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Report of the XLIV Meeting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

14 May 2001

Crans-Montana, Switzerland, 14-18 May 2001.

1. Reports of the Moderator and Coordinator were presented and discussed.

2. The agenda was presented and adopted as revised.

3. Panel presentations by Commissioners and staff were made on the following topics and discussed in plenary:

The political economy of ecumenism
Churches witnessing to power
The shifting bases of power: Implications for ecumenical witness and action
The impact of globalization in areas of the CCIA mandate
Youth perspectives on the uses of power in an age of globalization

4. The WCC General Secretary presented a paper on "Theological and ethical considerations on the uses of power in the ecumenical movement today."

5. Program Budget and Finance Report. Joan Geuss, Finance Officer for the Cluster on Relations, presented the International Relations finance report for 2000, indicating that operating expenses had been under budget. The following minute was adopted:

Minute on Fundraising

The Commission recognizes the need to increase secure financial support for the Council's work on International Relations.

In this regard, the Commission

welcomes the General Secretary's affirmation of a renewed emphasis on fund development;

affirms the role of program staff in these efforts; and

expresses appreciation to staff for their work in this area.

The Commission affirms its own role in interpreting WCC programs and in suggesting and pursuing possible sources of additional funding in their own regions and churches.

6. Future meeting dates. The proposed dates for meetings of the Commission through the next WCC Assembly were confirmed as follows:

3-8 June 2002
27-31 October 2003
21-25 February 2005

Staff was requested to plan the agendas for future meetings to include no more than three or four full working days, exclusive of travel, and to seek meeting venues easily accessible from an international airport.

7. Approval of minutes of the forty-third meeting of the Commission. The minutes of the last meeting, held in Morges, Switzerland were adopted as amended. Staff was requested to circulate texts of decisions taken as soon as possible after meetings for more effective follow-up and interpretation in the churches and regions.

8. Findings from discussions on the uses of power in the age of globalization. In the plenary review of the panels it was generally agreed that:

8.1. Some kind of global consultation or consultative process is needed to review and assess the role and approach of the WCC and its member churches to international relations in the changing world environment.

8.2. This is an appropriate role for the Commission to play in the light of its By-Laws.

8.3. The focus should be on global trends in the areas of the mandate of the CCIA, and on the uses or misuses of power rather than on the topic of globalization per se.

Some suggestions made were:

  • The process should link the global and the local, and move from the experience of churches and church-related partners at local, national, regional and world levels.
  • The process should not be "top-down," but rather one of identifying "generating themes" derived from people's existential experiences and working on them in a way that identifies and stimulates work around centers of dynamism in the present ecumenical movement.
  • Ways should be explored to make the process inter-generational, and discussions should be held with other faith communities along the way.
  • Various methodologies were suggested to achieve this. The General Secretary could circulate a study paper highlighting trends and problems, and asking churches and national and regional ecumenical bodies to place it on their agendas for discussion. Teams composed of members of the Commission and staff could take opportunities of meetings or assemblies of these bodies, or of interregional gatherings, to interpret these concerns and see to what extent there is complementarity among the regions on the issues.
  • Reference groups of the Commission should pursue these questions in the areas of their advisory work on program.
  • A small consultation including Commissioners and other experts to work out a detailed agenda and to shape the agenda and the methodology of such a process.

Some cautions were expressed:

  • This process should not lead to a further restructuring of the WCC's program or of the place of International Relations within it. The current structure provides an adequate framework for pursuing these concerns and no more time, energy or resources should be devoted to restructuring.
  • To have the required impact, the process should be engaged soon and be of such a character as to dramatize the impact of present trends on peoples' lives, the churches and international institutions. The interactive use of the Internet would be an essential element of the process.
  • The focus of the process should not be on "globalization." Other teams of the WCC are working on this in their respective mandated areas, especially the teams on Justice, Peace and Creation and on Regional Relations with respect to the global economy. This process should focus most particularly on the impact of global trends on the churches and their ministries in the areas of the International Relations mandate.
  • Given the ambitious aims of such a process, assurances of adequate funding, including the possible engagement of short-term staff before it is undertaken.
  • The process should not replace, but complement and give dynamism to program work underway.
  • Specific concerns were expressed about the discussion paper and proposed project on "Globalization, Civil Society and the Churches," urging that it be reformulated in the light of the discussion during this meeting, and that it be seen not as a separate process, but rather in close relationship to it.

9. Global consultation process on the changing role of power and its impact on the churches. These ideas were submitted to program reference groups for further discussion with respect to whether a consultation process should be undertaken or if another means should be found for following up the findings of the plenary discussions. On the basis of reference group reports it was agreed that:

9.1. A global consultation process should be undertaken.

9.2. It should be a process that would build on the history of ecumenical thinking, including inter alia the report of the 1937 Oxford Conference, the 1966 Church and Society Conference, the 1981 Consultation on Political Ethics, the statement of the Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC adopted by the Eighth Assembly in Harare, take into account the findings of the Special Commission on relations with the Orthodox Churches, and that it would involve continuing follow-up after a consultation.

9.3. The process should not focus on the concept of "globalization," but rather on current global trends in international relations and the changing configurations of power, particularly those related to the mandate of the CCIA, and on their impact on the churches' common witness in society.

9.4. Staff should prepare a detailed proposal on the basis of the discussion during this meeting and of the reports of the reference groups and share it with Commissioners for comment and refinement.

9.5. A preparatory committee comprised of Commissioners and other experts identified in discussion with other WCC teams be formed to elaborate the agenda and process of consultation.

