Gil Won Ok, 86, has a message for Christians about what it takes to make peace.
One of the surviving representatives of the Korean Comfort Women who were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese military men, she met in June with the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches.
Her challenge, Tveit told those who had assembled in Geneva July 2-8 for the WCC Central Committee meeting, was to acknowledge the wrongs of war: “Without justice, there is no way to a future in peace. This is the will of Jesus Christ.”
That challenge related to the “pilgrimage of justice and peace” theme for the meeting, the first since the WCC 10th assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea in 2013. “Unity in justice and peace is not what rules the world of today,” Tveit said in his report. “These calls, therefore, require us to be prophetic in bringing our faith and commitment into words and actions.”
The Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr. called the concept of a pilgrimage of justice and peace “the most important new ecumenical development in terms of intellectual and moral reflection…that I can remember in about a generation of ecumenical work.”
Sidorak attended the meeting as a United Methodist advisor and in his role as the top executive, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops.
United Methodist members of the 150-member committee, which carries out policies and supervises the council’s programs and the budget, are Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops, one of two vice moderators for the WCC; Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck, serving a second term on the committee; and Cynthia Kent, chairwoman of the United Methodist Native American International Caucus.
Among the countries the Central Committee will focus on for its work for justice and peace are the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, and Israel and Palestine. The reunification of the Korean peninsula also remains a goal.
Other major topics during the meeting were climate change, ecological and economic justice, and sharing of resources among the churches. The WCC announced it would partner with Religions for Peace on an Interfaith Summit on Climate Change Sept. 21-22 in New York.
Kent, one of seven indigenous people on the Central Committee, said the group had “shared a plan with the WCC staff which we hope enables more visibility and assistance on indigenous issues.” She also hopes the committee will more specifically address the issue of violence against women and children.
Such gatherings provide a setting for Christian laity and clergy to “talk about what it means to live out the Christian faith in the midst of each church/country’s context,” Dyck wrote in a blog about the Central Committee meeting this week.
One of the significant actions, she said, was the re-admittance of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa into the council after a 30-year absence because of fundamental disagreements during the apartheid era. Dyck was assigned to the work group handling the membership application.
“The (Dutch Reformed Church) was one of the founding members of the WCC in 1948 but as a representative of the church who was present said, his church had ‘lost its path,’” Dyck explained, noting how the church had accepted responsibility and journeyed through repentance and reconciliation.
United Methodist Women was approved as a specialized ministry of the WCC.
Feeling of renewal
Sidorak is enthusiastic about the commitment of the WCC and its members, noting that the Central Committee reflected “theologically, ecclesiastically and ethically” on a number of issues and concerns. “I’m really hopeful that a renewed World Council of Churches can have a global impact,” he said.
He credited Tviet, who was re-elected to his position, for an extensive review of the council, resulting in a “new level of transparency and clear commitment to accountability” on financial matters and a re-energized staff.
Swenson, who helped lead some of the committee sessions, also was pleased with committee’s work. “It is an excellent beginning for a new season in worldwide ecumenical relations,” she told United Methodist News Service.
“In some way, it felt like home,” Kent said about her first-time experience. “The Greater New Jersey Conference is a very ethnically diverse conference, so I am very comfortable in this type of setting. It was good to see that churches are seeking justice and peace.”