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The World Council of Churches focuses on justice and peace in Korean assembly

The World Council of Churches focuses on justice and peace in Korean assembly
The thrust of the WCC's event is poles apart from GAFCON's Kenyan gathering

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
October 23, 2013

"The largest, most diverse gathering of Christians in the world will meet in the Republic of Korea from Oct. 30-Nov. 8 to deepen their fellowship, expand their knowledge of the ecumenical movement and address issues of peace and justice," reads the lead paragraph in the Episcopal News Service's story about the upcoming World Council of Churches 10th General Assembly to be held in Busan, South Korea. Immediately, it is noted that the World Council of Churches (WCC) event is focused primarily on justice and peace. The WCC story broke while more than 1350 Anglicans are gathered at GAFCON II in Nairobi, Kenya celebrating their biblically based Anglicanism. When the latest GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) was announced in May, it was stated up front that the theme and goal of the conference would be the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the social and political gospel of peace and justice.

"The Second Global Anglican Future Conference will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, 21st-26th October 2013. The focus will be on our shared Anglican future, as we engage with the missionary theme, 'Making Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ,'" the official GAFCON announcement read. The entire thrust of the World Council of Church's event is completely different from GAFCON's. The World Council of Churches is a mainstream interchurch organization founded in 1948 ostensibly to promote ecumenism and foster Eucharistic fellowship while helping to fulfill Christ's prayer of Christian unity so that the world might believe. "The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," the WCC mission statement states.

The WCC draws together nearly 350 diverse church denominations and ecclesial bodies identified as "Christian World Communions" including various types of Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Orthodox, the Reformed, the Brethren, the Salvation Army, Mennonites, Evangelicals, Quakers, Pentecostals, Moravians, Old Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterians, various African churches, Holiness churches, the Assyrians, Disciples of Christ, various united churches, the free churches, and an assortment of independent churches representing a half a billion Christians worldwide.

The largest Christian denomination, which has always stood apart from the World Council of Churches, is the Roman Catholic Church with one billion members. The Catholic Church declares that it cannot compromise on doctrinal truth and enter into communion with others who reject the Catholic understanding of Christ and His earthly mission. However, the WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, met with Pope Francis when the Norwegian participated in an early October Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace event in Rome.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Justitia et Pax), a part of the Roman Curia dedicated to "action-oriented studies" for the international promotion of justice, peace, and human rights from the Catholic perspective, is an outgrowth of Vatican II.

Even though the WWC was created to promote spiritual connections, it has developed a strong social agenda focusing on "justice, peace and creation in their interrelatedness, to promote values and practices that make for a culture of peace, and to work towards a culture of solidarity with young people, the disabled, women, Indigenous Peoples and racially and ethnically oppressed people."

As always, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop spoke in temporal terms rather than in spiritual realities during her comments about the upcoming WCC General Assembly. ENS reports that she described the upcoming assembly as "an opportunity to stand with others for the purpose of building a society of peace with justice." Katharine Jefferts Schori reportedly told ENS that The Episcopal Church's participation in the WCC event "is our act of solidarity, our joining with other members of the body of Christ to realize this dream of God. We pray with our presence as well as our actions, strategizing, thinking theologically, and building coalitions. I give thanks for the willingness of our representatives to join this assembly in Busan, Korea."

With the Presiding Bishop's blessing, The Episcopal Church is to send several representatives to Busan including: Bishop Dean Wolfe (IX Kansas); the Rev. Constance Sanchez, provincial coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras; and Jasmine Bostock, from the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, a member of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry. In addition other Episcopal Church participants are to be the Rev. Margaret Rose, ecumenical and interreligious officer; Sarah Eagle Heart, missioner for indigenous ministries; Emma Lee Schauf, Rachel Cosca and Carrie Diaz Littauer, as young adult volunteers in the stewards program; and Carlin Van Schaik, a Young Adult Service Corps volunteer working with the Towards Peace in Korea program based in Seoul.

"It's easy for all Christians to believe that their expression of the Christian faith is the only expression," Bishop Wolfe reportedly told the ENS. But, he added, ecumenical partnerships and encounters such as the WCC General Assembly "broaden our perspective. If Christ is Lord for all of us, how can we more fully live into that relationship?"

GAFCON, on the other hand, is not engaged in political and social undertakings but in spiritual warfare as it battles for the soul of Anglicanism while the Anglican Communion faces the triple challenge of skeptical secularism, militant religion and a compromised Christianity.

The two movements are theologically oceans apart.

Five years ago, when the first GAFCON was held in Jerusalem, it gave birth to a vibrant spiritual movement - the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA) - dedicated to carrying out the GAFCON message.

"The aims of the GFCA are to proclaim and defend the apostolic Gospel within and beyond the Anglican Communion and to recognize and share fellowship with orthodox Anglicans globally, especially those who have been disaffiliated by false teaching and behavior," the GAFCON news release explained. "GAFCON 2013 has been summoned so that GFCA can help both plan for and experience the future of the Communion of which we, with many others, are part."

GAFCON I produced the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement which addressed the deepening spiritual crisis gripping the Anglican Communion over scriptural authority and signaled "the move of most of the world's practicing Anglicans into a post-colonial reality, where the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized for his historic role, but not as the only arbiter of what it means to be Anglican."

The GAFCON news release explained that "GAFCON II delegates - laity, clergy and bishops - are united by their commitment to the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement as well as the aims of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. They will assemble to listen to God, to pray, to deliberate, and to plan about the Anglican future, seeing it as a great spiritual and missionary fellowship, energized by the defense and proclamation of the Gospel."

GAFCON II is meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in East Africa where revival broke out 80 years ago. More than 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian and 4.5 million are Anglican.

The WCC General Assembly, which is the highest governing body for the World Council of Churches, meets about every seven years and will gather for the first time in Asia. "The Republic of Korea was chosen because the church in recent decades has grown rapidly in Korea, where nearly 25 percent of the population is Christian."

The General Assembly, drawing 3000 delegates of which 125 are to be Anglican, is considered to be "the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world with a unique opportunity for the churches to deepen their commitment to visible unity and common witness so that world may believe."

In the past the WCC General Assembly has met in Amsterdam, Holland (1948); Evanston, Illinois, USA (1954); New Delhi, India (1961); Uppsala, Sweden, (1968); Nairobi, Kenya (1975); Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (1983); Canberra, Australia (1991); Harare, Zimbabwe (1998); and Porto Alegre, Brazil (2006).

The stated theme of the WCC General Assembly is "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." The topic is intended to provide a focus for theological reflection, worship and meditation, as well as for planning programmatic activities before, during and after the assembly. One "programmatic activity" is Black Thursday, which happens to fall on Halloween. As a part of the Thursdays-in-Black initiative, WCC Assembly members are encouraged to wear black on Oct. 31 to emphasis their solidarity with zero tolerance for violence against women.

Pictures flowing from GACFON are colorful not somber. GAFCON II vestments come as rich red chimeres, snowy white rochets, vivid green stoles, purple clerical shirts, bright fuchsia cassocks, and coal black tippets are mixed with and the pink, ivory, teal, orange, copper, blue, yellow, silver and gold of native African dress. Colors of joy not shades of sadness mark the GAFCON experience.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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