The future of global Christian cooperation is at stake in a contest between the kind of unity-through-relationship imagined by the Bible and unity-through-consumption modelled by MTV, suggested World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia in India yesterday (14 February 2007).
Dr Kobia affirmed the potential of young people to revitalize the ecumenical Christian movement by posing challenging questions. He was addressing a national inter-church gathering of Christian youth leaders convened by the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) at its headquarters in Bangalore.
The WCC general secretary said that in addition to economic globalization, cultural globalization is affecting the identities of young people in all regions. "We must call into question the dominant and western popular cultures that are exported to all parts of the world through consumer products, media and entertainment," he urged.
Young people are the target of much modern media, while churches struggle to communicate to them, Dr Kobia accepted. "Even in the so-called Christian countries, the majority of the youth are Biblically illiterate but well-informed about the latest MTV programmes," he said, referring to the global music television network for adolescents and young adults, which has been an emblem of wider visual media trends since the 1980s.
The church risks "losing the younger generation to the infotainment industry", suggested the ecumenical leader.
Others, particularly in the ‚Äòemerging church‚Äô movement, take a different view, believing that seeing things in terms of this kind of polarization reflects a generation-shift which older church leaders struggle to comprehend.
Dr Kobia believes that "unless something drastic is done now, the church will lose a whole generation of leadership," with dire consequences for the ecumenical movement. "Without the strong involvement of youth in the church, the ecumenical movement will have no future," the WCC general secretary underlined.
The movement is aware of this situation, Dr Kobia said, and noted that the WCC in particular is "striving to integrate the leadership and input of young people more deliberately into the different areas of its work". The Council, he recognized, "needs input from ecumenically-active young people" as it establishes a new "youth body" created by its 9th Assembly one year ago in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
This new body, made up of 25 young adults aged between 18 and 30 years, aims to promote the participation of youth in the Council's life and work by ensuring the sustainable and active involvement of young adults in all levels of the WCC.
"It is the role of each young generation to pose the challenging questions and bring change for the better. This is not only true for the society and political institutions but also for the churches," Dr Kobia said. "You are capable of revitalizing the WCC, and I invite you to do exactly that," he appealed to the gathering.
Dr Kobia's keynote speech was followed by an hour-long open conversation with the participants. He welcomed the "privilege" and "rare opportunity" to engage in direct discussions with young people, since he mainly meets with church leaders, heads of world communions and dignitaries. "Very few, if any, of these are under 60," he admitted.