Ecumenical Attack against Racism : The Anti-Racist Programme of the World Council of Churches, 1968-1974

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Title: Ecumenical Attack against Racism : The Anti-Racist Programme of the World Council of Churches, 1968-1974
Author: Laine, Antti
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology, Church History
Publisher: Luther-Agricola-Seura
Date: 2015-01-10
Belongs to series: Schriften der Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft - URN:ISSN:1236-9675
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Abstract: This study examines the early stages of the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the foremost inter-church organization of Orthodox and Protestant churches, and reactions to it. Aside from the extensive archival and printed material of the WCC, the study is also based on both published and unpublished sources in Finland and Britain concerning the response to the PCR in these countries. To date, the PCR remains the most controversial and debated WCC initiative, with also the largest social and political impact. While the World Council had addressed social questions since its inception in 1948, it was in the late 1960s that they became the focus of special attention. Although the PCR was officially established in 1969, it originates from the Fourth WCC Assembly in Uppsala in 1968, which called for an action-orientated ecumenical programme to eliminate racism. Consequently, the period examined in this study commences with the Uppsala Assembly in August 1968 and concludes in August 1974, when the WCC Central Committee resolved to continue the PCR after the expiry of its initial five-year mandate. The 1960s was a decade marked by social and political upheaval and demands for radical social change. Calls for freedom, equality and justice were heard from recently decolonized countries and nations still struggling for independence. While social questions were no novelty on the agenda of the modern ecumenical movement, the spirit of the time promoted a new approach calling for action instead of discussion. The new demands also set a test for the WCC, which rose to the occasion by addressing one of the gravest social evils of the time, racism. This study clearly shows that the ecumenical attack against racism was the master plan of Eugene Carson Blake, the General Secretary of the WCC from 1966 to 1972 and a US civil rights activist. Although the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr only a few months before the Uppsala Assembly highlighted the problem of racism, it was Blake s determination that set the Assembly s focus on racism. Following the Uppsala Assembly, the new initiative on racism was prepared in a turbulent consultation in May 1969. The consultation drew attention to institutionalized forms of racism, and its conclusions formed the basis of the PCR, which the WCC Central Committee established in August 1969 with a decided focus on white racism. The PCR included a Special Fund to be distributed to organizations of racially oppressed groups. The WCC set an example to its constituency and transferred 200,000 US dollars from its reserves to the Fund, notwithstanding the financial difficulties it faced at the time. The establishment of the new ecumenical endeavour to fight racism went largely unnoticed until September 1970, when the WCC Executive Committee allocated the first grants from the Special Fund. As the Executive Committee wanted to give clear priority to Southern Africa, a significant proportion of the grants went to national liberation movements engaged in armed struggle against racially oppressive white minority regimes there. Immediately after the first grant allocation, fierce controversy erupted, especially in the West. Although the funds were granted solely for humanitarian purposes, the fact that there was no control on how the money would be spent fed suspicions of its misuse. As this study clearly demonstrates, due to the background of the supported organizations and the aid they received from Communist countries, such as the Soviet Union, the WCC was widely accused of both legitimizing violence and supporting Communism. Its critics also held that the World Council had substituted social and political concerns for Christian unity. Furthermore, the WCC was blamed for concentrating on problems in Southern Africa while ignoring human rights violations in Eastern Europe and other parts of the Communist world. Moreover, in its preoccupation with white racism, the World Council was accused of disregarding other forms of racial injustice. Another central means used by the PCR to attack racism was its call for a boycott of Southern Africa and economic sanctions against corporations involved in business there. In August 1972, the WCC Central Committee decided