WCC: US Focus of Decade vs Violence
Representatives from Christian faith communities around the globe launched a year-long effort to confront and overcome violence in the United States during a stirring worship service commemorating the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr at the Interchurch Center in New York City on 2 January. The focus on the US in 2004 is part of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
7 January 2004
WCC launches year to focus on overcoming violence in the US during service honouring Dr Martin Luther King, Jr
Representatives from Christian faith communities around the globe launched a year-long effort to confront and overcome violence in the United States during a stirring worship service commemorating the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr at the Interchurch Center in New York City on 12 January. The focus on the US in 2004 is part of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
“We are gathered as peacemakers from various regions of the world to launch this year-long focus in the United States by lifting up the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, whose work and ministry has inspired peacemakers around the globe,” said Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, archpriest, Orthodox Church in America, and moderator, US Conference of the WCC, in opening remarks at the service.
In a multimedia presentation, members of the congregation watched graphic images of violence, destruction, and war on a large screen as DOV coordinator Rev. Hansulrich Gerber presented the goals of the Decade to Overcome Violence, which is to be one of “Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace”.
No justice, no peace
“It is a contradiction of life to put peace ahead of justice,” said the Rev. Dr Otis Moss, the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in introductory remarks in his sermon. “There will be no international peace until there is international justice,” he said, quoting Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
Moss, a friend and associate of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr, urged members of the congregation never to forget the lessons of history as they pursue both peace and justice. “To forget is exile,” he said, “to remember is redemption.” Moss warned the congregation to never forget “the moans and groans of countless millions of human beings” who were imprisoned on slave ships and “who were fed to sharks if they died on passage, or served up to slave masters if they survived.”
Yet Moss also cited some redemptive historical developments during the past half-century, including the passage of the GI Bill in 1944, that opened educational and career opportunities to millions of disadvantaged veterans. In addition, he said that the establishment of the United Nations and the World Council of Churches were important international milestones on the way to universal peace and justice.
Moss also pointed to national and international liberation movements — beginning with the independence of India in 1947 — as redemptive signs. “When India gained independence, the British Empire had a nervous breakdown and the rest of western colonialism had a heart attack,” Moss said.
All of these significant historic developments, Moss said, were the context in which King found his prophetic vocation.
Following Dr King's footsteps
“What can we do to follow in Dr King's footsteps?” Moss asked. “We must be about the business of building a new generation of prophets of justice,” he said. “We must be disciples of love, apostles of liberation, teachers of nonviolence, and ambassadors of reconciliation.”
Such endeavours, Moss said, “will not come automatically, nor without institutional and individual risks.” And, he added, efforts to make peace would require leaders who “have the courage to lead, to mould consensus, and to act despite the risk of being persecuted.” Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moss described King's life and ministry as “a vision, a voice, and a way”. He urged his listeners to “share his vision, hearken to his voice, and follow in his way”.
“War is obsolete”
Citing the anti-war sentiments of several former generals in the US military, Moss asked: “If generals of the army had that kind of insight, then what is the excuse at the White House, or your house, or my house if the occupants of those homes do not oppose war?”
“We must join with those former generals and declare that 'War is obsolete,'” Moss added. And in a reference to the war in Iraq, Moss chided the Bush administration for its search for weapons of mass destruction there, when there are such weapons in the US.
“Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” Moss asked. “Look around: AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction,” he said, “so is hunger, the denial of health care to the poor, illiterate and uneducated minds, tobacco and tobacco-related illnesses, uncared-for children”. All these and many other weapons destroy the fabric of the nation, Moss contended.
Efforts to pursue peace must originate “in our commitment to break the bonds of injustice, and to bring justice and peace into our homes, and into our collective house - the White House,” Moss concluded. “When we break the bonds of injustice and oppression, then we become God's peacemakers.”
More information on the DOV
After launching the Decade to Overcome Violence in 2001, the WCC focused its efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002, and on Sudan and Africa in 2003.
Information on the Decade to Overcome Violence is available at www.wcc-coe.org/DOV
Photos of the service are available at: www.wcc-coe.org/WCC/press_corner/us-focus.html
A DOV-US focus poster on “The power and promise of peace” is available on the DOV website www2.wcc-coe.org/DOV.nsf
- Addressing holistically the wide varieties of violence, both direct and structural, in homes, communities, and in international arenas and learning from the local and regional analyses of violence and ways to overcome violence.
- Challenging the churches to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence; to relinquish any theological justification of violence; and to affirm anew the spirituality of reconciliation and active nonviolence.
- Creating a new understanding of security in terms of cooperation and community, instead of in terms of domination and competition.
- Learning from the spirituality and resources for peace-building of other faiths to work with communities of other faiths in the pursuit of peace and to challenge the churches to reflect on the misuse of religious and ethnic identities in pluralistic societies.
- Challenging the growing militarization of our world, especially the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.