Written by Gilbert R. Friend-Jones
The solemn recitation continued through the wintry German night: Mahanaem Benjamin, 7 months old; Breanna Davy, 3 years old; Mo'ath Ahmad Abu; 12 years old; Ngg Chiau-byeng, 3 years old. Each of these children had died a violent death.
Reflecting a global commitment to reduce or eliminate all types of violence, more than 1,000 people from around the world converged in Berlin on Feb. 4 to launch the "Decade to Overcome Violence—Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace." Initiated by the World Council of Churches, the "DOV" represents a global networking of Christian communities everywhere to end personal and systemic violence.
"This is an opportunity for every UCC congregation to become concretely involved in the world-wide ecumenical movement," said Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, who represents the UCC on the WCC Central Committee and its public issues subcommittee.
"The DOV does not require starting new ministries," she said, "but rather seeing (and sharing) all ministries in a new context. Sheltering homeless people or working with adolescent gangs is one thing when a congregation does it alone. It's another altogether when shared with another faith community—whether across the street or across the world."
To inaugurate the DOV in North America, Christians of all traditions are invited to complete a "Lenten Fast from Violence." This involves four things:
Praying daily the prayer of St. Francis,
Refraining from committing violence,
Abstaining from consuming or supporting violence,
Contributing to efforts that support reconciliation and address the causes and consequences of violence.
In the Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU), the UCC's German partner, the DOV has received a high 10-year priority. Christa Kronshage, director of ecumenical relations both in Westphalia and the EKU, finds great enthusiasm for the DOV. Working groups addressing specific kinds of violence are being organized. Because Westphalia has partner relationships with the UCC's Ohio and Indiana-Kentucky Conferences, she anticipates that the DOV will become a significant part of these connections.
Government glorifies war
The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa already feels empowered by the DOV, said the Rev. Stephen Titus of Namibia. The churches have tried unsuccessfully to get the Namibian government to withdraw its troops from the Congo and to stop Angolan rebels from using Namibian territory.
"The DOV is a blessing," exclaimed Titus. "War is being glorified by our government. But we shall build a culture of peace and reconciliation."
(Above) UCC ecumincal officer, the Rev. Lydia Veliko, chats with the Rev. Robert Welsh. her Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) counterpart, during the WCC meeting in Berlin. (Left) Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, chats with Bishop McKinley Young, African Methodist Episcopal Church, outside the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kirche in central Berlin, where a multi-cultural worship service launched the WCC's "Decade to Overcome Violence." Gilbert R. Friend-Jones photo.
A partner with the Penn Central Conference, the UCC of Southern Africa feels that both the WCC and the Penn Central connections will strengthen its hand in dealing with the Namibian government.
Japanese culture challenged
Suicide prevention specialist Makiko Hirata has been involved in the World Council since 1991. For the United Church of Christ in Japan, she observed, the DOV will encourage churches to address emotional and economic as well as physical violence within families, society and the church itself.
UCC in Japan churches already provide shelter and counseling for abused children, battered women, and prostitutes. Now the DOV's global networking will support these efforts and challenge traditional economic and cultural structures that perpetuate women's dependency. The DOV may persuade more Japanese churches to be receptive to the needs of sexual minorities.
At the national level, the UCC in Japan is confronting a growing chauvinism centered on the emperor, and a cultural tendency to minimize past war crimes. "I foresee going beyond the boundaries of country and nation-state toward a stronger emphasis on life, humanity and creation," Ms. Hirata said.
Because violence is so pervasive and multi-faceted, each congregation must find its own way to be involved. Jackson believes that a congregational discernment process is an essential first step.
To that end, the first resource published by the Justice and Witness Ministry is a four-part Bible Study, Doing Justice. At General Synod 23 in July in Kansas City, delegates will consider a resolution calling on congregations, associations, and conferences to support the DOV, said Jackson. It will call local churches to engage in biblical and theological reflection on what it means to live in a violent society. It will call national bodies to provide the necessary resources, and seminaries to help train candidates and pastors.
Commitment to the Decade to Overcome Violence should come naturally to UCC folks, affirmed the Rev. Lydia Veliko, UCC minister for ecumenical relations. It is congruent with the denomination's deep commitment to overcome racism.
"It's about more than changing individual behavior," she said. "It's about seeking the root causes behind personal violence. It's about overcoming the systemic inequalities that lead to violence in the first place."
Gilbert R. Friend-Jones is pastor of Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta.
The Decade to Overcome Violence will be the principal subject of a retreat-like gathering of the North American Conference of the World Council of Churches in Nashville, Tenn., April 23-24. Open to the public, the theme will be An Instrument of Thy Peace. For more information, contact Philip Jenks firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bible study resource, Doing Justice, can be obtained free of charge by contacting the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, phone 216-736-3700.
For more information on the Decade to Overcome Violence, write to: Overcoming Violence, WCC Public Information Team, P. O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland; Interent www.wcc-coe.org; e-mail: Diana Mavunduse email@example.com.