LONDON – The head of the World Council of Churches has called upon Christians to live out the core message in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan and treat others as their neighbors.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia was speaking at the opening of the WCC's conference on the response of churches to racism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion.
Pointing to the unprecedented gains of anti-immigration parties in the recent European Parliament election, Kobia warned that racism was "still alive" in the world.
He urged some 50 church leaders and theologians convening in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, to learn from the biblical concept of hospitality demonstrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan which, he said, challenged Christians to enter into "a form of intimacy with strangers and the unknown."
While the Samaritan had no obligation to help the Jew, his sworn enemy, he "acted contrary to the universal expectations and against his own cultural history and community interest," said Kobia.
"He showed mercy in spite of it all," he added. "The Good Samaritan showed mercy when he could have exacted rough justice."
The conference, which ends Wednesday, marks the 40th anniversary of the WCC's Combat Racism campaign to assist the victims of racial discrimination in different parts of the world, most prominently in South Africa under the apartheid regime.
Kobia said Christians needed to embrace people of different races and faiths.
"Christ calls us to be neighbors of immigrants, of oppressed minorities within our own nations, of all who are in need of a neighbor," he said. "Christ calls us to be neighbors of people of other races who come to be a part of our community.
"Christ calls us to be neighbors of people of other faiths who become part of a society where Christianity is the majority."
Kobia concluded with an appeal to Christians to oppose all systems, structures, and policies that discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.
"We are called to reiterate our clear position that racism is a sin against God who determines the color and race of all those God creates."
The conference, which Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is joining, is expected to draw up strategies and networks to advocate against racism within society and the church.