It was also noted that the process followed during the Year of the Uprooted in preparing the ecumenical policy statement provided a good model of building from the local to the global and as a reminder of the need for follow-up of the conclusions of the process of consultation. The proposed study on Globalization, Civil Society the Churches presented to this meeting for discussion should be pursued within the context of the wider consultation process. Given the broad nature of the process envisaged, the General Secretary should be encouraged to bring other WCC programmatic teams and their advisory groups into discussion with regard to their participation. A key aim of the process should be to renew the vision and stimulate new dynamism in the ecumenical movement. It should be linked closely to other activities being undertaken in the WCC, the churches and the wider ecumenical movement in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence

10. Commission report. It was agreed to ask staff, in consultation with the Moderator, to draft a report of this meeting of the Commission to the Program Committee that would describe the process of reflection undertaken, and indicate decisions that had been taken. This draft is to be sent to the Commission if possible within one month of the meeting for comment and refinement, and a revised draft sent back to Commissioners for final adoption.

11. Review of reference groups. It was agreed that

11.1. The practice of having reference groups to work with staff in the various programmatic areas has been useful and such groups should be continued for Human Rights, Peace-building and Disarmament, Uprooted People, Impunity, Truth and Reconciliation, and UN Relations. The work of the previous reference group on Peace and Conflict Resolution will be incorporated in the agenda of these groups.

11.2. The membership of the groups should be revised, expanding on the distribution used at this meeting, incorporating one member each from the other reference groups in the one to be formed on UN Relations.

11.3. Provisions for meetings of the reference groups should be taken into account in program planning and budget building.

11.4. Consideration should also be given to the possibility of regional meetings of Commissioners, perhaps in relation to another scheduled activity.

12. UN Relations. The Commission adopted the following:

Resolution on United Nations Relations

At its meeting in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, 14-18 May 2001, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches:

  • recalling and reaffirming the "Memorandum and Recommendations on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations," adopted by the Central Committee in September 1995, that states the policy of the WCC on UN relations;
  •  recalling the mandate of the CCIA and the team on International Relations
    • s to maintain and provide for the maintenance of contacts with international bodies and the coordination thereof before these international bodies, as may be specifically arranged;
    • s to represent, facilitate and help coordinate the representation of member churches, related international Christian organizations and non-member churches before such bodies;
    • s to seek and maintain on behalf of the World Council of Churches consultative status with the United Nations, its Specialized Agencies and other inter-governmental organizations;
    • s to be responsible for facilitating and arranging such direct contact with organs and specialized agencies of the United Nations as may be requested by other teams of the World Council or churches and related ecumenical organizations.
  • noting with appreciation the innovative work done in recent years by the UN Headquarters Liaison Office in New York that has enhanced the visibility and effectiveness of the WCC, the member churches and other partners in bringing ecumenical perspectives to bear on key policy debates;
  • noting with appreciation the work of the International Relations staff with the UN in Geneva, especially in relation to the UNHCR and the Commission on Human Rights, and in coordinating, facilitating and assisting other teams' direct relations with various UN bodies and agencies in the areas of their mandates;
  • notes that both opportunities for and expectations of the WCC in the field of UN relations have risen considerably in recent years, but that the capacity of the WCC to respond has not kept pace;
  • conveys to the Central Committee through the Program Committee its conviction that his capacity must be strengthened as a matter of urgency;
  • requests the staff of International Relations to develop immediately a proposal for designated funding for a minimum period of three years to allow for the addition of an experienced program staff person and a technical staff person to the staff of the UN Liaison Office in New York;
  • encourages funding partners to provide sufficient resources in time to engage the program staff person by 1 January 2002 in order to assure continuity and a smooth transition in that office in view of the retirement of the current staff person in late 2002; and
  • expresses the hope that the strengthening of the staff in the UN Headquarters Liaison Office in New York be done in a way that tightens the programmatic link of this office with Geneva headquarters and assures general oversight of UN relations, including maintenance of consultative status, and cooperation with NGO partners in promoting effective NGO relations with the UN and its related agencies.

13. Reference Group Reports on Peacebuilding and Disarmament, Human Rights, Impunity, Truth and Reconciliation, and on Uprooted People were presented, discussed and received.

14. Small Arms and Light Weapons. On the recommendation of the reference group, the Commission adopted the statement attached.

15. Meeting Evaluation. Commissioners expressed appreciation for the meeting, but agreed that the agenda of this meeting, like the previous one, had been too complex and dense. Meeting process should be more dialogical, and decisions should be made along the way rather than being dealt with at the end of the meeting. The meeting should be shortened, experience having shown that this poses a particular burden on very busy commissioners to set aside a full week. Optimum length of the meeting should be a maximum of 3-4 working days. Gatherings of Commissioners in reference groups between meetings could build on relationships established among commissioners and with staff during the first two meetings. Future meeting agendas should focus more on issues arising in relation to program and from reference group work.

16. Closing actions. The Moderator expressed thanks to Commissioners for having contributed to a meeting with important substance in a way that had strengthened our feeling of being together in an engaged and committed ecumenical family. He also thanked the Coordinator and International Relations staff. Special recognition was paid to Lore Hyatt who would retire within a few months. The Commission expressed sincere thanks for her contributions over the years she had worked in the WCC, and particularly for her work as administrative assistant to the Coordinator in the crucial formative years of the new International Relations team.

The Moderator also conveyed thanks to the General Secretary, Konrad Raiser, for having made an uplifting contribution to the reflections of the Commission during this meeting.

The Commission, in turn, thanked the Moderator for his skillful and congenial moderation of the sessions and for the spirit he brought to his task.

The Moderator adjourned the meeting with an appeal to Commissioners to stay in contact with one another and with staff during the coming period.