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Overcoming Violence:WCC report: stopping the gun trade -stealth gun control for citizens

Overcoming Violence:WCC report: stopping the gun trade -stealth gun control for citizens

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Te WCC’s Ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006
marked the beginning of the second half of the Decade to
Overcome Violence. A powerful Assembly plenary session
used multimedia, music, speakers, story-telling and liturgical
dance to illustrate examples of overcoming violence around
the world, especially as it afects children and youth. Up to
2000 people, including two Nobel Prize-winners, took part in
a candle-lit march for peace through downtown Porto Alegre
organized by local churches.
Te Ninth Assembly issued a “Call to Recommitment”
to overcoming violence which stated: “Te respect for human
dignity, the concern for the well-being of the neighbours and
the active promotion of the common good are imperatives of
the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Terefore, human rights are a basic
element in preventing violence at all levels, individual, inter-
personal and collective and especially violence against women
and children. Tis must include the efort to build and develop
the rule of law everywhere. We shall further pursue the under-
standing of ‘restorative’ or ‘transformative’ justice with the aim
of establishing viable and just relationships in communities.”14
Te Assembly further pledged: “To relinquish any theo-
logical and ethical justifcation of violence calls for discern-
ment that draws its strength from a spirituality and disciple-
ship of active nonviolence. We have committed ourselves to a
profound common ethical-theological refection and advocacy
for nonviolent confict prevention, civilian confict manage-
ment and peace consolidation. Te praxis of nonviolence must
be rooted in a spirituality that acknowledges one’s own vulner-
ability; that encourages and empowers the powerless to be able
to face up to those who misuse power; that trusts the active

issues raised during plenaries were deepened in workshops
around concrete case studies. Te overall holistic approach
indicated how successful alternatives to violence depend on
complex processes of reconciliation, healing of memories, so-
cial and economic justice, availability of safe spaces, openness
to multicultural approaches and renewed perspectives on mis-
sion in a multi-religious world. It also became clear that issues
of healing and reconciliation touch all levels of life from very
personal sufering to the threat of death for Pacifc islands.
Te year-long study processes building up to the Ath-
ens conference were documented in two papers. “Mission as
ministry of reconciliation” and “Te Healing Mission of the
Church” give guidance for a Christian witness that is both
faithful to the Gospel and respectful of people and creation.
As such, they are an essential building block for a less violent
Christian church.

More Information:
Jacques Matthey (ed.): Come, Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile!
Report of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism,
Athens, Greece, May 2005. Geneva, WCC, 2008.
Website of the 2005 World Mission Conference, Athens.
http://cwme.wcc-coe.org/
“Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation” in You are the Light
of the World:Statements on Mission by the World Council
of Churches1980-2005, ISBN 2-8254-1435-2, WCC,
Geneva, 2005, pp. 90-126. http://bit.ly/f1PjSq
Te Healing Mission of the Church, Preparatory Paper
N° 11, CWME World Conference, Athens 2005.
http://bit.ly/hl7GVp

A teenage boy showing the Living Letters team the scars of
wounds he received during the tragic events of March 2010
near Jos in Nigeria’s Central Plateau State. © WCC

AN OVERVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL ACTIONS AND PROJECTS

43

problems living together but the imams and pastors

leading them sometimes send wrong signals by

the kind of messages they preach,” and that the

government had sometimes used the perpetrators

of violence for their political agendas. The Council

had nevertheless been instrumental in creating a

multi-sector alliance on issues of development, they

heard.

Pacifc 2010

In late May, a four-person Living Letters team

visited the tiny Fijian island of Viwa to explore how

violence against nature through CO2 emissions,

land misuse, pollution and other development and

lifestyle issues were impacting the world’s climate.

The team also met with church and government

leaders in Suva.

In Viwa, villagers shared their growing concerns

about how the shifting global climate and rising sea

levels from melting polar ice packs were affecting

their small community. The change was more than

coastal erosion: agricultural seasons had also been

affected.

In the South Pacifc region surrounding Fiji,

climate change was seen as more than a matter

of erosion and rising sea levels. Increasingly the

problem for government and church leaders would

be the impact on people, particularly those who

would have to be resettled.

The church was moving forward with initiatives

such as reforestation to prevent erosion during

heavy rains or the building of seawalls. National

leaders within the Pacifc Island Forum (PIF)

comprising representatives of nearly every national

government in the region had only recently seemed

ready to address the issue of resettlement and

relocation.

The Living Letters team discussed the possibility

of developing “climate change-competent

churches” (like the “AIDS-competent churches”

being developed throughout Africa) with church and

government leaders.

