Churches’ attitudes and responses to racism today will come under scrutiny at a conference, organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in partnership with the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Dutch missionary and diaconal agency, Kerk in Actie, in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, 26-29 August 2010.
While the struggle against racism has been a formative and highly visible priority for the ecumenical movement, beginning with the US Civil Rights movement and then South African apartheid, there are now diverging views as to the role churches should play in combating racism that operates in many subtle ways.
While some say the work on racism is mostly done, others say it is time for the churches and ecumenical organisations to re-engage with racism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion.
Increasing tensions and fragmentation caused by large scale migration, economic disempowerment of many marginalised communities and the continued practice of caste-based discrimination that involves about 250 million Dalits in South Asia and elsewhere, all point to the fact that the instruments of discrimination are not the same as they were 40 years ago.
Today racism is a global phenomenon touching the lives of many vulnerable communities with the combined challenges of poverty, injustice, violation of human rights and violence, both direct and structural.
“Exposing and challenging racism is a way of affirming human dignity, striving for social justice and celebrating diversity,” said the Rev Dr Deenabandhu Manchala, WCC programme executive for Justice and Inclusive Communities and one of the organisers of the conference.
The Cleveland conference, which is a follow-up to a 2009 conference, commemorating 40 years of WCC work under the Programme to Combat Racism, has two foci, he said.
First, the theological basis for churches’ continued engagement with initiatives and struggles that confront racism and related forms of discrimination will be explored. The conference will ask why the churches should be involved and what they would lose if they gave up on their involvement.
The second focus is to reflect on the concept of just peace from the perspective of those struggling against the violent cultures of racism and casteism. This reflection will contribute to the drafting of the Declaration on Just Peace that the WCC sponsored International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC), in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2011, is expected to issue.
“The ultimate objective of this theological reflection is to see how best the churches can be, and promote, just and inclusive communities in a world that is increasingly disempowering and excluding many,” Manchala said.
Participants in the conference will be coming from most WCC member churches in the United States and Canada, from churches in Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, Europe, Africa and India.