Recommendations for action the Search for Visible Unity between the Churches

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Conference of European Churches (CEC)

Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae (CCEE)

Second European Ecumenical Assembly (EEA2)

Graz, Austria - 23 to 29 June 1997

FINAL DOCUMENT 3* (Original Language: English)


The Search for Visible Unity between the Churches

1.1 We recommend that the churches take the year 2000 as an occasion to give their fellowship visible expression through jointly prepared symbolic, liturgical and pastoral actions and initiatives. They should particularly work towards ensuring that Easter can be jointly celebrated from the turn of the Millennium onwards, and also seek to achieve mutual recognition of baptism among all Christian churches.

Rationale: In some churches preparations for the Millennium are already under way. We consider it desirable to coordinate these efforts. It would be good if the churches were able to use the public attention which the year 2000 will create as an opportunity for ecumenical credibility in making a common witness. Models for this already exist, such as the World Day of Prayer initiated by women, but of course creative imagination could develop completely new initiatives.

1.2. We recommend that the churches develop a common study document containing basic ecumenical duties and rights. From this a series of ecumenical guidelines, rules and criteria could be developed which would help the churches, those in positions of responsibility and all members, to distinguish between proselytism and Christian witness, as well as between fundamentalism and genuine faithfulness, and help to shape the relationships between majority and minority churches in an ecumenical spirit.

Rationale: The ecumenical fellowship is currently in a difficult situation as a result of various factors. This requires conscious counter-strategies. It seems necessary to foster an ecumenical culture of living and working together, and to create a firm basis for it.

1.3. We recommend that the churches take up or continue the task of ecumenical formation, training and education, in every way within their power. In particular, they should organize joint Bible studies, work towards a common view of their history and take advantage of every opportunity to get to know one another better and to accumulate shared experience.

Rationale: The ecumenical mission of the church cannot be a marginal aspect of church life, but must influence the practice of spirituality as well as the social or political conduct of Christians and churches. This will only be possible if it becomes a guiding principle in all areas of church life in which people receive training and education.

Dialogue with Other Religions and Cultures

2.1. We recommend that the churches contribute in every appropriate way to ensuring guarantees of religious liberty and human rights, so that the dignity and identity of all people are protected.

Rationale: Mutual respect for universal human rights is an essential basis for the coexistence of religions in the modern world. Human rights also protect the variety of beliefs and lifestyles.

2.2. We recommend that the churches support groups dedicated to inter-religious dialogue. They should make use of the resulting experiences and insights, above all so that accurate information can be passed on in the field of training and education and prejudices be overcome.

Rationale: For the peaceful coexistence of people and groups of differing religious and ideological convictions, it is absolutely essential that they know and understand each other and learn to value one another. This requires long-term, patient work and experience.

2.3. We recommend to the churches to follow the example of certain churches in Italy and Germany, by dedicating a day in their calendars to dialogue with Judaism and to encounter with the living Jewish faith. Similarly, other days and occasions should be found to cultivate and revive relations with other religions.

Rationale: Encounters between people do not take place only on an intellectual level; they need a spiritual and symbolic dimension in order to be deep and enduring.

Reconciliation as working for social justice, especially overcoming poverty, social exclusion and other forms of discrimination

3.1. We recommend that the churches hold consultations on economic and social questions. These should contribute to recognition of the human right to participation in economic life.

Rationale: The international and global integration of markets has a tendency to weaken European traditions of social justice. Mass unemployment in practically all countries challenges the churches. They must pay particular attention to groups of persons who are most affected - especially youth and women - and work for a just system of social security.

3.2. We recommend to the churches to work for just and humane policies on migration, especially for war refugees and asylum seekers. Humanitarian standards in accord with human rights must be respected and further developed in both national legislation and international agreements.

Rationale: Western European countries are increasingly shutting out people seeking new homes. All forms of racism and xenophobia offend against Christian ethics, for Christians believe in Jesus, who regarded foreigners as brothers and sisters and overcame all ethnic barriers.

3.3. We recommend that the churches oppose discrimination against women at all levels and with all means at their disposal, and that they seek ways of ensuring greater justice for women, especially by overcoming sexist practices in economic and public life.

Rationale: Women are victims of social change in many countries. They are threatened in many ways, particularly sexually, by violence and exploitation. Our churches are challenged to recognize these threats, to name them and to contribute to overcoming them. Diaconal work, education, raising public awareness and specific programmes of assistance can all contribute.

3.4. We recommend that the churches take more intensive measures for the protection and support of families, with special concern for the situations of the youngest and the oldest persons.

Rationale: Families as places of enduring and forgiving love are vital for the future of our societies. Demographic trends call for particular attention to the situation of older people. Through family education and support for families, nursery schools, schools and universities, hospitals and retirement homes, the churches can contribute to helping young and elderly people and clearly show Christian love for their neighbours.

Commitment to reconciliation within and between peoples and nations and promoting non-violent forms of conflict resolution

4.1. We recommend to the churches to take an active part in the debate about the processes of development in European politics, to create instruments for common action and to strengthen the institutions which already exist.

Rationale: European institutions (OSCE, Council of Europe, European Union) are the forces of institutional reorganisation for Europe as a whole. If the churches do not want to be excluded from this process, they will need to provide for joint initiatives, continuous sharing of experience and an on-going analysis of European developments. This especially applies to efforts to limit the arms trade (e.g. through support for a European Code of Conduct on arms transfers) and opposition to the production, transfer and use of landmines.

