At Historic Meeting in China, International Church Advocacy in Focus

(Photo: World Council of Churches)Participants pose for a group photo at the 51st meeting of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. The meeting, which took place from June 9 to 16, marked the first WCC meeting in China since the global church body's foundation in 1948. The CCIA meeting was hosted by the China Council of Churches.

Asia's role in the emerging world order and situations arising from the democratization process, especially since the Arab Spring in 2011 were subjects of discussions by an international Christian advocacy panel of the World Council of Churches as its first meeting in China wound down.

The discussion was carried out at the 51st meeting of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the WCC, which ran from June 9 to 16.

The CCIA meeting was hosted by the 23 million member China Christian Council (CCC), the only officially recognized Protestant church in China and the only WCC member church based in the country.

The CCC has been a member since 1991. Last week's visit marked the first officially sanctioned WCC meeting in the country since the global church body was founded in 1948.

The WCC issued a statement on Monday noting some topics discussed by the CCIA, including:

- Geo-economics and geo-politics of the emerging world order have their underpinnings in Asia. The new political architecture with new centers of power is taking shape. Various related factors are playing different roles including the formation of new economic and strategic alliances in which Asian powers become strategic partners.

- Situations arising from democratization in several world contexts, especially since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. Despite positive aspects, political developments have allowed for strengthening of religious fundamentalism and extremism.

Church Role, and Absent Moderator's Statement

Churches were reminded were reminded the role they could play as the world passes through crises. They were told of the value of prophetic witness and to be prepared to be the repairers of broken walls in a divided world. Churches are called to be instruments of justice and peace for all God's people and their struggles.

The meeting was also marked by the absence of CCIA moderator Rev. Kjell M. Bondovik, who was absent after being the only one of thirty people denied a visa to enter the country. Rev. Bondovik, a former Prime Minister of Norway, said last week he was not told why the visa was denied.

A prepared statement with his comments on the issues being discussed at the conference was read at the meeting.
"As Christians we are working in the world, but we are not of the world. Churches are in a better position to contribute to stronger civil societies," stated the Reverend.

CCIA Advocacy Priorities

The CCIA also identified advocacy priorities for the immediate future. These included:

- Freedom of Religion and the rights of religious communities
- Rights of stateless people
- Right to self-determination of the people of French Polynesia, Plaestine and West Papua
- Ratification of the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families
- Responding to conflicts and accompanying churches and peoples in other situations of conflict
- Politicization of religion and growing religious intolerance in the Middle East, African and Asian countries
- Democratic governance and the rule of law in Zimbabwe and Myanmar
- Peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula, Nigeria and South Sudan

Sharpening CCIA's Focus on International Affairs

The CCIA also sought to sharpen its focus on international affairs starting after next year's WCC Assembly in the Republic of Korea. After evaluating the integration of various commissions into the CCIA since the last WCC assembly in 2006, commissioners concluding that too many diverse concerns have been brought together into the operational framework of the CCIA.

China's Growing Church and Challenges

During the meeting, WCC leaders met with the Rev. Gao Feng, President of the Christian Council of Churches, who spoke at a seminar on the topic of the "Church in China Today" at a seminar on "Understanding China."

He described the church as being independent, autonomous, post-denominational, fast growing and facing lots of challenges an emerging difficulties. He noted that the CCC, which has 23 million members, faces a shortage of ordained pastors. Some preaching lay leaders lack formal theological education and seminaries lack faculty members and library resources, he said.

He also described how since the changes in the Chinese government's policies especially since the early 1980s have helped in reopening of churches, setting up new seminaries and reopening old ones and printing bibles.

China Representative on Religious and a "Harmonious Society"

Meeting participants also heard from Jian Jianyoung, China's vice minister for Religious Affairs.

"Policies of the Chinese government calling on religion for building a harmonious society are based on four principles: harmony within one religion is prerequisite; interfaith harmony; harmony between religions and society for peaceful order; harmony between religions and the state," he added.

He said that while China gives freedom to all religions, it expected that related activities would not interfere with the affairs of the state and its administrative matters. He also noted the government believes that the "state cannot develop or extinguish any religion."

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