1.2 The development of common positions on
justice, peace and creation in the ecumenical movement
1.2.9 Nairobi 1975
The Fifth WCC Assembly in Nairobi, 1975, found the Vietnam War at its end. The old peace debate in the East-West/Northern hemisphere was not so much in the forefront. But the Assembly spoke with a very clear voice on the peace-building task of the churches and its necessary engagement for disarmament. An Appeal to the churches included the following point: "We call upon the new Central Committee to initiate steps to organize a consultation on disarmament. This consultation should investigate and compare available material on the factors producing the present arms race and the technological, economic, environmental, and military implications". Undoubtedly the strongest statement of all was this admonition to the churches: "The churches should emphasise their readiness to live without the protection of armaments." This took up the spirit of Bonhoeffer's Fanoe-Speech. And it became the starting-point for church-related movements like "Living Without Arms".
During the Seventies the socioeconomic discussion was influenced by the Club of Rome report, "Limits to Growth". It was a plea for a necessary self-restriction in the light of the limited resources of planet earth. It gave a new impetus to tackle humankind's relationship to creation. But the first steps of the Ecumenical Movement in this context were directed to the question of justice and development.
The WCC Assembly in Nairobi, 1975, mentioned: "In recent years the development concept has been seriously challenged by the "limits to growth" debate. While controversies still remain about the immediacy of the depletion of physical resources of the world by a small affluent minority, it has also been shown that "growth" in an economic order based on the so-called "free-market" system has built-in an exploitative tendency where resources are unevenly distributed. In this context Christians are called upon to examine carefully the patterns of utilization, control and ownership of resources."
The Assembly was very much aware of the divisive character of unjust economic structures. It addressed this point as a matter of faith: "Economic structures may also obscure the confession of Christ... Thus while we confess a Christ who frees and unites, the economic structures in which we live tend to enslave us to wealth and divide." The goal of a future sustainable society should be that "each individual can feel secure that quality of life will be maintained or improved". This means that "nobody should increase their affluence until everybody has their essentials". It was felt that the biblical faith urges a special concern with regard to the poor. So the Assembly stated:
"The prophetic word of Jaweh's drawing near to the humble, to the powerless, finds an echo in fundamental passages of the Gospel... The Gospel has been brought to the poor, to the powerless, to the oppressed, to the captives, to the sick. In the person of Jesus, Jaweh has put himself decidedly in the place of the poor... In spite of our apparent powerlessness we must keep alive faith so that we hasten the day when "justice will flow like water."
We are not faithful to Jesus Christ when we submit to the powers that be: at that moment we become captives of the powers that have been defeated by Christ."
The Assembly drew the conclusion: "We urge the member churches to plan their participation in development to be primarily in support of the poorest of the poor". (Paton, David M. (ed.): Breaking Bariers. Nairobi 1975. The Official report of the Fifth assembly of the World Council of Churches. Nairobi, 23 November-10 December, 1975. - London, SPCK, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.)
Information: Nairobi, Kenya, 23 November-10 December, 1975; 677 delegates from 271 memberchurches. Main Theme: Jesus Christus Frees and Unites (Sections: Confessing Christ today, Section II: The Unitity of the church - Conditions and Demands, Section III: On the Way to Community - the Common Goal of Men of different Faiths, different Cultures and Ideologies, Section IV: Education for liberation and Community, Section V: Structures of Unjustice and the Struggle for Liberation, Section VI: Human Development and the Ambiguity of Power and Technology und the Quality of Life)
After the Nairobi Assembly ecumenical social thought expressed in a new way its vision of a "Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society" (JPSS). The Central Committee mandated an advisory group in 1977 to work on it. It was an attempt "to offer to the Ecumenical Movement at large a reflection on the shape of society which could command the effort and commitment of Christians in the immediate future and to search for a point of integration and coherence for the work of the WCC". There were several core areas of enquiry which the JPSS pursued, especially the interpretation of the world political situation from the point of view of Christian responsibility, reaffirming the centrality of justice, and related to it the further study of the question of sustainability; particular emphasis was laid on democratic concepts of equality and participation.
The report of the JPSS Advisory Committee said on the horizon of its work: "Christians believe that the whole world is God's creation, continuously being renewed by the power of redemption and living under the promise of God's kingdom, the reign of peace and justice. Christians believe that all human beings are part of a dynamic pointing towards the messianic kingdom... While Christians claim no monopoly, they live under a special call to obedience, to engage with other people in a search for the common aim: justice on earth, manifested in peaceful community of all humankind in which every human being finds true fulfilment of life".
However, the WCC central committee decided in 1979 not to accept the findings of the JPSS advisory committee. the 1979 central committee minutes: "Taken together, the reactions to and the comments on the JPSS report were varied, diverse and in some cases even contradictory. Where criticisms, reservations or hesitations were expressed, the following reasons were given: the distinction between the human and the divine, history and eschatology was not made clearly enough; ... the use of biblical materials should be more carefully treated." ("The Search for a Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society". In: Central Committee, Minutes and Reports of the Thirty-First Meeting, Kingston, Jamaica, 1-11 January, 1979, pp. 16-18.)
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