Two dancers at WCC presentation - a man in a wheelchair and a woman standing and partnering him

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

GLOBAL ECUMENICAL LEADERS at the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany have spoken about the needed response from churches regarding gender justice, disabled people, and the rights of the earth.

The Rev Dr Karen Georgia Thompson, Associate General Minister and Vice President for Wider Church Ministries and Operations of the United Church of Christ (USA) brought attention to, and raised awareness of, gender justice challenges and issues that must be prioritised in the fellowship of churches and on a global level. She declared that the “quest for gender justice must include identifying challenges facing women, global advocacy, and women’s empowerment.”

Thompson went on to describe women’s struggles, such as employment, obtaining positions, wages, and gender-based violence, as “a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue.”

“As we in this community, that is the World Council of Churches, and as people of faith continue to examine the disparities that exist in gender around the world, it will be important for us to find ways to continue to be engaged to address these issues”, she stated. “And I think most importantly, to call out the ways in which the church itself continues to support structures that contribute to gender disparities.”

The Rev Dr Gordon Cowans, regional coordinator for the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network and a member of the United Church in Jamaica and the Virgin Islands, spoke of people with disabilities and the injustices and exclusion they face within churches and communities.

“The disability community within the church and around the world isn’t asking for charity and sympathy”, Cowans stated. “We need to remind ourselves in the church that the God of love is also the God of justice.”

Cowan concluded by emphasising that churches are “not fully, not entirely, the body of Christ until all of God’s humanity is available to be involved and participate.”

The Rev Dr Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang, newly elected WCC President for Asia and a delegate from the Toraja Church (Indonesia), emphasised the importance of preserving Indigenous spiritualities to counter unjust societal structures and advocate for the rights of the earth. She emphasised the importance of maintaining a culture of sharing and respect despite differences in ethnicity, race, religion, and socioeconomic status.

Faced with the reality of her home country’s 700 ethnicities and languages, Hutabarat-Lebang spoke about a deeper spirituality taught by her ancestors that is visible in their local communities, the spirituality of sharing and helping one another.

In her context, they have developed spiritualitas keugaharian, or ‘a spirituality of moderation’, which compels people to avoid the culture of greed in acquiring wealth and power, as well as contributing to the destruction of the earth through pollution and practices that endanger nature.

“In my culture, there is that expression about the unity of human beings with all of creation. We are part of God’s creation. We need to take care of the environment… because Earth is our home”, Hutabarat-Lebang concluded.

* WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany