BRIDGING political issues with theology is a tricky business. "We
have to pay careful attention to what is the reaction of governments
in the area to Christians in their own country when we say something
worldwide," says Janice Love, co-moderator of the Public Issues
Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which has just
concluded a two-week meeting here for its seventh assembly.
For example, when the WCC complimented the United Nations on its
actions to halt the invasion of South Korea by North Korea, Chinese
Christians experienced some backlash. Today, Ms. Love says, all
political statements of global significance are negotiated with the
local member churches. "That doesn't mean they have veto power over
what we do, but it would be stupid for us to complicate the
situation further or make their lives more miserable by something
that we did from an uninformed perspective," she says.
This WCC policy also has its drawbacks. After consulting with the
church leaders in Romania, the WCC refrained from criticizing the
Romanian authorities' use of military force against dissenters. Rev.
Laszlo Tokes of the Hungarian Reform Church criticized the WCC for
being too timid. "We admit we have made mistakes, but if you ask
anyone who analyzes it, the need to protect lives is just as
important as being prophetic," Love says.
To a lesser extent, the WCC has treaded a fine line in addressing
the Persian Gulf war. The WCC statement, which called for an
unconditional cease-fire, also condemned Iraq for its invasion of
Kuwait. Not all members agreed with the statement, which says, "War
promises no lasting solution for the festering wounds of the Middle
East...." The Church of England, for example, called the war
"justifiable." Aware that the issue is potentially divisive, the
Public Issues Committee wrote a seven-page explanation of how it
reached its conclusions. Love says that any member who does not go
along with the statement can go on the record as a dissenter.
More issues addressed
The public-issues themes were decided this past January by the
WCC's four committee members, elected representatives of different
regions and countries. Once the meeting began here, however, the WCC
opened up the process to the delegates. It received 30 requests on
18 different subjects. As a result of the canvassing, the WCC made
additional statements on the violence in El Salvador and Sri Lanka
as well as one on the environment.
Criticism is not new to the World Council of Churches. Since its
founding in 1948, the WCC has taken up many controversial subjects.
In its first meeting, then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
debated Czech theologian Joseph Hromadka on the church and the cold
In the 1950s, it spoke out against racial segregation, in 1969 it
recognized the rights of the Palestinian people, and in 1975 it
condemned human-rights violations in Latin America. At its meeting
in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1983, the WCC addressed the
issues of disarmament, apartheid, and the rights of Canada's native