Quaker Universalist Conversations

CIRC: a Quaker voice at the World Council of Churches

By Tom Paxson 

The Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC) of FGC represents Friends at the World Council of Churches. Tom Paxson explains how this representation seeks to ensure that there is a Quaker perspective in WCC statements, particularly in the framing of the document  “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace,” which will be presented at the International Ecumenical Peace Gathering in Jamaica (which Rachel Stacy will attend). You can read this report and assess for yourself the extent to which CIRC’s concerns are reflected in this declaration. See http://http://www.overcomingviolence.org/fileadmin/dov/files/iepc/resources/ECJP%20-GEN10%20-%20An%20Ecumenical%20Call%20to%20Just%20Peace.pdf —  Anthony Manousos

The Porto Alegre Assembly (2006) of the World Council of Churches called for an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to cap its 2001 – 2010 Decade to Overcome Violence and also called for an “ecumenical just peace declaration” as part of the Convocation.  During its meeting in April 2009 the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee, responding to a general invitation, reviewed a WCC document titled, “Initial Statement Towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace” and a draft detailed response to the “Initial Statement” prepared by a member of CIRC.  The draft response was amended by the committee, with a final version of the response approved via email afterwards.  That response was sent to Geneva as were responses from many other member churches of the WCC.

A different committee was named by the WCC to review the “Initial Statement” and all the responses and to write a new draft to move the process forward.  In May 2010 the WCC sent to all those who had submitted responses to the “Initial Statement” a “Bogota” draft for the Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace. The Bogota document constituted a thorough re-writing of an Ecumenical just peace declaration.  Responses were again invited.  This proved too late for CIRC to write a Committee response, so one member of CIRC who had personally received an invitation to respond, wrote a detailed response to the Bogota draft.  This was sent to Geneva in August, after (and benefiting from) the ecumenical peace conference,  

The final, or “Beirut,” document was submitted to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in February 2011.  This document, “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace,” constituted yet another thorough re-writing of an Ecumenical just peace declaration — one which took into account the various responses received regarding the two earlier drafts.

April 23, 2009 CIRC response to Initial Statement Towards an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace

CIRC welcomed the way in which the “Initial Statement” carefully marshaled theological grounds for a broad-based ecumenical declaration on just peace. It celebrated the Statement’s assertion that the incarnation points clearly to the need to understand power as revealed in the nature of God and in the life and teachings of Christ; that an alternative to the pax romana, to imperial peace, was proclaimed and ushered in by Jesus; and that the peace of God embraces the well-being of the whole of creation. However, CIRC would like to have seen a clearer call for a re-examination of power, one not based on violence, dominion, coercion, and intimidation, but on the power of God, Christ, and Spirit as paradigmatic. CIRC urged an understanding of power “in terms of that co-building with God which is marked by humility and dependence, identification with the poor and marginalized, justice and forgiveness, compassion, truth, love, and hope.” As imperial peace was contrasted with the peace of God, so imperial power needs to be contrasted with the power of God. One way CIRC suggested to effect such a shift might be to give more attention to shalom as including essentially the wholeness and well-being of the community and to the conditions this requires, e.g. justice, mercy, and care for the least fortunate and marginalized. A particularly valuable part of the “Initial Statement” it was felt, was the use of Orthodox theology appealing to “the household of God” and Orthodox understandings of the Holy Trinity. Because often different styles of theology had served as impediments to broad ecumenical understandings of the centrality of peace to the Christian faith, the language in the “Initial Statement” was welcomed. CIRC took issue, in contrast, with the way that the Initial Statement” sought to develop the thesis that the Peace of God embraces the well-being of the whole creation. Greater care and more nuance, CIRC suggested, was required.

August 2010 Response to the second (“Bogata”) draft, Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace

The “Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace” was shorter and, to the dismay of CIRC, omitted the theological remarks reflecting Orthodox understandings. The response noted that nevertheless there was much to commend this second (and thoroughly rewritten) draft. Suggestions included shifting from language that suggests peace is a state of affairs to language that recognizes peace as a form of life, a process, a way of living in community involving attitudes deeply rooted “in our habits of heart and mind, emotions, and thought.” The concern regarding the need to re-conceive power expressed in CIRC’s response to the “Initial Statement” was echoed here with a concern that the statement should not conflate force and violence or violent coercion. Force (think, for example, mass time acceleration) is a component of all work, all creation, a necessity for building and sustaining relationship and community. Force can be destructive and violent, to be sure, but it can also be constructive and eirenic. Finally, there was the plea that “just as the Church has struggled to reconceive peace and violence, and needs to reconceive power, so it also needs to reconceive economic development” rather than to reject economic development entirely based on the simplistic assumption that unlimited growth means unlimited manufacture and consumption of material possessions and/or the consumption of non-renewable sources of energy.

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