The Ecumenical Assembly for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Article excerpt

The Vancouver assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1983, in part through the efforts of Heino Falcke and the delegates from the GDR, called on the WCC "to engage member churches in a conciliar process of mutual commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation". In the GDR, the high point of this conciliar process was an Ecumenical Assembly of Churches and Christians which met in three sessions in 1988 and 1989, and which, not least because of the involvement of peace, environmental and human rights groups, made unprecedented demands for the reform of the GDR and influenced the citizens' movements and political parties formed at the time of the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989. As envisaged at the Vancouver assembly, the conciliar process was intended to link the issue of peace, a priority at that time for many WCC members in the northern hemisphere, with that of global justice, an overriding concern for churches in the South. In the course of preparations for the Ecumenical Assembly in the GDR, however; the discourse of justice was applied to GDR society itself, something that was reflected in the 10,000 proposals from parishes, groups and individuals for the assembly, and in the "testimonies of concern" with which the assembly opened its first session in February 1988. In this article, (1) which comes from a conference in Dresden in April 1999 to mark the 10th anniversary of the final session of the Ecumenical Assembly, Falcke reflects on how the assembly changed from being a Christian, church gathering to becoming an emerging opposition within civil society.

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When I look back today at the Ecumenical Assembly, I have to begin with two contradictory remarks: The ecumenical assembly was astonishingly successful. The ecumenical assembly failed.

In terms of GDR history, it brought an unexpected upsurge of ecumenical fellowship and paved the way for the political movement that led to the autumn revolution of 1989. But the assembly failed in its aspiration to set the direction of change. It was eclipsed by the process of German unification. The policy of the Kohl government--and likewise, one has to say, of the Schroder government today--was exactly the opposite of the three preferential options of the ecumenical assembly. (2) It is a policy in which financial interests take priority over those of the social welfare state, military solutions are preferred to the peaceful resolution of conflict and economic interests have priority over environmental sustainability. For none of the three preferential options does there seem to he a majority in our country that might he able to bring about a change of policy. And, what is worse, our churches have resisted the trend half-heartedly at best, if at all.

It is clear that the ecumenical assembly in the time before October 1989 cannot be repeated and, fortunately, there is no need to repeat it. But it is equally clear to me that the course it wanted to set remains essentially correct. The question that interests me, therefore, is what lessons can be learned from that ecumenical assembly ten years ago so that the hope it represented may be revived to resist the spirit of the age today.

The ecumenical assembly was a new beginning and a breakthrough ecumenically

What were its main features and what dynamics were at work? My first answer to that question is that we grew together in ecumenical fellowship because we faced up to the mission of the gospel in the challenges of our world. Two quotations from the message of the ecumenical assembly testify to this. "We have tried to reflect on the challenges of our times in the light of the gospel. We have realized that the biblical call to repentance is addressed to us today in a new way." Or again, "The ecumenical momentum of our assembly is irreversible: we have felt it to be full of hope for our churches' way ahead."

The World Council of Churches had taken up the global challenge in Vancouver in 1985, with its call for a conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. …