WCC hope for elimination of racial discrimination

By agency reporter
March 22, 2016

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance negate the essence of human beings by negating their origins and identities. This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa.

As the World Council of Churches (WCC) observed International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March), it says there are many WCC voices that, ringing out together, show the power of the WCC’s member churches in their collective work to overcome racism, a work that brings hope in spite of today’s serious challenges worldwide.

Ecumenical efforts over the past decades to address and overcome racism and xenophobia show the WCC and its member churches on a journey with the victims of racial and xenophobic discrimination in various contexts, including the Dalits in India, Indigenous Peoples in various countries, migrants in Europe and elsewhere, and many other people who have suffered from injustices related to race, ethnicity and identity.

Yesterday, a sampling of voices from among the WCC called on the world to denounce and condemn various expressions of racism and xenophobia.

In the 21st century, humanity is still confronted with the sin of racism, reflected Dr Dr Agnes Abuom, Moderator of the WCC Central Committee. “In fact, the ugly face of racism has resurfaced in many parts of the world at a time when we have the best communication tools and skills – a time when interaction among the human family has never been made easier through modern communication channels. Racism remains a sin and a violation of human dignity and human rights.”

Abuom said that, while she acknowledges the strides made in forging integration of different racial groups, she is also concerned that the ugly face of racism has resurfaced in a vicious and brutal manner; hence the need for churches and the ecumenical movement to continue and revamp their efforts and work to combat racism.

In Asia, discrimination on the basis of descent and occupation – experienced by the Dalits in India and Nepal, the Minjung in Korea and the Burakumin in Japan – is widespread and engrained both in the individual psyche as well as wider social systems, necessitating the need for change at both the individual as well as the structural level, said the Rev  Dr Peniel Rajkumar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation.

“What is alarming is not just the heinous and inhuman ways in which these forms of discrimination manifest themselves but also the silence and complicity surrounding them that ensure that such forms of discrimination are perpetuated and sustained in insidious ways,” he says.

In Europe, the refugee and migrant crisis has exposed an alarming increase in xenophobic hysteria and violence against refugees and migrants, said Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, WCC programme executive for Mission and Evangelism. “Moreover, a marked political shift to the far right is evident throughout the region,” she added. Even those European countries that were more open and welcoming to migrants and refugees in recent times have now joined the swing to right-wing conservative politics. The rhetoric of xenophobic fear and nationalistic exclusivism have become normative and acceptable in the public spaces. Europe is better than this.”

Across the world, deprivation of nationality has been used in many instances as a political tool to discriminate against and exclude a community from the population, said Semegnish Asfaw, WCC programme executive for international affairs. “This has been the case, for instance, in the Dominican Republic, where changes in nationality laws during the last decade have rendered Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless”, she said. “The law was applied retroactively, turning all children born of Haitian immigrant parents, who had arrived in the country more than five decades ago, stateless. The year 2015 has been particularly challenging for Dominicans of Haitian descent, as the government threatened to deport hundreds of thousands of them to Haiti, where they were not welcomed.”

In the United States of America, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, born after the deaths of several African-Americans, including Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, is a tangible outcry of the African-American community and others after the acquittal of those who caused these deaths, said the Rev Garland F. Pierce, senior assistant to the WCC General Secretary.

Even places of worship and those who gather in them have not been exempt from being targets of racially motivated hate crimes and violence, as evidenced by the massacre of nine people at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina (US) in June 2015, Pierce added.

“While racism has been a scourge upon US history and psyche since the country’s beginning, some have argued that there has been a resurgence of racist rhetoric and actions during the presidency of the nation’s first African-American president”, he said. “Even the current presidential race has been marred by vitriol and rhetoric that play on racist and xenophobic sentiments.”

Given these current realities and acknowledging the International Decade for People of African Descent, as part of its Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, the WCC has organised a racial justice solidarity visit to the US on 19-25 April 2016.

In South Africa, the WCC Programme to Combat Racism was instrumental and prophetic in denouncing and condemning the apartheid regime in South Africa. Today, the WCC continues to support the All Africa Conference of Churches as well as its member churches in Africa as they work for peace and justice.

Dr Abuom added, “The WCC urges its member churches and ecumenical partners to keep confronting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and find ways to bring about racial equality in their respective contexts. As an ecumenical fellowship, we are called to oppose xenophobic and racist statements and actions.”

“The WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is a call for transformative justice. On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, WCC invites churches and ecumenical partners around the globe to renew their commitment to rising up and acting for justice and peace, and to remaining prophetic in resisting and challenging unjust structures that oppress and discriminate communities based on their identity and origin.”

* More about the WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace here

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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