The World Parliament of Religions is regarded by many as the beginning of the modern interfaith movement. In 1893 it provided the venue where Eastern religious leaders first had the opportunity to address Western people of faith. This experience helped to make Friends along with other Christians realize how important it is to listen to and dialogue with those from religious traditions other than one’s own. In 1902 CIRC joined with three other Hicksite Committees to form Friends General Conference.
During its long history, CIRC has encouraged Friends to become involved in interfaith and ecumenical dialogue at both the individual and corporate level. In 1970 Ferner Nuhn, a member of CIRC, wrote an FGC pamphlet about “Friends and the Ecumenical Movement,” focusing mainly on one-on-one encounters. CIRC has also made it possible to the Quaker community to engage in dialogue with other religious communities through appointed representatives. In this way, Friends have been part of the ongoing religious dialogue that is transforming the Christian world. CIRC has also shown interest in the growing interfaith peace movement and has provided support for Friends interested in learning more about grassroots efforts to build interfaith understanding and trust in the wake of 9/11/2001. CIRC also supports ecumenical dialogue among Friends of different theological perspectives.
World Council of Churches
CIRC recommends appointments of representatives to the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the National Council of Churches (NCC). These appointees become invited members of CIRC and regularly report on their work to CIRC.
The WCC is an international Christian ecumenical organization. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it has a membership of over 340 churches and denominations and those churches and denominations claim about 550 million Christian members throughout more than 120 countries.
Quaker educators and theologian Howard Brinton both attended the first gatherings of the WCC in 1948. (His wife Anna attended the first meeting of the National Council of Churches.) One of their goals was to make sure that the pacifist element in Christianity be acknowledged. After considerable discussion, the WCC agreed that “war is contrary to the will of God. War as a method of settling disputes incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The part which war plays in our present international life is a sin against God and a degradation of man.” Brinton proposed an additional “prophetic” statement: “The Church has always demanded freedom to obey God rather than man.” This statement in support of civil disobedience was approved after a period of silent reflection.
An article about Quaker involvement in the formation of the World Council of Churches can be found at http://www.quaker.org/quest/Manousos-QT-17.html
The WCC is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity. While the bulk of the WCC’s founding churches were European and North American, today most are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. During the Cold War era the WCC encouraged dialogue between Christians in the West and those in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. One of the important roles played by the WCC today is to encourage dialogue between the global North and South.
Besides sharing its testimony as a peace church, Friends have influenced the decision-making process of the WCC. After being strongly urged to do so by both the Orthodox churches and the African churches, the WCC recently began a shift from parliamentary procedure to consensus decision-making. Eden Grace, a Friend from New England Yearly Meeting, who serves on a Special Commission charged with restructuring the WCC, including its decision making procedures, played an influential role in this process.
WCC’s current peace efforts includes promoting the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), 2001-2010. As a worldwide ecumenical organisation, the WCC aims to facilitate the emergence of a global movement of churches for peace by lifting up both new and ongoing responses of churches and people around the world to various manifestations of violence. The WCC is also committed to analysing and interpreting these responses with a view to further challenge and encourage creative responses. In addition, WCC by commissioning studies and theological reflections on related issues, attempts to stimulate the churches to consider the interconnectedness of different forms of violence, as well as to broaden the scope of responses to violence in its totality.
CIRC recommends the following DOV resources:
Seeking Cultures of Peace: A Peace Church Conversation, edited b Fernando Enns, Scot Holland, and Ann K. Riggs.
Watu Wa Amani: People of Peace, DVD, video. Evangelical peace activists in Africa, including Mennonites, Brethrens and Quakers. African evangelicals.
Stories from African Peacemakers. (Soon to appear).
These can be ordered through FGC and WCC. For more information, see http://www.wcc-coe.org/, http://overcomingviolence.org/en/about-the-dov/wccs-work-on-violence.html, http://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/fall04/paxson.htm