22.12.11 13:58 Age: 74 days

Just peace, prayer and a common witness keep church relevant


Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary

The dramatic events of 2011 brought an increased focus on the relevance of the church in pursuing just peace, said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) this week in Geneva.


The freedom movements of the Arab Spring, the continued financial crisis; heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and a rash of natural disasters have all made for a tumultuous start and finish to the year.


“Many things have changed, such as with the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa, which led to strong rising up of ordinary people and their request for justice and peace,” said Tveit during an interview in which he reflected on the past year and role of the church in just peace. “They also ask for democracy, protection of human dignity, human rights and human values so they can live together with justice and peace.”


Peace and security issues


“I think it is now very important that we as churches, including churches in the Middle East give a common witness to what just peace means,” Tveit said. “To provide just peace is the responsibility of the civil authorities of any state. They must provide the framework for living together with justice and peace; otherwise ordinary people are in danger.”


“The particular uncertainty for the future of the churches should be addressed by all, who have responsibility for security and peace in this region. Their future presence is an important contribution to peace, as well,” he said.


Part of the common witness of the church emerged in May at the WCC-sponsored International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in Kingston, Jamaica where more than one thousand church leaders and church peace activists gathered.


The outcome of the weeklong event was the recognition that peace and peacemaking are indispensable parts “of our common faith.” In a closing statement the gathering said, “Peace is inextricably related to love, justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation. It constitutes a pattern of life that reflects human participation in God's love for the world.”


“Having seen the terrible and devastating effects of terror and violence close hand and in a longer perspective in my home country Norway this past summer, I see that the agenda of churches to overcome violence as initiated through the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence which was celebrated at the IEPC, must be high on the agenda of every peace lover and peacemaker in the world,” he said.


At the IEPC being peacemakers was viewed as integral to nearly all aspects of life and something the church must show leadership in.


Financial crisis and Occupy Movement


“For example, I think we see now a need for a new financial architecture that takes into account how to bring not only stability but also justice, not only for Europe but for the entire world, where political rulings must reflect the interests of all and not just the interests of a few,” Tveit said. “The markets are not able to solve the issues of injustice in the world. I think we see that more clearly than ever.”


The financial crises that started in 2008 and continue today became the rallying cry of thousands of protestors of the Occupy Movement in late December 2011. The movement did not go unnoticed by the church and in fact challenged the church on economic issues.


 “I think this movement very rightly says that the first of January 2012 should be a day of repentance,” said Tveit, who in early December visited the Occupy group camped at St. Pauls Church in London. “The church has always called people to repent, to reflect basically on your own lives and what you contribute to the wholeness of life by what you do and what you don’t do.”


“The beginning of the next year could be a very good occasion for all of us, particularly also in our churches, to ask for repentance for how we steward our financial resources or how we are not stewarding in a proper way, praying for ourselves and also praying on behalf of our nations and behalf of those empowered to steer our financial resources, whether they are politicians or in the finance system,” Tveit said.


Geopolitical struggles


The recent deaths of the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and North Korean leader Kim Jong II, reflect both the hope and challenge of advocating for justice and peace.


“Vaclav Havel showed that it is possible to develop justice in a peaceful way, to develop democracy, a life together between nations and to develop the values we want to share as human beings,” Tveit said.


At the same time the heightened uncertainty on the Korean peninsula because of the North Korean head of state’s s death, signals the potential for more suffering on the divided peninsula and the possibility of a missed opportunity for peace.


“Together with the National Council of Churches in Korea we want to express concern about the situation. And also we pray for the people of North Korea and we encourage the international community not to use this as an opportunity to break the security for ordinary people in these countries,” Tveit said.


“The Korean people should not be the battlefield of geopolitical struggles with their security and their future as the price to be paid,” he added.


The relevance of prayer


“At all times we encourage churches to pray together for those who are particularly affected by changes or different types of crises,” Tveit said.


Praying together shows “the deepest level of solidarity we can show one another as human beings. I think this solidarity of sharing the burden for others is a way of expressing the deep meaning of the ecumenical movement and the willingness to carry the burdens of others, to carry the cross together.”


“But to carry the cross together also means we are willing to give a common witness in situations about God’s will for justice and God’s grace,” Tveit said. “We witness that in any situation God can create something new. Even in the situation of death God can create new life.”


“And this is what we as Christians are called to say through our words and deeds and particularly we are called to do this together as a common witness through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has come as the Saviour of the world that Christians around the whole world celebrate at Christmas.”


Read Christmas Message 2011 from the WCC general secretary


WCC member churches in the Middle East