From solidarity to accountability
Letter from Decade Festival of Churches in Solidarity with Women
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
We, as members of the body of Christ from different parts of the world and different
confessions gathered at the Decade Festival, greet you in the name of Jesus
Christ. We praise and thank God for the gift of the Ecumenical Decade of
Churches in Solidarity with Women given by the World Council of Churches
ten years ago. Space was created for women to share their spirituality,
their daily struggles and their gifts. But the Living Letters sent
to you five years ago revealed the painful reality that many churches were
not fully committed to this process. So we come once again as a living
letter to invite the churches of this Jubilee Assembly to join us as
we recommit ourselves to full Christian community as found in the Gospel.
This is not an option, but a Gospel imperative.
Now that we are at the end of this journey, we must
acknowledge that the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women became a decade
of women in solidarity with women. We were reminded, as we gathered, that the
spirituality of "not giving up" is a legacy of our forebears. We were
carried on the wings of the Holy Spirit moving us from solidarity to
accountability in the full promise that God does not give up on us. We now
rejoice in our renewed strength.
Through the Living Letters, we listened and heard our sisters answer Jesus's question,
"Woman, why are you weeping?" Women responded by revealing their secret
pain of isolation, economic injustice, barriers to participation, racism,
religious fundamentalism, ethnic genocide, sexual harassment, HIV/AIDS
and violence against women and children. We lamented. We searched the scriptures
and we prayed. We found the Holy Spirit interceding with sighs too deep
for words (Romans 8:26). Empowered, we have begun the journey of healing.
With regard to our young sisters, we acknowledge that at times we have failed them.
We embrace the challenge they presented us to affirm their gifts and mentor
them as they assume the legacy we pass on - not to give up. We rejoiced
in anticipation of our developing partnership.
We appreciate the solidarity expressed by our brothers and those church leaders
who journeyed with us. Together we seek to live out the biblical affirmation
that we are created in the image of God, male and female (Gen 1:27), and the
baptismal vision that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer
slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in
Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
Our vision and commitment
As women and men of the Decade Festival, we are committed to God's mission of a world
where all God`s people can live fully, care for and share the resources
of the world equitably, dwell in harmony with creation and affirm one another
in the image of God.
This means that We hold firmly to the vision of a human community where
the participation of each and every one is valued, where no one is excluded
on the basis of race, sex, age, religion or cultural practice, where diversity
is celebrated as God's gift to the world.
To this end, we, women and men of the Decade Festival, urge our churches of
the 8th Assembly to embrace this vision, and to direct the resources of
the WCC to create programmes, educational materials, networks and opportunities
that support and empower women.
We urge our churches to devote time and energy to confront the evils of domination,
and discrimination. We call upon our churches to monitor church structures
and practices so that all forms of exclusion are eradicated. Let our initiatives
- theological education opportunities and programmes for women that honour their voices and experiences;
- theological curricula that include gender studies and women's perspectives;
- training for women, girls and boys in how to live as just communities of women, men and children;
- liturgies, gender and language policies that confirm and affirm all who participate;
- policies that promote a balance of gender, age and race in leadership positions and roles, and
honour people's cultural identities.
We recognize that there are a number of ethical and theological issues such as the ordination
of women, abortion, divorce and human sexuality in all of its diversity
that have implications for participation and are difficult to address in
the church community. During the Decade, human sexuality in all of its
diversity emerged with particular significance. We condemn the violence
perpetuated due to the differences on this matter. We wrestled with the
issue, aware of the anguish we all endure because of the potential to create
further divisions. We acknowledge that there is divided opinion as women
and men on this particular issue. In fact, for some women and men in our
midst, the issue has no legitimacy. We seek the wisdom and guidance of
the Holy Spirit that we may continue the conversation in order that
justice may prevail.
We hold firmly to the elimination of all violence in various forms (sexual,
religious, psychological, structural, physical, spiritual, military), and
the Culture of Violence, especially as they affect the life and
dignity of women. And we declare our readiness to confront any attempts
to excuse, cover-up or justify violence. We declare, as Festival women
and men, that its presence in the church is an offence against God, humanity
and the earth.
To this end, we call upon this 8th Assembly to announce to the world that violence
against women is a sin. In order to be accountable to God and ourselves,
we recommend that the Assembly's theme, Turn to God: Rejoice in Hope, be
taken as an opportunity for repentance for the church's participation in
this violence, and for renewal of our theologies, traditions and practices
for justice and peace among women, men and children in our homes and communities.
The 9th Assembly should be used to hold ourselves -- our churches and the
WCC -- accountable for our work on this issue.
Let our initiatives include:
- Creating opportunities and places for women to speak out fearlessly about the violence and abuse they experience, so that the culture of silence can broken.
- Exposing all sexual abuse, especially by those in positions of church leadership.
- Creating restorative justice processes where both the victims of violence and the perpetrators can experience, in truth-telling, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Eliminating all biblical and theological justifications for the use of violence.
- Denouncing all initiatives of war, taking steps to de-legitimize war, and seeking alternative, non-violent, ways to handle conflict.
- Denouncing female genital mutilation, sex-tourism and trafficking of women and children.
