Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches | Busan, South Korea
Beginning October 30th, Christians from around the world are gathering in Busan, South Korea to participate in the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. The assembly is the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and meets every seven years. It is a moment when the fellowship of member churches comes together as a whole in prayer and celebration.
March for Peace at the WCC 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre (Credit: Paulino Menezes/WCC)
The UCC is a member body of the council and we have sent a team of representatives from throughout the life of our denomination to represent us at this gathering. Our UCC delegation is lead by our General Minister and President, Rev. Geoffrey Black.
The assembly has the mandate to set the future agenda of the WCC, to elect governance officials and to speak with a public voice on behalf of its member churches. It is also a unique moment for the whole fellowship of member churches to come together in prayer and celebration.
The assembly theme is “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” This is not merely a slogan for the event, but provides a focus for theological reflection, worship and decision-making. It is an especially inspiring theme for us because the concept of a Just Peace is a hallmark of United Church of Christ’s theological identity.
The WCC has created a six-unit resource Pilgrimage to Busan: An Ecumenical Journey into World Christianity which invites churches and congregations to explore the themes of Christian unity, justice and peace in advance of the WCC 10th Assembly. It is designed for use by congregations in study groups, adult forums, or for a day-long retreat.
For us as members of the United Church of Christ, our commitment to the unity of Christ's church is affirmed by the words of our symbol—"That They May All Be One." (John 17:21). We ourselves were a union of several Christian traditions, and continue to be actively engaged in ecumenical relationships that seek to heal the fragmented expression of the Body of Christ.
Our faith and the statements of our General Synod teach us that the division of the church is a result of human sin, and all Christians have a responsibility to work for the day when, as Jesus prayed, "they may all be one." Ecumenical relationships help us to learn from the spiritual traditions of other churches. They help us to serve the world more effectively in God's name. They remind us that while we are proud of the diversity of the Protestant traditions that have joined in our united church, there is an even greater diversity in the Body of Christ that can make us whole.
For more than two decades, our Just Peace Church pronouncement has inspired a grassroots movement of UCC congregations committed to corporately naming and boldly proclaiming a public identity as a justice-doing, peace-seeking church. The Just Peace pronouncement articulated the UCC position on war and peace distinct from other approaches such as crusade, pacifism, or “just war.” Grounded in UCC polity and covenantal theology, the position focuses attention on alleviating systemic injustice of all types using non-violence and calls us to offer the message, grounded in the hope of reconciliation in Jesus, that “Peace is possible.”
October 29th (Day 1 - Kelly Forbush)
"Go Home!" shouts the crier in front of the BEXCO convention center of Busan, South Korea. By lunch time he is joined by a crowd protesting the World Council of Churches. How odd it is to be protested against, and for something I never imagined could be the subject of a protest: dialogue. The protesters claim, "dialogue is indeed one of the great dangers and deceptions being practiced and encouraged by the WCC."
On the edge of the protest I see Luna, the woman I sang next to in youth pre-assembly choir practice the day before. We had bonded in our attempts to learn foreign songs. She asks me to lunch and I go. Her hospitality becomes vital: in the cafeteria of the largest department store in the world I am at a lost to even find the food court. Once there she steps me through the process and explains the various dishes to me. The result: a unique dish of noodles with a flavor I've never tasted before, but instantly fall in love with. She is one of the thousands of South Koreans helping to host the World Council of Churches' 10th Assembly, in particular she has joined the youth pre-assembly.
"Why the protest?" I ask. In simple English she says the protestors do not understand; they think the WCC wants all the religions to be one and in doing so neglect Jesus Christ.
Back in the WCC youth pre-assembly, young people (under 30) from around the world discuss issues of migration, eco-justice, and reconciliation. One of the major points the group agrees upon: the need for all people of faith to work together to address the grave injustices inflicting God's people. The problems are too big to face alone. But there were (a few) young people in the protest as well. As we grow older, how will we de-escalate such conflict? What are the various factors at play into the conflict? What parallels are there to Christian extremists in the United States? The protestors are relatively small in number compared to the thousands of people involved in the World Council of Churches, should we pay them any attention?
October 31st (Day 3 - Sarah Campbell)
I am using the computer in the hotel lobby. Rather wish I had brought one. Alas!
My head is full! Woke up early this morning.
Let me share some pieces.
First, I am happy to discover that people are talking about sexuality and gender identity. It is not yet a public stance of the WCC as far as I can tell and yet some major speakers have condemned discrimination of homosexuals in the world. The UCC USA seems to be taking the lead on this, in the person of Mike Schunemeyer. He and others are offering a "space" for gathering every night of this Assembly. Will the WCC take the lead on this issue of justice into the future? There is a long way to go, but the silence is broken. I'm only just now getting the sense of this, so much I don't know.
And the sexism I assumed I would experience? It's not felt oppressive or even insidious. 37% of the delegates are women and women are in many leadership positions. We shall see.
I am very impressed by the outspoken and bold presence of people with disabilities from around the world. Repeatedly, coming to the microphone for public address, people with disabilities critiquing, challenging, teaching the assembly about ways it is not fully accessible; holding the assembly accountable. One gentleman in a wheel chair spoke powerfully about how he can not sit as a delegate in the allotted space because there is not enough space for him. And a woman with poor sight, the same thing about accessing the experience. Very proactive group at this World Council of churches.
So much else to share. I am so privileged to speak English, unearned privilege. Most everything is in English and when speakers speak a different language-- Korean, French, Spanish-- I have a little translating gadget to hear immediately what is being said.
An example of business of the WWC? A severe condemnation the alarming trend of religious intolerance around the world. (I immediately think of the mosque building plans that have been denied by local municipalities in the twin cities.) There is also now a law before a governmental body in Canada (Quebec) that would outlaw public officials from wearing religious clothes or items. WCC member churches are to engage actively in defending the rights of all religious minorities and their right to freedom of religion or belief, especially in opposing legislation, such as the above, that would limit religious freedom....
I will be curious to learn how these resolutions passed are given teeth and muscle and brain and time and money and power so that they are more than words. I know that there are offices in Geneva and New York City where WCC workers take these resolutions and work them in the intervening years, between assemblies.
Also of note: Apparently the WCC was a part of the negotiations that diverted our military involvement in Syria. Also, the head of the WCC has recently visited North Korea heads of state. More later, as I learn.