The World Council of Churches Takes On a Superpower
by Mark Tooley
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has made the United States its target country of concern in 2004 as part of the its “Decade to Overcome Violence.” Throughout this year, the WCC will convene events around America to spotlight US complicity in violence and oppression.
Almost 350 churches worldwide belong to the Geneva-based WCC, including over 30 churches in the United States. Every mainline church and many of the Orthodox churches belong, though the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are not members.
It is mainly the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism that inspired the WCC to pick the United States as a nation that is especially prone to violence. But much else about the United States is troubling to the WCC. It is angry about the US government’s refusal to sign international treaties on global warming and land mines and about America’s supposed role in promoting poverty, racism, “cultural imperialism,” and inequality in education and unemployment. Also of concern are domestic violence, the legality of capital punishment, and the lack of gun control in the United States.
The WCC’s anti-violence advisory committee met in New York in January concurrently with a parallel American committee supported by the National Council of Churches (NCC). The committee was concerned to find American Christians who share its distress about US policies.
“We find it a hopeful sign that many Christians in the United States are mobilized against the death penalty, are supportive of international climate treaties, and oppose the way prisoners are currently being treated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” enthused one German pastor. “In Europe,” agonized a German professor, “the media portrays the church in America as conservative, evangelical, and connected to right-wing parties. Many Europeans perceive Americans as merely focused on individual, private religious life. . . . It is important for us to know that there are different voices in the American church.”
When deciding in September 2003 to make the United States the focus of the WCC’s anti-violence work in 2004, its Central Committee complained that the “ideals of democracy and freedom, of economic success, have been compromised [in the United States] by injustice [and] a too arrogant and unilateral approach to international concerns.” The committee also implied that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be charged with war crimes for the war in Iraq.
Such specificity about US misdeeds contrasts with the WCC’s treatment of last year’s country of concern for the Decade to Overcome Violence, which was Sudan. The WCC did not criticize Sudan’s Islamist government, which has waged a 20-year-long war against the non-Muslim south, resulting in an estimated two million deaths. It did not mention the government’s imposition of sharia, support of slavery, or deliberate bombardment of civilian targets and other attempts at ethnic cleansing. Instead, it focused abstractly upon the tragedy of war and commended Sudanese churches for their role in peace negotiations. That those very churches have been Islamic jihad’s primary targets in Sudan was evidently not a reason for the WCC to be concerned.
The General Secretary of the NCC, United Methodist minister and former congressman Bob Edgar, told the WCC that the NCC has a lot of “energy and enthusiasm” for the US focus of the anti-violence campaign. He also announced that the NCC will soon be filing a court brief on behalf of the prisoners at Guantanamo.
Typical of WCC comments at its January meeting was that of an ecumenical youth group leader from Norway, who said that the United States has become “an aggressive superpower that has only magnified since September 11.” Hoping that the WCC will stimulate new peace movements among Americans, she said that “maybe President Bush will be the face of the past, and the Decade to Overcome Violence will become the face of the future for the United States.”
A South African professor blasted the “cultural imperialism” of the United States. “In this case, we don’t have the former kind of imperialism, but rather a more subtle form of imperialism characterized by the intrusion of McDonalds and Coca-Cola into all parts of Africa.” He fretted that “the conservative Christian televangelists have become the model for many church leaders on the continent.”
In the early 1990s, the WCC tried to persuade the United Nations to investigate racist-inspired human rights violations in the United States. As evidence of increased racial hatred, it pointed to the 1994 Republican take-over of Congress, the increased activism of conservative religious groups, and anti-crime legislation such as the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” bills. Only Cuba, Sudan, and China voted for the proposal.
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