Churches must respond to 'threefold crisis' anti-racism conference says

By staff writers
June 18, 2009

"We believe that this is a moment where we are invited by God to commit ourselves to be instruments of change in the church and the wider society," participants in an international conference on 'Churches against Racism' said yesterday (17 June).

The message was read in the presence of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands during a closing worship service.

The comments come a week after UK voters elected two members of the racist British National Party (BNP) to the European Parliament and just a day after attacks on Romanian migrants in Northern Ireland which forced 20 families to flee from their homes and take refuge in a church.

During the conference on racism, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, said that the Bible is the "ultimate immigration handbook".

"We believe God is calling members of the church to action with and on behalf of the marginalized, the poor and the many who face exclusion," the message from the conference said.

"The global economic crisis, climate change and systemic exclusion - generating desperation and increased migration", were described as the elements of a "three-fold crisis" creating a need and an opportunity for change.

The participants looked at the problems faced by migrants and minority groups such as the Roma in Europe.

There are between 7 and 9 million Roma people in Europe. They face widespread prejudice in many countries and particularly in Romania — where estimates of their numbers vary between 500,000 and 2 million.

Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, thousands of Roma have moved west to richer European countries, where many live in squalid camps with no access to health services, education, basic sanitary facilities or jobs.

The conference also looked at discrimination based on the colour of one's skin, at the disregard for land rights of indigenous peoples and at Dalits being treated as "untouchables" in India.

Some 50 church leaders, activists and theologians attended the international conference which was organized 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.

It is expected that theologically founded strategies and networks to advocate against racism within society and the church will arise from the conference.

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