We hold firmly
to a vision of a world of economic justice, where poverty is neither tolerated
nor justified, where the peoples of the south and east flourish with the
peoples of the north and west, where a balance of power and wealth is restored,
and where women and children no longer endure enforced and debilitating
To this end,
we denounce economic and political conditions that create uprooted and
internally displaced people, migrant workers and refugees. We urge our
churches at this 8th Jubilee Assembly to declare poverty and all its dehumanizing
consequences a scandal against God. We implore our churches to do everything
within our God-given power and accountability to unmask the economic forces
of death and destruction, to name the oppressive global economy, the liberalization
of markets and the accompanying cut-backs in social and welfare services
as enemies of God, and to fulfill God's creative intention for accountable
stewardship of the earth. We call on the WCC and its member churches to
adopt the UN Beijing Platform for Action and the UN Decade of
Eradication of Poverty 1997-2007, and to work with other non-governmental
organizations on this common agenda. We urge our churches to raise our
voices together against all vestiges of colonialism and all forms of neo-colonialism,
and the unjust and unwelcome intrusion by states and other powerful actors
in the affairs of other nations. And we urge our churches to call upon
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to halt immediately
all Structural Adjustment Programmes that hurt the most vulnerable, especially
women and children.
Let our initiatives include:
- a demand, at this Jubilee Assembly, for cancellation of the internal and external debts of the world's poorest nations, and that the resources so saved be used to improve the quality of the establishment, in local, regional and national churches, of specific programme desks for economic issues;
- the call for laws that protect women's rights to property and other rights, such as reproductive rights;
- the creation of just economic systems and just structures in church and society so that
women and men together may know the blessings of justice, equal pay for
equal work, sustainable and livable wages, and honourable labour practices.
A Declaration on Violence and Racism
We, the women and men of the Festival, declare that fullness of life in Christ
and Christ's prayer for unity require women's participation, the elimination
of violence against women and that the image of God in women be valued
Further, we declare that fullness of life in Christ and Christ's prayer for unity
require that no race be valued over another, that churches in the name
of Christ challenge all acts of ethnic cleansing, caste atrocities, xenophobia
and genocide. We declare that racism and ethnocentrism are against the
will of God and have no place in God's household.
The WCC and its member churches must maintain a strong commitment to eradicate
racism in all contexts. We call on our WCC and its member churches to provide
a strong voice of solidarity with indigenous peoples and black communities,
and support for programmes and organizations such as SISTERS (Sisters In Struggle
to Eliminate Racism and Sexism) and ENYA (Ecumenical Network of Youth Action)
which seek to honour the biblical vision of a world where "There is no
longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male
or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
To the church leaders
In the spirit of the Living Letters, we direct a special word to you as church
leaders at the Assembly. We recognize that you have been entrusted with
gifts of power and authority, delegated to you by God and the church community.
In a world of increasing abuse of power, arrogant assumption of authority and mis-use
of position, we are reminded of Jesus' words "that it shall not be so among
you". Decade visits demonstrated, however, that such abuses take place
in many church circles. We, as women have been, and are the victims of
this abuse. We make it clear that we shall not tolerate its presence anymore.
We call upon all church leaders to be examples of God's authority in Christ,
exercising power not over but with God's people for the enhancement of
To this end, we call upon you to initiate actions to correct the gender imbalances
that exist in your midst, and make all levels of administration in churches
and ecumenical organizations accessible and just for women. We urge you
to encourage more women to take up leadership roles and support them so
that they can offer new understandings of and ways of using power.
To all women of the assembly
We, the women of the Festival, invite you to join us in the vision and commitment of
this letter. At the Festival, the tears of women from around the world
were poured out in lament at the hurt and sufferings in women's lives.
In the tears that flowed, we recognized each other, from continent to continent,
from country to country. Through our tears, we looked at each other and,
because of those tears, we promised to stay together and move forward.
We include your tears with ours and your stories with ours, and invite
you to work, pray and dream with us for the world of God's promise.
The young women at the Festival reminded all of us that this new world can not be,
however, if women are content merely to exchange positions with men in
systems of domination and oppression. The young women were clear. They
see new models of organization where power is shared and every voice is
heard. They envision new forms of partnership where a leader is someone
who helps others to flourish. They see a church where young and older women
work together, and where each is recognized for who they are and what they
have to offer.
This is a new day. This is a renewed church, and a transformed community of
faith, and we join with you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in its creation.
To the men of the assembly
We, the men of the Festival, address you, the men of the Assembly. It is impossible to
express in words the joyous hope that permeated the Festival days, even
in the presence of woman's suffering. As men, we have to face the reality
of our complicity in the suffering, in the cultures of violence and dominance
that have been its source. It is impossible for us as individual men to
extricate ourselves from such evil, or pretend that we are free from its
power and influence.
We invite you as men of the Assembly to join us in a process of confession
and repentance as we seek to turn to God for transformation. Our sisters of
the faith have broken the silence, the truth of our actions is now exposed.
But in the midst of that truth, we are experiencing not a spirit of recrimination
and blame, but a graceful invitation to live out the freedom that is a gift
to all of us through God in Christ.
To the youth and children of the churches
We, the women and men of the Festival, have heard your challenges. We have been lifted
up and inspired by your visions and commitments. We pledge to you our spirituality
of "not giving up" until there is a church where you are seen not just
as the players of tomorrow, but as gifted people of God for today. We also
pledge to do whatever we can to free you from abuse and violence, from
economic and social injustice. We seek your partnership and guidance as
we move toward a church and society that is inclusive and just.
In conclusion, we hope that a clear plan for Decade follow-up can be agreed upon. We suggest
that the next ten years be a decade of action and theological reflection
with a time-line such as a mid-decade forum and end-decade evaluation.
We ask you to receive this letter in the spirit of the Living Letters that
preceded it. We invite your prayers, and ask you to come with us to the
fountain of all life, where the sustaining and refreshing waters flow unceasingly,
"opening new paths, cleansing, healing, connecting, nourishing the roots
of our dreams.... never running dry".