Churches target conflict as key religious issue

On Sunday, Feb. 4, in Berlin, the World Council of Churches (WCC) will launch a major initiative to engage religious groups in finding effective responses to conflict - the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches for Peace and Reconciliation. As the central committee of the ecumenical body met this week in Potsdam, Germany, a senior leader stirred debate on "the Christian option of nonviolence" by challenging churches to consider whether "violence for a just cause can be justified."

Catholicos Aram I, of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said he was "not endorsing violence," but encouraging deeper debate on the situations that confront people. He pointed to the "mixed reactions of churches" to situations in Iraq, Kosovo, and the Middle East, and cited the Palestinian uprising as one example of use of "violence as a last resort." He also challenged churches' "blind association with the pride of their nations and the policies of their governments."

Manfred Stolpe, a former East German Protestant leader and now prime minister, of German state of Brandenburg, thanked the WCC for its "decisive contribution" to the peaceful revolution of 1989 that overthrew the Communist regime and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. WCC's peace and justice initiatives of the 1980s, he said, had inspired hundreds of peace and environmental groups linked to East German churches.

Along with the antiviolence project, delegates to the meeting - representing 337 churches from all continents - have on their agenda issues relating to the WCC's relationship with its Orthodox member churches, and the effects of economic globalization on the world's poorest nations. Orthodox churches are more conservative than many other members and at one time threatened to pull out of the WCC.

Nine new member churches were welcomed in this week, including Lutherans in Ghana and Namibia, associations of Baptists in Rwanda and the Philippines, and churches in South Africa, Myanmar, and the Polynesian island of Niue.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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