Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.
On the last day of the eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held from August 31st until September 8th in Karlsruhe, Germany, delegates adopted numerous documents on different subject areas, about which various committees had met in the days before. The documents had then been brought to plenary sessions for remarks and questions, which were incorporated into the final documents. Statements on peace stood out among those adopted.
Don’t think only about Ukraine!
Already at the beginning of the General Assembly, one of the points of contention was the participation of a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is after all the largest of the 352 member churches of the WCC. Before the General Assembly, many called for their exclusion. The hoped-for encounter of dialogue between the delegates of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, which broke away from it, did not come to pass in the days at Karlsruhe.
Behind the scenes of the event, the leaders of the WCC had contact with both delegations, which was almost “a sort of indirect dialogue,” explained interim WCC General Secretary Ioan Sauca at the final press conference. In critical political or ecclesiastical confrontations there is “a margin between diplomatic negotiations and silence,” explained Petra Bosse-Huber, the foreign-relations bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). For the conflict of these churches, the time in Karlsruhe was “kind of in-between.”
In the end, the statement adopted on this conflict, titled “War in Ukraine, Peace and Justice in the European Region,” denounced the “illegal and unjustifiable” Russian invasion of Ukraine and renewed the call for a ceasefire and the immediate removal of Russian troops. The statement strongly affirms and reiterates the position that “war is incompatible with God’s very nature.” The “love and accompaniment of the WCC global fellowship of churches” stands behind those affected. “We join in praying for all the victims of this tragic conflict, in Ukraine, in the region and throughout the world, that their suffering may cease and that they may be consoled and restored to lives of safety and dignity.”
At the start of the General Assembly, delegates from other parts of the world had reported that the Europe-centered consideration of the war between Russia and Ukraine distorts reality. It is understandable that a statement would be required, but there are still other regions and churches in this world that are affected by massive confrontations, genocide, and persecution. It is therefore only logical if the WCC also makes statements on these. As a result, there were further, shorter statements on ending the war and building peace on the Korean peninsula, consequences of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the situation in West Papua, and Syriac-Aramaic genocide.
A compromise formula saves the statement on the situation in the Middle East
In the run-up to the Karlsruhe Assembly, allegations were repeatedly made that the WCC had taken a one-sided position for the Palestinians. The concrete reason for this was aspirations that the General Assembly would declare Israel an apartheid state. The feared scandal did not materialize.
The document adopted in the end formulated a hastily arranged compromise: “Recently, numerous international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and legal bodies have published studies and reports describing the policies and actions of Israel as amounting to ‘apartheid’ under international law.” Then it mentions that some churches and delegates strongly support the use of this term “as accurately describing the reality of the people in Palestine/Israel and the position under international law.” Others, on the other hand, hold it as “inappropriate, unhelpful and painful.”
During the discussion of the first draft of the document, the EKD foreign-relations bishop Petra Bosse-Huber warned in a passionate appeal “in all clarity” against speaking about Israel as an apartheid state. In a written statement, she explained that a deep connection with Israel was “a priceless and unearned gift” for the German church that was developed “out of the ground of unending German guilt, including the complicity of our own churches.” Against the background of “this double solidarity with Israel and Palestine, in the future, we will fight together with our siblings on both sides of the conflict for a lasting and just peace in the Middle East.”
Despite the adopted compromise formula, the final document also says that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle on the “path towards a just peace” in the region. The expansion of Israeli settlements “in the occupied territories” is “illegal under international law.” The expansion of settlements and the accompanying heightened Israeli military presence have increased the suffering of the Palestinian society, because their lands and possessions are further confiscated and attacks from the Israeli settlers have increased.
However, the document also says that the situation of the Palestinian population is further aggravated by “the grave failings of the Palestinian authorities, including reprisals against opposition leaders and the lack of legal and democratic accountability.”
The situation cannot ultimately be solved by violence, but rather only by peaceful means in accordance with international law. Therefore, the WCC Assembly affirmed “the rightful place of the State of Israel in the community of nations” and recognized “its legitimate security needs.” At the same time, “the right of the Palestinians for self-determination” was underlined. “We believe that it is only through an end to the occupation and a just, comprehensive and lasting peace settlement that the security of both Palestinians and Israelis can be assured.”