Although many congregations, initiatives and Christian
peace services have begun to develop various grassroots
projects to address the diferent forms of violence, it is
necessary to identify persons in the churches who will
accept the responsibility for coordination, networking,
advice and improvement of such eforts and for stimulat-
ing the sharing of experiences.
Much critical attention has been focused on analyzing dif-
ferent experiences of violence. Yet since individual violence
constitutes eighty percent of the world’s casualties, emphasis
during the second half of the Decade should be placed more
deliberately on the search for concrete and realistic ways of
overcoming the spirit, logic and practice of violence.
Traditional approaches based on the notion of national
security and its defense by military means are tending to
supplant the insight that security for people should be the
main objective. Te search for an “Alternative Globaliza-
tion Addressing Peoples and Earth” has therefore to be
understood as a decisive contribution to the continuation
of the Decade.
Tose engaged in the struggle against the spirit, logic and
practice of violence ought to begin with a critical reas-
sessment of their own contribution to the emergence of a
culture of violence and to strengthen the spiritual resourc-
es that could help to transform the destructive energy of
violence into a constructive force of promoting life.
In the context of truth commissions, the Decade should
strengthen the readiness of the churches “to live in the
truth”, even where this places them in opposition to the
prevailing political power interests.

presence of the power of God in human conficts and therefore
is able to transcend the seeming lack of alternatives in situa-
tions of violence.”15

Te Assembly asked the WCC Central Committee “to
consider a study process engaging all member churches and
ecumenical organizations in order to develop an extensive ecu-
menical declaration on peace, frmly rooted in an articulated
theology. Tis should deal with topics such as just peace, the
Responsibility to Protect, the role and the legal status of non-
state combatants, the confict of values (for example, territorial
integrity and human rights). It should be adopted at the con-
clusion of the Decade to Overcome Violence.”16
Te Ninth Assembly Programme Guidelines Committee
endorsed the continuation of regional foci and of mutual in-
ternational visits as well as of increased sharing of successful
examples. It also recommended that the end of the Decade be
marked by an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation.
Looking back on what had been accomplished so far, an
Assembly background document on the Decade Mid-Term
observed that

Participants from a local interreligious dialogue group participate in a March for Peace
through the streets of downtown Porto Alegre during the WCC’s February 2006 Ninth
Assembly in Brazil. © WCC/Igor Sperotto

44 OVERCOmING VIOLENCE: THE ECumENICAL DECADE 2001–2010

australia 2010

At the invitation of the National Council of

Churches of Australia and the National Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission,

a Living Letters team visited the indigenous peoples

of Australia in September 2010.

Bringing with them their own experiences as

indigenous and marginalized peoples, the Living

Letters visited communities in Darwin and across

the Northern Territory, future Anglican leaders and

students at Nungalinya College.

At the end of its visit, team members issued

expressed their deep appreciation for “the

generosity people have shown us by inviting

us into their homes and lives”. A statement on

what they had seen and heard referred to the

Northern Territory Emergency Response, initiated

ostensibly to address child abuse: “We have heard

the Intervention has taken control of the lives of

Aboriginal Peoples through such measures as

compulsory income management and compulsory

acquisition of leases over Aboriginal land,” the

statement said.

Evoking people’s confusion and despair at these

extreme measures, the team regretted that without

negotiation or proper consultation, the Labour

government had used armed force to continue the

Intervention. “People continue to be forced from

their homelands and outstations. People are being

treated like criminals without just cause.”

“The Government and the media continue to

paint a picture of Aboriginal dysfunction and yet

refuse to look in the mirror at the devastating effect

that their own cultural practices have on Aboriginal

communities,” the statement noted.

Rejoicing that “The oldest living, surviving

culture in the world has not been crushed” and that

“the will of the people to stand up for their rights

has heartened us and inspired us to action,” the

team expressed the hope that “the time and stories

that was generously shared with us will produce

positive outcomes and that their voices will not go

unheeded.”

“A Living Letters team is successful when those they visit can
afrm ‘We are not alone’ and when team members feel they have
received much from those who they have visited.”

— Rev. Hansulrich Gerber17

“You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, writ-
ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on
tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians
3:3,RSV

One of the most interesting features of the Ecumenical De-
cade that preceded the DOV, that of Churches in Solidarity
with Women (1988-1998), was the “Living Letters” experi-
ence. “Living Letters” was the name given to teams of people
who during the second half of that Decade made solidarity
visits to churches and communities across the membership of
the WCC as an expression of their concern and commitment.
In visit after visit, these teams found that the life and dignity
of women were afected by cultures of violence in society and
that a “culture of silence” in the church prevented women
from telling the full story of the violence they experienced.
Tus, when the WCC in 2007started sending ecumenical
teams of four-six men and women to countries experiencing
violence or with recent histories of endemic violence, it was
building on the experience of the previous ecumenical decade;
the Living Letters became an important legacy from one de-
cade to the next.

Te DOV Living Letters visits began during the second
half of the Decade and as part of the lead-up to the Interna-
tional Ecumenical Peace Convocation. Te Living Letters lis-

Te churches should be prepared more than has so far
been the case to afrm publicly the concerns and the
goals of nonviolent projects and themselves engage in ac-
tions which serve these concerns and goals.

More Information:
WCC recommits itself to overcoming violence, Assembly press
release. http://bit.ly/fPeTvg
Marching for peace and justice, Assembly press release.
http://bit.ly/foe52
Report of the Programme Guidelines Committee. Ninth
Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 2006.
http://bit.ly/dZWBs8
Call to Recommitment. Mid-Term of the Decade to Overcome
Violence 2001-2010: Churches Seeking Reconciliation
and Peace. WCC Ninth Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brazil,
February 2006. http://bit.ly/hHSDPG

Mid-Term of the Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010:
Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace. Background
document, WCC Ninth Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brazil,
February 2006. http://bit.ly/gZpABv

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