationalist movements as contributing to racism.
In addition, the Assembly adopted four statements, called "Minutes," addressing some lesser-known issues.
• A Minute on Indigenous Papuan People, the majority of whom are Christians, denounced systemic violations to their safety and human rights, arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual and gender-based violence and denial of access to their territory, rainforests and environment, which corporations are destroying to access resources. The WCC committed to build awareness and accompany the people and churches.
• A Minute urged acknowledgement of the Syriac-Aramaic genocide in 1915, part of the upheavals at the same time as the Armenian genocide. The genocidal acts were mostly against Christian communities of Aramean, Chaldean, Syrian, Assyrian and Greek descent.
• A Minute on the Nagorno-Karabakh war condemned use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions, targeting civilians, hospitals and infrastructure, and other war crimes, atrocities and torture. Hundreds of ethnic Armenians are illegally held by Azerbaijan in violation of the Geneva Convention. The WCC appeals for releasing hostages and POWs, protecting holy sites and setting a just, sustainable peace.
• A Minute on ending war and building peace on the Korean Peninsula urges WCC member churches to be in solidarity with Korean churches, participate in the Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification on the Korean Peninsula and help collect 100 million signatures to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty by the 70th anniversary of the armistice in 2023.
As is the tradition, the 11th Assembly also approved a "Unity Statement," that included increasing youth participation in WCC commissions, committees and its Central Committee.
The assembly's Unity Statement called for Christian love in today's world and uplifted the significance of the call for Christian unity. It concluded: "We affirm the vision of the WCC for the visible unity of all Christians, and we invite other Christians to share this vision."
It invites people of faith and goodwill to trust that a different world—one that respects the earth, assures everyone has food and abundant life, one that is decolonized, more loving, harmonious, just and peaceful—is possible.
"In a world weighed down with so much pain, anguish and fear, we believe that the love we have seen in Christ brings the liberating possibilities of joy, justice for all and peace with the earth," it says, concluding, "Compelled by a vision of unity, we journey on together, resolved to practice Christ's love … trusting in the promise that Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity."
The statement is at oikoumene.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/A05rev1-Unity-Statement.pdf.