Ecumenical Theologians Debate Churches' Response to Cruelty

The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) tackled issues of sex trafficking and other acts of cruelty at a theological consultation on cruelty in Puidoux, Switzerland.

Those participating at the conference, held last week, emerged with the clear testimony: “The cross calls us not to glorify, but to attend to the suffering in the world and to struggle for its elimination.”

Issues tackled at the conference included sex trafficking of women and children, walls going up in the name of security, new justifications for the torture of human beings, and other forms of cruelty.

Reflecting on such structural and institutional forms of cruelty as patriarchy, racism, casteism, and xenophobia, the 25 conference participants noted that as well as being inherently cruel in and of themselves, such structures and institutions also legitimize and perpetrate cruelty against the vulnerable and the disempowered.

“For over 2,000 years we have talked about cruelty. It is an ugliness that implicates us and tears the fabric of our societies,” said ELCA’s Dr. Michael Trice, whose theological study provided the theoretical framework of the consultation.

He added, “We have gathered here in order to learn what churches can do to respond to inter-generational cruelty that is created and perpetrated at institutional and structural levels.”

Dr. Lerleen Willis of the Sheffield Black Theology Forum UK gave a presentation on “Hierarchies of humanity: the dehumanizing potential of racism in Europe.”

“Given the role of slavery and its allied ideology of race-thinking in laying the foundations of current-day racism, shouldn’t the church go beyond merely apologizing for its role in making slavery palatable?” she asked.

Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala of the WCC said, “This is an attempt to do theology from below, on the basis of the experiences of people living in contexts and situations of acute violence. Such a theology has the potential to inspire churches to champion life in a world overwhelmed by a culture of death.”

The cross, participants affirmed, “goes before us as a pledge that God is leading us to that time when God will wipe away every tear and there will be no suffering or mourning or death anymore. It reminds us of, and to live in, the confidence that God is already overcoming that suffering in our world.”