In February 2011 the World Council of Churches Central Committee announced that the theme for the Tenth WCC Assembly in 2013 in Busan, Korea would be 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace.'
In May this year, nearly one thousand church leaders and peace activists gathered in Kingston, Jamaica for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) where they released a statement calling for deeper church reflection and involvement in peace and justice.
The theme of peace and justice is on the global church agenda with new energy at a time when more and more societies are experiencing conflict, intense poverty, drought and injustice.
“Let me, as I report to you, share how I see that we are already on our way towards a deeper reflection and a stronger commitment to justice and peace,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in his report to the WCC Executive Committee meeting this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “We now have a new momentum given through the moment we had together in Jamaica.”
In his report delivered on Tuesday 13 September, Dr Tveit spoke at length about an emerging discussion on the role and commitment of the churches in peace and justice. He also reported on the ongoing work of the WCC and his visits and interactions with member churches around the world over the past six months.
According to Dr Tveit the WCC is moving in a definitive direction with member churches around the world calling for Just Peace. And that movement is more than a slogan. It is a real move toward changing how the church interacts with the world and addresses issues of justice and peace.
Member churches’ voices come from the Pacific region, the Middle East, North and East Africa, South and East Asia, the Americas and even Tveit’s home country, Norway, which experienced a deadly terrorist attack in July.
“As churches, our focus should be not on legitimising actions of war, but on how non-violent actions can replace the use of military force, how we can build peace from below and from within, and how we can give political leaders moral support and standards to protect their own citizens without using violence,” he said.
“But we also need to work, to act and to create Just Peace in all places as we go on with our reflections and discussion, and also give the reflections realistic and constructive inputs and direction,” the WCC chief added.
Dr Tveit acknowledged that the ecumenical movement has been debating the role of the church in peace and justice for decades. “It is an unfinished debate which will not lead to easy answers disconnected from the day-to-day realities in which many churches wrestle with their Christian calling to justice and peace,” he said.
While the concept of Just Peace needs more reflection, Tveit said, the concept “can be understood properly only if we realise that in concrete situations there needs to be a dynamic relation between, on the one hand, the struggle for justice and, on the other, peace-building.”
“Peace without justice will not last long,” he said.
While peace and justice issues are often focused on the cessation of war and conflict, the IEPC broadened the WCC understanding of what it means to work for Just Peace. Their focus was on peace among peoples, peace in the marketplace, peace with the environment and peace within communities.
During his regional visits of the past six months Tveit saw that churches, in places as divergent as Samoa and Germany, were engaged in a strong church movement for peace with the earth, “to the extent that I believe we are part of processes that are changing policy,” he said.
Dr Tveit pointed out the significance of the Executive Committee meeting in Addis Ababa. “We are close to areas of the world where people now are suffering from new and drastic changes of climate, starving from drought, and we see that we need to be firm in our call for a binding and sustainable international protocol that will effectively reduce emissions causing climate change.”
“Christian reflections should not only be on moral and political standards, but also on how we deal with the fact that there are victims of this misbehaviour which we have to address as sin against other human beings, nature and against God the Creator of all,” he said.
In his report, Tveit also discussed in detail the work of the general secretariat and the WCC as a whole in Africa and other regions of the world where churches are under stress due to conflict, poverty and rapid change. He drew particular attention to pressures being felt by Christian communities in the Middle East.
When reporting on the planning for the 2013 Assembly to be held in Busan, Korea, Tveit announced that two WCC Central Committee members from Korea, Hae-sun Jung and the Rev Dr Seong-won Park, have been appointed to work full time on assembly preparations.
The World Council of Churches Executive Committee meetings end Friday 16 September 2011.
* International Ecumenical Peace Convocation: www.overcomingviolence.org
* WCC work of for climate justice and peace with the earth: www.oikoumene.org/eco-justice