Churches re-commit to global struggle against racism

By staff writers
June 9, 2009

A conference seeking to consolidate the legacy of the World Council of Churches' historic anti-racism efforts will take place from 14-17 June in Doorn near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Those involved say the task is still a vital one as shown by the rise of the far right, including electoral gains by the racist-inspired British National Party in the UK.

The conference, entitled "Churches Against Racism", will mark the 40th anniversary of the Notting Hill conference which laid the ground for the WCC Programme to Combat Racism (PCR).

The PCR contributed to the struggles to end apartheid in South Africa and supported indigenous people in different parts of the world, oppressed groups in Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, as well as the Dalit communities in India.

It was the occasion of great controversy at the time. The WCC was accused by defenders or apologists for apartheid of "supporting violence", though the Fund was clear that it was about solidarity with political and religious action.

"In the Netherlands, where many people have family ties with South Africa, most of the churches strongly supported the PCR efforts against apartheid as they realized that the call for justice corresponded with the call of the gospel," says the Rev Klaas van der Kamp, general secretary of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands.

Some 40 years later, the Council of Churches in the Netherlands decided to host another anti-racism conference, because, as van der Kamp puts it, "we realise that the struggle for inclusion still continues".

Even in a supposedly liberal and tolerant country like the Netherlands there were 4,247 official complaints of people suffering racism and exclusion during 2007, he explains.

"In other countries with a less democratic background such injustice is even accepted as normal," said van der Kamp.

The conference participants, some fifty church leaders, activists and theologians from different parts of the world, are united by their commitment to building inclusive churches and communities, resisting racist discrimination within their societies and empowering the excluded.

"The conference must find strategies which will be more powerful than military weapons in order to change the situation of minorities in different countries", says van der Kamp. "Think of Dalits in India, people of African descent in Latin-America, Aboriginals in Australia and Roma in Europe."

The opening of the conference will be marked by a Thanksgiving Service for the witness through the PCR on 14 June at Saint Martin's Church in Doorn. WCC general secretary Rev Dr Sam Kobia will preach the sermon. A message of commitment will be read out during a worship service at the end of the conference on 17 June.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will attend the closing service and speak at a reception afterwards.

Analysis, theological reflection and building networks for common action will be the tools by which the conference seeks to promote inclusivity as a theological and ethical response to racism.

The conference has been organised by the WCC in cooperation with the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, the association of migrant churches in the Netherlands (SKIN), the missionary and diaconal agency KerkinActie, the interchurch organisation for development cooperation ICCO and the ecumenical advocacy group Oikos.

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