Concrete plans to mobilize churches around the world for peace have been approved by the World Council of Churches (WCC) executive committee - and announced to coincide with Eastertide.
What is expected to become a major worldwide mobilization of churches for peace will culminate with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held in early May 2011 and an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace.
Part of the approved plan is for some 50 ecumenical "living letters" teams to visit churches facing situations of violence between 2007 and 2011. The "living letters" teams will be a concrete expression of solidarity as well as an attempt to share insights and learn from each other. At least three visits will take place in 2007, and some 15 visits a year are envisaged between 2008 and 2010.
The plan includes a series of expert consultations in partnership with research institutes and NGOs, while theological faculties and seminaries will be invited to get involved in drafting the Declaration.
An essential goal is to involve the action groups and church-based peace organizations which are already at work and can significantly contribute to the process, given their experience and commitment. Artists' contributions will also be sought.
"The aim is to reach out to as many interested church groups as possible and to invite their contributions to the Declaration in the form of texts, prayers, songs, pictures," says Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz, a German theologian who is coordinating the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) expected to adopt the Declaration.
Tentative dates for the Convocation are 4-11 May 2011, in a venue still to be decided. Its motto will be "Glory to God and peace on earth". Some 2000 participants from churches, organizations and networks will attend, as well as representatives from other faiths. The WCC executive committee will decide the venue of the event in September 2007.
Both the Convocation and the Declaration were asked for by the WCC's 9th Assembly, held in February 2006 in Brazil. The Convocation will mark the end of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace 2001-2010.
Central to the IEPC mobilizing strategy, the "living letters" proposal takes stock of recent ecumenical experiences, like the pastoral visits to the US churches after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and to Lebanese churches during the Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006, as well as a campaign of church-to-church visits during the 1988-98 Decade of "Churches in Solidarity with Women".
"Because the churches are faced with various forms of violence such as civil wars, domestic violence, interreligious strife, or environmental destruction, intensive encounter with women and men from other contexts with similar problems can be a means to express support and to help find new approaches," say the IEPC planners.
They also hope that through these visits - three in 2007 and 15 per year from 2008 to 2010 - churches will be able to engage in the process leading up to the Convocation and contribute to developing the Declaration.
The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace will have no claim to being an "ecumenical consensus statement," says Mueller-Fahrenholz. It will rather be "an act of public witness and an affirmation of enduring hope in a world torn apart by violence". Without claiming "to speak for everyone," it will attempt "to speak to everyone who cares to listen".
A "theological and spiritual text," the Declaration will address six main areas of concern: the massive reality of human self-destruction; gender-related and intergenerational violence; the entertainment industry's use of the fascination of violence; violence against nature; the violence inherent in economic injustice in its globalized ramifications and structural expressions; and the age-old scourge of war that continues to plague the lives of multitudes around the globe.
As an expression of the ecumenical witness to peace, the Declaration "must include acknowledgement of the fact that, in the course of the centuries, Christian churches have exerted much violence, be it towards women or 'lower' classes, towards 'heretics' or 'heathen', or in the justification of wars, racism, slavery, economic exploitation and other forms of oppression," Mueller-Fahrenholz stresses.
An effort will also be made to "engage with representatives of other faiths in the search for ministries of peace that enable us not only to overcome widespread - and growing - prejudice and mistrust, but also to struggle against recent trends that turn political conflicts into religious confrontations," he adds.