4.2. We would request that the churches take on an active and persistent role in the peaceful transformation of conflicts (e.g. in Northern Ireland, in Cyprus) and in peace and reconciliation processes following violent conflicts (such as those in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Chechenya etc.).

Rationale: The churches' mission of reconciliation calls on them to support all efforts to prevent the use of violence and to heal the wounds resulting from it. These include various forms of mediation of conflicts and of participation in reconstruction, and efforts to enable returning refugees to make a new start under humane living conditions.

4.3. We recommend that CEC and CCEE, together with their member churches, encourage an exchange of experiences among initiatives, institutions, lay academies and training centres, and congregations engaged in peace and reconciliation work.

Rationale: The development of a culture of non-violence requires educational processes which connect local with international experience. Training programmes of this kind should involve young people in particular, but also soldiers and politicians of both genders.

4.4. We recommend that CEC and CCEE establish a permanent committee for conflict analysis and resolution. It should stimulate reconciliation processes, and also investigate possibilities for creating European-level institutions to train professionals in the resolution of civil conflicts.

Rationale: Institutions for analysis and resolution of civil conflicts are being proposed at world level and within many countries. It is very important that the churches be intensively involved in this discussion, and a clear and voluntary position on this issue would enhance their credibility. By establishing a common basis for professional peace services, we would fulfil the commitment we made at Basel to create Shalom services.

A new practice of ecological responsibility, now and with regard to coming generations

5.1. We recommend that the churches consider and promote the preservation of creation as part of church life at all levels. One way would be to observe a common Creation Day, such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate celebrates each year.

Rationale: The seriousness of the ecological dilemma for the future of the human race means that the churches' consciousness of it must be raised. Commitment to preservation of the creation is not a side issue among many others, but an essential dimension of all church work.

5.2. We recommend that the churches encourage the development of lifestyles guided by the principles of sustainability and social justice, and that they support all efforts towards an economy which meets the same criteria.

Rationale: Ecological responsibility must guide personal as well as political and economic actions. The criterion of sustainability gives continued weight to saving energy and to discovery and use of renewable forms of energy. Christians, supported by their congregations and their church, should strive for a lifestyle which sets an example of freeing oneself from the pressure to consume and of valuing a true quality of life.

5.3. We recommend that the churches join the Agenda 21 Process and connect it to the ecumenical or conciliar process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation.

Rationale: Agenda 21 offers an internationally agreed basis for action which has important aspects in common with the conciliar process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. It can be especially helpful in stimulating and organising cooperation with those holding social and political power at the local level.

5.4. We recommend that CEC and CCEE create a network of persons with environmental responsibilities and recognise them as partners in church activities.

Rationale: If the preservation of creation is to be anchored within church life in a politically effective way, it needs to be substantiated by professional competence. The CEC member churches and the CCEE Bishops' Conferences should appoint their own officers for environmental issues, and create a network for them in the form of a suitable organisation with which they cooperate as a partner.

Just sharing with other regions of the world

6.1. We recommend to the churches that, in the spirit of the Jubilee Year, they lead the movement for cancellation of the debts of the poorest countries, as a way of making the beginning of the new Millennium a symbolically meaningful date.

Rationale: The cancellation of debts should be high on the agenda of the G7 meetings in Birmingham (June 1998) and Berlin (1999). At the time of these meetings, the churches should campaign publicly in favour of the poorest countries, and influence the European governments to work together within the limits of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank towards a sustainable solution to the debt problem.

6.2. We recommend that the churches renew emphatically in their own countries the UN's call for development aid of 25 years ago, targeting a minimum 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP), and that they pledge 2% of their own income for development aid.

Rationale: Despite the widening global gap between rich and poor, the quota spent by the principal donor countries for development aid has dropped continually in recent years, reaching its low point of 0.27% in 1995. Churches must raise their voices against this trend and in their own behaviour point the way towards raising the issue anew in the public and political consciousness.

6.3 We recommend that the churches support exemplary Christian initiatives in areas of economic activity, and that they organise campaigns in particular against child labour, sex tourism, trafficking in women and other forms of exploitation.

Rationale: The churches already have a number of model initiatives, such as Fair Trade or the Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society (EDCS), which demonstrate that the goal of just economic relations can be realised. Churches should give priority to promoting these models, and in their public relations work should concentrate on especially immoral forms of exploitation.

6.4. We recommend that the churches stress ecumenical studies, in the sense of worldwide learning, within their educational programmes, and thereby emphasise the sharing of cultural, spiritual and financial resources.

Rationale: The ecumenical community, as a world-wide community, must see itself increasingly as a community of learners, whose mission of reconciliation calls upon them to share their experiences of exclusion, exploitation and oppression, but also to share with one another goods of all kinds which make possible and enrich our life together in the one world.

* Received with a large majority, a few votes against and a few abstentions.

Background to the Recommendations for Action


The gift and task of unity

(B1) Any reflection on the ecumenical situation must begin by remembering the commandment of our common Saviour, to make visible to the world that communion which, according to the Holy Scriptures and all Christian confessions, is formed by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together. Faith in God the Three in One, which we confess at baptism, is the precious, firm bond which holds us together in a real community, beyond all divisions, though imperfect because of them. This already existing unity must be expressed publicly and given visible form. We must reach a better understanding as to the conditions and the form church unity should take. However, a consensus has already been reached on the necessity of unity within diversity, within which the multiple differences amongst us serve to enrich our community rather than acting as a burden upon it. A community reconciled in this way could also provide a model for shaping political life in Europe.

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