Friday Nov. 8, 2013
God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace
This was the theme prayer of the WCC General Assembly. The GETI schedule offered little time to work on a blog – which at least requires some thought before one starts to type. After another full week, the following issues have become clear. As Rachel, Jorge, Darnell and I talked about the need to bring back to the PSR community and our churches what we learned here, these issues stand out as the ones the GETI students and faculty found most engaging and challenging.
The first is amazement at the courage the churches can have together. The Program to Combat Racism that played a key role in the ending of apartheid in South Africa is a case in point. The churches, especially in the U. S. paid a price for that however. U. S. media, CBS’ 60 Minutes, Readers Digest and other mainstream journals, radio and TV, interpreted WCC humanitarian aid to the Africans fighting for equality as collusion with Communists and financial support for these churches took a nosedive, fueling a financial decline from which they still suffer. The WCC provides a place where women in the church can speak up and challenge their ecclesiastical structures. The WCC has become a forum for discussing HIV/AIDS, issues of sexuality, the status of women, and the need to rethink old theologies that force LGBT people into the closet. PSR students would think most churches are way behind on these issues, but it was pretty amazing to hear what some folks said in the plenary meetings. It is also true that together the churches often pull back from strong stands – an institution like the WCC can become afraid of losing the support of its member churches too.
A big point of conversation at the Assembly was the issue of Palestine. Particularly at issue was the influence of the United States in that conflict. Supported by particular theologies, interpretations of the right of ancient Israel to reclaim the Promised Land the U. S. churches largely support Israel without question. It is clear to me after also listening to the indigenous people’s concerns that one reason the United States has a difficult time being critical of Israel’s grabbing of Palestinian land is that if we did we would have to rethink radically our relationship to Native American peoples. Our nation’s prosperity rests on two acts of theft – that of the land of the Native Americans and that of the African people from their own land to be brought to ours for labor. That is a lot to confess and Americans as a nation have not been able to do it yet. Meanwhile we are reminded that one thing religious leaders have to contribute is our voice from our pulpits. Preaching is the primary way that we can shape a public conscience in our nation. We should not waste opportunities to do so.
Ecological concern was everywhere. No paper cups were provided for the free tea and coffee. We were supplied with a hot/cold tumbler to reuse and keep for a souvenir. But I found it ironic that as we were talking about the need to end the use of nuclear power to generate electricity, to end the practice of fracking for gaining access to natural gas supplies primarily for generating electricity, the need to stop building solar and wind farms that took good land out of production to generate electricity and harmed the homelands of wildlife, we were also told that everything would have to be accessed via computer and internet. Every delegate daily plugged in at least two electronic devices and the WCC app that supplied access to the latest documents drained power from these devices at a rapid rate. This is not to mention the human cost of building these devices by people who are often not paid a living wage and even if they are find themselves expendable if demand for them goes down. As the African churches put it, God of Life, lead us to justice, dignity and peace. Greed remains a fundamental human sin –if not the original one in which we are all enmeshed from birth and thus in need of salvation.
The need of salvation leads to the topic of evangelism. One of the Evangelical students in my seminar group, a Palestinian Protestant PhD student who just completed a dissertation on the hermeneutics of the promised land said that American liberal Christians are too nice. We are so worried about not including someone that we no longer challenge the theologies that support the injustices in his country. He didn’t mean the interpretation of the Promised Land though that was another point he made. He meant that we do not challenge from all our pulpits the theologies that diminish all human beings complicity in the sin that keeps the world suffering from injustice and greed. We are so worried about the gender language for the Trinity that we forget the radical nature of the incarnation contained in Trinitarian theology as a powerful theology for confronting human separation from the humanity of others. Most American Christians cannot bring themselves to challenge the violence of their corporations and government. Evangelism in this sense will, of course, not necessarily lead to bigger congregations and more money – it will only lead to the spreading of the Gospel. Which one do we want?
Much of World Christianity was in Busan the last two weeks. Here the WCC met also with the Roman Catholic Church, the World Evangelical Alliance and the Global Christian Forum three large groups of churches not officially members of the WCC, but in close conversations with it. Not everyone agreed on many things, but all remain committed to dialogue toward mutual understanding and perhaps in the end a meeting at the table sharing the same bread and the same cup. For now, the WCC Assembly ends with the practice of foot washing not with Eucharist. God of life, lead us to justice and peace.
Tomorrow we come home. Ask us about our trip.