to withdraw its investment in Southern Africa and called again on its member churches to follow its example. This disinvestment made the WCC one of the first international non-governmental organizations to implement a policy of ethical investment. Within the WCC, the PCR was primarily considered an educational tool for raising awareness in Western member churches and among individual Christians of the existence of racism and its manifestations in political, economic and military life. Furthermore, the PCR was credited with increasing respect for the Christian churches in the eyes of the racially oppressed. Despite the controversy surrounding the PCR, the WCC Central Committee decided to mandate it for another term in August 1974. Considering the heavy criticism levelled at the Programme, this seems rather surprising. However, both the PCR staff and the WCC leadership deemed the PCR a success. Aside from Blake, also M. M. Thomas, the first non-Western Chairman of both the WCC Central and the Executive Committee, embraced the Programme, even crediting it with justifying the whole existence of the World Council. The prestige the PCR enjoyed in the WCC was attested to by the fact that the Programme remained exempt from planned cost-cutting measures to balance the WCC budget. This study unequivocally shows that the PCR marked a turning point in the history of the WCC. It signalled a marked change in the WCC from its prior tendency of issuing general agreement statements to engaging in controversial action. Thus, the PCR can also be seen as the beginning of the WCC s more explicit humanitarian identity. Through the PCR, the WCC became a progressive force in society.Tutkimus käsittelee merkittävimmän kansainvälisen kirkkojen yhteistyöjärjestön, Kirkkojen maailmanneuvoston (KMN), rasisminvastaista ohjelmaa ja siihen kohdistuneita reaktioita. Tutkimus keskittyy ohjelman ensimmäiseen viisivuotiskauteen. Laajan KMN:a koskevan arkistoaineiston ja painetun materiaalin lisäksi tutkimus perustuu sekä painettuihin että painamattomiin lähteisiin Suomessa ja Britanniassa. Vaikka KMN oli ottanut kantaa yhteiskunnallisiin kysymyksiin perustamisestaan lähtien, 1960-luvulla ne nousivat järjestössä uudella tavalla esiin. KMN vastasi ajan vaatimukseen radikaalista yhteiskunnallisesta muutoksesta perustamalla rasisminvastaisen ohjelman. Tutkimus osoittaa, että KMN:n aktivoituminen rasisminvastaisessa toiminnassa oli pitkälti järjestön pääsihteerinä tuolloin toimineen yhdysvaltalaisen pastorin ja kansalaisoikeusaktivistin Eugene Carson Blaken ansiota. Rasisminvastainen ohjelma keskittyi varsinkin valkoihoisten harjoittamaan rasismiin ja kiinnitti huomiota vuosisatoja jatkuneen rotusorron ja siirtomaavallan seurauksiin: poliittisen ja taloudellisen vallan keskittymiseen valkoihoisille. Tästä johtuen ohjelma pyrki vallan uudelleenjakamiseen erityisesti eteläisessä Afrikassa, jossa monien maiden kansalliset vapautusliikkeet taistelivat valkoisia vähemmistöhallituksia vastaan. Rasisminvastaisella ohjelmalla oli kaksi keskeistä toimintamuotoa, jotka herättivät laajaa julkista keskustelua: taloudelliset avustukset eteläisen Afrikan kansallisille vapautusliikkeille sekä eteläisessä Afrikassa toimivien yritysten boikotointi. KMN näytti omalla toiminnallaan esimerkkiä sekä tukemalla rasisminvastaista ohjelmaa taloudellisesti että vetämällä pois sijoituksensa eteläisessä Afrikassa toimivista yrityksistä. KMN:sta tuli näin yksi ensimmäisistä eettisesti vastuullista sijoittamista harjoittaneista kansainvälisistä järjestöistä. Boikottikampanjaa suurempi julkinen huomio kohdistui kuitenkin taloudellisiin avustuksiin aseellista toimintaa harjoittaneille vapautusliikkeille. Avustusten vuoksi KMN sai osakseen ankaraa arvostelua. Kylmän sodan aikana arvostelua länsimaissa lisäsi se, että monet kommunistiset maat tukivat samoja vapautusliikkeitä kuin KMN. Kylmän sodan jännitteet olivat muutenkin voimakkaasti esillä rasisminvastaisesta ohjelmasta käydyssä keskustelussa. Ohjelmasta tuettujen vapautusliikkeiden aseellisesta toiminnasta ja kommunistiyhteyksistä johtuen KMN:a syytettiin väkivallan hyväksymisestä ja kommunismin tukemisesta. Lisäksi KMN:a syytettiin eteläisen Afrikan ongelmiin keskittymisestä ja itäisen Euroopan ihmisoikeusloukkauksista vaikenemisesta. Tutkimus osoittaa, että rasisminvastainen ohjelma oli selkeä käännekohta KMN:n toiminnassa. Ohjelman myötä järjestö siirtyi sanoista tekoihin: se ei enää vain tuominnut rasismia, vaan toimi aktiivisesti sen lopettamiseksi. Vaikka onkin kyseenalaista, oliko KMN edelläkävijä rasisminvastaisessa toiminnassa yleisesti, kansainvälisten uskonnollisten järjestöjen joukossa se oli uranuurtaja. Rasisminvastaisen ohjelman myötä KMN:sta tuli aiempaa selvemmin myös yhteiskunnallinen vaikuttaja.
Subject: kirkkohistoria
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