World church leaders debate how to promote peace
Vancouver — Calls for peace, freedom, and justice ring across this idyllic Pacific-shore campus of the University of British Columbia, as more than 800 delegates and 3, 000 observers to the World Council of Churches assembly (WCC) this week wind up 17 days of discussions, seminars, and worship services.
There is little or no disagreement that peace, freedom, and justice are noble aims. But participants from around the globe strongly differ on how they are to be achieved, what priorities should be set, and what the tradeoffs should be.
Varying points of view are best spotlighted in debate over a statement on peace and justice that is likely to be ratified in some form by this assembly before it adjourns on Wednesday. WCC leaders hope these results will be a guideline for Christians and others throughout the world.
Western delegates particularly emphasize the importance of peace and nonviolence under virtually any circumstances. Coretta Scott King, widow of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said that nonviolence ''must apply to all social struggles.'' Pointing to the pacifist work of Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, as well as her husband in the United States, she added that this approach can become a powerful force for social change that can be applied to both national and international disputes.
Many third-world delegates, on the other hand, insist that there can be no peace without justice. They say the issues of racism, government oppression, hunger, and poverty are paramount in their struggle. South African theologian Allan Boesak, who is of mixed race, points out that there is great concern by Christians in the third world that the ''issue of peace will be separated from the issue of justice - making 'peace' primarily a North Atlantic concern,'' while justice and deprivations are ignored.
A related clash of views exists over nuclear disarmament. Delegates will likely modify a draft statement that now asks churches to declare unequivocally that ''the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.''
English Anglican Bishop John Habgood - who moderated the 1981 WCC nuclear disarmament hearings in Amsterdam - calls upon church officials here to take a more ''nuanced and balanced'' position. Bishop Habgood says the council should take into consideration and be more respectful of ''various conditions in various countries and various churches.'' This stance is supported by US Lutheran Bishop David Preus, who reads the draft as a call for ''unilateral disarmament'' and says many religious leaders don't see it as ''a constructive move toward peace.''
Others here want what they call a more ''urgent'' statement on peace and justice that would also embody a clear repudiation of the use of nuclear weapons and unabashedly demand unilateral disarmament.
''Peace and injustice cannot coexist,'' says Kenyan Anglican Bishop Henry Okullu. ''There will be no peace in the whole of Africa with the increasing militarization of the area by the Soviet Union and the United States.'' Bishop Okullu attributes many of the world's current injustices to racism and calls upon the WCC to give top priority to wiping it out.
Russian Orthodox Archbishop Kirillcq holds that churches must ''proclaim the link between peace and justice'' and should develop a ''clear and theologically credible position of security and peace.''
WCC, along with its US counterpart, the National Council of Churches (NCC), continues to be criticized for allegedly leaning towards the ideological left and sometimes fanning the flames of revolution. These attacks have spilled over into this convocation, as two New Right spokesman from the US, Rev. Carl McIntyre, head of the International Council of Christian Churches, and Bob Jones , president of Bob Jones University, joined a picket line in Vancouver. Signs suggested that NCC was Marxist-inspired and Soviet-dominated.
Critics pointed to reports in Reader's Digest and by CBS's Television's ''60 Minutes'' that WCC funds, particularly NCC monies gathered from unsuspecting parishioners, are sometimes channeled into worldwide revolutionary coffers. WCC leaders deny that their efforts to feed and clothe the hungry and have-nots in the third world are politically inspired.
At the same time, those on the left, particularly the vast majority of members who come from non-Western nations, often score WCC for appeasing the US and other Western nations and ignoring the larger struggle for freedom elsewhere. They want a specific commitment from church officials here to help wipe out oppression and bondage.
Also, some here say that WCC lacks a coherent spiritual direction and is preoccupied with political and social agenda. However, some delegates point out that the real value of a meeting, such as this one, is informal fellowship that grows among them and tends to heighten individual faith in God and foster a stronger love for one's fellow man.