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WCC assesses impact of Decade to Overcome Violence

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A UMNS photo by Linda Bloom

Jan Love, a United Methodist, is chairwoman of the WCC's "Decade to Overcome Violence."
Feb. 20, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — When the World Council of Churches initiated its “Decade to Overcome Violence” in 2001, the idea was to “shine a bright light” on places where Christians are working on issues of justice and peace — places that could be models for others.

Now, at the halfway point, the decade has had an “important impact,” according to Jan Love, a United Methodist who has served as chairwoman of the decade.

“There are parts of the globe where the decade has really taken hold,” she told United Methodist News Service before a Feb. 18 plenary session on “Overcoming Violence” at the WCC’s 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre.

In Europe, for example, “the decade is really helping to define how many organizations articulate their own work,” she added.

Love, the chief executive for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, also finds evidence of the decade’s impact “in shifting the terms of debate over issues related to war and peace.”

Both the Rev. Samuel Kobia, the WCC’s chief executive, and His Holiness Aram I, the WCC moderator, now emphasize “under what circumstances would we, as individual churches, and we, as churches collectively, devote ourselves to creating peace with justice,” she said.

The plenary session included stories of reconciliation, a plea for assistance to a population under siege in northern Uganda, and a recommitment — led by youth — to the decade’s five goals. Those goals include:
  • Addressing holistically the wide varieties of violence.
  • Challenging churches to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence and affirming anew the spirituality of reconciliation.
  • Creating a new understanding of security in terms of cooperation and community.
  • Learning from the spirituality and resources for peace-building of other faiths.
  • Challenging the growing militarization of the world.

At the end of the plenary, a letter from the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches was read. In it, the U.S. Conference thanked the assembly for its hospitality and the council for its compassion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and offered repentance as citizens “of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation.”

The letter deplored U.S. attempts “to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests” and lamented “with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights.”

The letter pointed to the failure of the United States to deal with global warming and other environmental concerns and to acknowledge or confront the global economic injustice that perpetuates hunger, poverty and disease.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Linda Bloom

Panelists at a World Council of Churches press conference discuss the group's efforts to overcome violence.
During a press conference, the Rev. Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), acknowledged that while a majority of Americans now believe the war in Iraq is a mistake, “many of our faithful will not agree” with the letter’s contents.

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, moderator of the U.S. Conference for the WCC, added that the letter is not endorsed by the churches’ decision-making bodies but “does represent responsible and committed thinking.”

Some in the United Methodist delegation thought the statement would have benefited from a wider input. “In hindsight, it would have been best to have the (U.S.) delegates have the opportunity to receive and respond to the document,” said the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Pickens added that he saw a draft of the letter before the assembly. “One gets the sense that the document does a lot of hand-wringing, but it doesn’t really set a tone for what we’re going to do next in terms of the war.”

Love pointed out that many noteworthy efforts are being made for peace with justice in the United States, and “this statement makes virtually no mention of those.” While it is important to name the problems and confess complicity, she added, “We also seek to show the signs of hope and the opportunities for building reconciliation and peace.”

“I think there is a great deal that our churches can do and must do in terms of witness,” Pickens said. Once the sin is recognized, there is an obligation to do more “simply because of who we are.”

Love also expressed concern over the letter’s last paragraph, which begins, “Sisters and brothers in the ecumenical community, we come to you in this assembly for hospitality we don’t deserve, for companionship we haven’t earned, for an embrace we don’t merit.”

Such a statement dilutes the meaning of hospitality in the Christian community, where those who are offered hospitality “deserve it in the same way as when God offers us grace,” she explained. “We’re always worthy of being included in Christian community.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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