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International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2001

Statement issued by Konrad Raiser

08 March 2001

Statement issued by Konrad Raiser

Christians believe that Adam, the human being, male and female, was created in God's own image, blessed and made co-responsible with God for creation (Genesis 1:26-28). In Jesus Christ, we believe, God humbled himself and became man in order that we may be reconciled to one another and with the Creator. God makes no distinction among us based on race, colour, nationality, ethnica belonging, religious or other belief, sex or any other difference. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, reminded us that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 4:28). To the Corinthians he wrote: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (I Cor. 12:12,26).

In a religio-cultural ethos where social hierarchies were legitimised with philosophical imagery, St. Paul re-interprets the image of the body to uphold the spiritual significance of respecting the value and worth of every human being. He presents this image to emphasise the need to recognise diversity as an expression of God's wisdom and love, and calls for the need to be led by a spirituality that recognises one's own worth in relation to the other. By drawing on the example of Christ, he offers a social vision embodied by the values of equality, justice and love.

The ecumenical movement, which has emerged out of this broader understanding of the Christian faith, views Christian vocation as seeking peace and justice in all human relationships at all levels. The World Council of Churches, as one of its organisational expressions at the global level, is driven by this vision of the world. The elimination of racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination and exclusion have been some of its major concerns right from its inception. Since the beginning of the last century major ecumenical meetings have devoted attention to the impact of racism and intolerance in society. Particularly since the decade of the 1960s, through its Programme to Combat Racism, the WCC has done much to raise such awareness through programmes of research and education and through concrete action to counter the impact of racism in international relations. "God wills a society in which all can exercise full human rights," the World Council of Churches Fifth Assembly said in 1975. "All human beings are created in God's image, equal, infinitely precious in God's sight and ours." In response, the churches gathered in the World Council of Churches have accelerated their efforts to foster tolerance. In January of this year we launched "The Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace."

On this first International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the new millennium, people of all nations are called to rejoice in the God-given gift of human diversity, and to join together to build a world based on justice and peace. It is our hope that Christians around the world will join with peoples of other faiths in seeking to create a world free of the poverty and forms of discrimination that are at the root of violence. As I put it at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in New York last August, dialogue within and between religions must lead not only to tolerance but to deep respect for the other in his or her authentic relationship with the Holy. Together, we must seek ways to create a global culture of mutual respect which will provide a model to those who bear responsibility for governance at all levels of society, be it in the private, communal or public spheres.

Preparations for the forthcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in Durban later this year, provide for not only governments, but also business and civil society to recommit themselves to its goals. In today's world, the biblical injunction that we be kind and tenderhearted with one another sounds pious indeed. World peace, and I dare say the future of humanity itself, depends on such commitments and on their realization in every place.