The World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee met from 20-26 November at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, to approve the 2020 programme plans and budget, follow up and decide on a variety of assembly matters, discuss world affairs and issue seven statements in response to current situations. The Executive Committee also discerned the way forward for the WCC’s Youth Communication Strategy.
A special communication strategy for youth was presented, a plan that will ensure youth are included in all aspects of the WCC’s work leading up to the 11th assembly in 2021. By capitalizing on existing networks, youth-centered communication will highlight avenues of meaningful engagement. Youth will be encouraged to share their stories of why they engage ecumenically, and communications will go through channels and platforms youth already use.
A horizon of hope
In the opening address WCC moderator Dr Agnes Abuom emphasized hope as the ultimate reason why the meeting is convened. “For a world that seems mired in difficulties and so often discouraged, we stand unbowed to offer hope for a better future and a better world,” she said. “That is who we are.”
The WCC hopes to illuminate the horizon of hope for all, said Abuom. “Your presence here signals a commitment to the wider ecumenical movement of love, joining your work to that of others around the world, advancing serious ecumenical deliberation on our shared challenges, and offering your best wisdom to our shared causes and shared joys,” she said. “We also meet to receive and share our own stories from our churches, countries, and regions – looking at global challenges and their impact on our member churches.”
In addition to addressing pressing world issues, the Executive Committee also tended to the WCC’s planning and business decisions. “Here we will continue to receive reports of the WCC’s programmes and finances but also of preparations for the WCC’s 11th Assembly, in Karlsruhe, Germany, in September 2021,” said Abuom. “In fact, next March’s meeting of the Central Committee will be the last one before the assembly.”
Reconciliation and unity
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, in his report entitled “The One Human Family,” reflected that the light and life of the world that we celebrate at Christmas are even more needed in a world threatened by our human actions and by lack of care for the earth.
“The Christmas message is for everybody and about everybody,” Tveit said. “We trust in and are entrusted with God’s care for justice, peace, and our future – particularly the future of our children – and grandchildren—for all who come after us.”
In many ways, the WCC brings hope for reconciliation and unity, Tveit said. “We are in an urgent, critical situation in the world,” he said. “The environment and future conditions for human life and all living organisms are threatened.”
The world is also facing another threat, from growing racism, Tveit said. “I want to emphasize here that the problem of racism is growing quickly in many, if not all, parts of the world,” he said.
Tveit also expressed concern about how religion is increasingly abused to legitimize conflict and violence. “We have to deal with this in mutual accountability to one another for how our traditions and holy texts bring wisdom and hope, but also have been used to motivate conflicts and oppression,” he said. “We are all worried that there is a significant increase in hate-speech against religious groups, violence and several terrorist attacks on sanctuaries and people praying there.”
Churches commitment to children
“Churches can help respond to the urgent demands of the children who march in the streets for our planet,” said, Dr Agnes Abuom, during the Executive Committee celebratory break marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Two years after the launch of the Churches’ Commitments to Children in 2017, the WCC collaborates with over 450 heads of Churches, heads of children’s ministries, school directors, Sunday school teachers and champions for children at the grassroots level. A vital element of the success of the initiative is the global partnership with UNICEF started four years ago, which allowed churches throughout WCC’s constituency to be supported and equipped with expertise
Seven public statements
In seven public statements and minutes, the Executive Committee addressed pressing global issues, calling for justice and peace.
One statement observed the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
“By adopting the CRC on 20 November 1989, world leaders made a promise to all children, to respect, protect and fulfil their rights,” the statement reads. “The CRC has gone on to achieve almost universal consensus, with only one country having refrained from ratifying it.”
Another statement said the climate crisis is not a distant prospect, but is upon us today. “Children, young people and ordinary citizens have made public demonstration of their outrage at the lack of any adequate response by governments to the gravity of this global crisis, and against the backsliding by some governments,” the statement reads. “The time for debate and disputation of established scientific facts is long over.”
Time for action is swiftly passing, the statement continues. “We will all be held to account for our inaction and our disastrous stewardship of this precious and unique planet.”
A third statement reiterated calls for end to conflict in Syria, and raised prayers for peace after more than eight tragic years of death, destruction and displacement.
“The WCC is gravely concerned about the continuing humanitarian impact on all people of the region,” reads the statement. “In this context of fresh violence and upheaval, along with other communities in the area, Christian communities are also suffering.”
Another statement expressed deep concern over turmoil in Latin America occurring with exceptional concurrent crises.
“Among other situations of concern, Brazil is facing a complex crisis of political and social polarization, affecting the rule of law, human rights and environmental protection, and diminishing civil society space, while Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay, Peru and Argentina have all experienced mass protests and political crises that have shaken their governments, economies and societies,” the statement reads. “In some cases, such as in Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia, popular protests have resulted in violent clashes and deaths.”
A fifth statement says that statelessness must be eradicated so that people will no longer live in a situation of legal limbo.
“Children constitute over a third of the global stateless population, and in the countries with the 20 largest stateless populations, approximately 70,000 stateless children are born each year,” reads the statement. “Risks of statelessness are often increased in the context of forced displacement and migration.”
Another statement expressed deep regret over the USA’s stance on West Bank settlements, reaffirming the WCC’s opposition to the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
“The Executive Committee deeply regrets the announcement on 18 November that in the opinion of the United States government the ‘establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.’ This announcement reverses longstanding US government policy, and has put the US at direct odds with the vast weight of international legal opinion and with the long-established policy of the international community through the United Nations,” the WCC statement reads.
A seventh statement expressed grave concern with the ethical implications of automated weapons systems.
“Such weapons, if developed to be fully autonomous, would make decisions on who lives and who dies,” reads the statement. “All meaningful real-time human control would be eliminated, and likewise the direct legal, ethical and moral responsibility and accountability for such decision-making.”
In addition, the Executive Committee reviewed and discussed various reports and documents included a revised ecumenical diakonia document; report from the Reference Group on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace; Overcoming racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia; Communication Update; Update on Health and Healing; report on Green Village as well as a report from the Human Sexuality Reference Group. The ongoing work on evaluation of ecumenical initiatives where presented as well as a proposal for a pre-assembly programme evaluation.
The executive committee is the governing body that carries out essential business for the WCC. The group provides direction to the general secretary on work and developments while deepening common understanding on specific issues. The WCC executive committee is formed by the WCC central committee, which elects 20 of its members along with the central committee moderator, two vice-moderators and the WCC general secretary, as well as the moderators of the WCC programme and finance committees.