WCC Assembly Addresses Faith Challenges in a Globalized World

Some of the world’s top Christian leaders spent Thursday at the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly addressing the challenge of preserving culture and civilization in an era of open borders and the rapid onslaught of globalization.

The Rev. Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, admitted that globalization was a major threat to the African continent during a press conference at the WCC’s most important gathering of Christian leaders from around the world that is taking place this year in the south Brazilian riverport city of Porto Alegre.

"The question is asked often in Africa: ‘Does globalization have the prospect for us of the annihilation of our culture, annihilation of our languages, and so on?’” he said, according to the WCC.

Dandala highlighted a number recent studies, looking at the disappearance of languages.

"When a language disappears, it often goes with the culture and heritage of a people,” he said. “The question for us is very real – how do we preserve our heritage?"

The AACC, said Dandala, has already started up a dialogue with its member churches to develop a theological position on the issue.

The AACC general secretary reflected on both the negative and positive sides of religion, saying that it played a “devastating role of dividing” in apartheid. He said, however, that it could also be something that “affirms people” and demonstrates that “we are all human beings and should care for one another.”

Dandala said diversity should be celebrated, adding that “what matters most today is using diversity for the enrichment of all the people.”

Metropolitan Kyrill, chairman of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke on the relations between religions in Russia, which he described as “very peaceful,” according to the WCC.

He added, however, that close attention was needed as well as care to ensure that mutual respect was maintained.

Kyrill announced plans for an interreligious summit to take place in Russia later in the year to address intercultural and interreligious relationships in the context of globalization, prior to the G-8 summit planned for St Petersburg in July.

Addressing the divide between the religious and secular worlds, he said the “most important question of the 21st century” was “whether it is possible or not to balance religious values and secular values,” pointing in particular to the recent Danish cartoon controversy.

"I still have an idea that these values may be balanced," he said. "Of course, that requires very hard work, but I think it's something which may be done."

Thursday’s gathering of delegates from regions around the world included clerics, scholars and activists who are meeting for the 10-day conference that began Wednesday and ends next week.

Members of the WCC include mainline Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox Christian churches. Representatives of the Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are also present at the Assembly but participating only as observers. The latter two groups have not become members of the worldwide group, concerned that the organization is too liberal or too restrictive for individual church growth and fundraising.