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New WCC executive committee addresses world issues

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The Rev. Larry Pickens
May 23, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

The world’s hot spots have drawn the attention of the World Council of Churches’ new executive committee, along with a planned reconfiguring of the council’s work.

Meeting May 16-19 at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute outside Geneva, Switzerland, the executive committee held its first session since the WCC’s 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February.

The 25-member committee, led by the new moderator, the Rev. Walter Altmann of Brazil, was elected at that time. Committee members include the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive, United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Statements on the Sudan, the Israeli/Palestinian situation, Iran and the new U.N. Human Rights Council emerged from the meeting. In addition, a letter signed by WCC leaders expressed concern to churches in Brazil about recent outbreaks of violence there.

Committee members also spent time getting to know one another and the complexity of the work involved, Pickens told United Methodist News Service.

“We have, I think, some very strong youth involvement on the executive committee,” he added. “They made a significant contribution to the work of the committee.”

One of the tasks of both the executive committee and the 150-member WCC Central Committee, which meets Aug. 30-Sept. 6, will be to follow up on reconfiguring the council and ecumenical movement.

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A UMNS photo by Peter Williams, WCC

The Rev. Walter Altmann (left), the new moderator of the World Council of Churches' executive committee, stands with the Rev. Samuel Kobia, WCC chief executive and Methodist.

Pickens said the committee affirmed six program areas: the council as an instrument of the ecumenical movement; unity, mission and spirituality; public witness and advocacy for justice and human dignity; justice and diaconia, or servanthood; ecumenical faith formation; and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

About 35 percent of the representatives on the central committee, which will consider these new program areas, are from Methodist denominations, he pointed out. “I think that’s very significant in that it does speak to the ecumenical involvement of Methodism.”

Recalling the Methodist movement’s historical influence on ecumenism, Pickens said he expects Methodists “to pay a pivotal role” in reshaping the council.

Troubled regions

In a statement on the violence and loss of life in Sudan, the executive committee noted “the fate of the people of Sudan seems to oscillate between hope and despair.” The committee voiced hope for the May 5 peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Army.

But it also expressed caution. “There is a real danger of renewed conflict unless the churches of Sudan, the ecumenical fellowship and the international community together respond to the political and economic challenges and move from monitoring to action,” the statement said.

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A UMNS photo by Aleksander Wasyluk, WCC

Participants leave the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazi.

“The gravity of these crimes against humanity, by some even considered as ‘genocide,’ poses a serious challenge to the international community that has a moral responsibility to bring the perpetrators to justice. As a result, Darfur faces an ominous humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportion.”

In a statement on the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, executive committee members urged the international community “to establish contact and engage with all the legitimately elected leaders of the Palestinian people for the resolution of differences, and not to isolate them or cause additional suffering among their people.”

Two-way, equitable negotiations are supported “as the path to mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine and to the resolution of other contentious and substantive obstacles to peace,” and both parties are called upon to be held to the same standard for ending violence and meeting existing agreements.

Human rights

The new U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaces the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, must avoid situations that “virtually paralyzed” the old body, the executive committee said in a statement.

The WCC’s Commission of Churches on International Affairs worked closely with the old commission on issues of militarization and national security in Latin America, bringing victims of human rights violations, human rights defenders and church representatives from the regions to give live testimony before the body.

“Much of this work contributed to the setting up of safeguards against torture, disappearances, violence against women, arbitrary and extra-judicial killings,” the council said.

In recent years, however, the commission fell victim to “practices and policies of double standards and politicization of (the) human rights agenda by member states, including en-bloc voting by the regions.”

While recognizing the contributions made by the former commission, the WCC executive committee strongly emphasized the “need to recognize the role and contribution of churches and civil society organizations in the promotion and defense of human rights and ensure them unhindered access to effectively participate in the debates and discourses at the forthcoming sessions of the Human Rights Council.”

Concerns about Iran

Addressing the nuclear crisis related to Iran, the WCC executive committee urged the Iranian government “to fully comply and cooperate with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and Security Council directives and requests.”

Iran also must put a moratorium on its uranium enrichment program, recognize the state of Israel and support international efforts to end terrorism.

“There was a real concern that Iran make every effort to address the concerns already raised by the international community,” Pickens said.

The full statements of the executive committee can be found at, the WCC Web site.

*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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