Evangelization And Social Justice Belong Together, Says WCC Representative

on Jun 7th, 2010 and filed under Columns, Opinions.

Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of Syrian Orthodox Church-India, moderator of WCC's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. Photo: Gary Doak

The need to keep together evangelism and the quest for social justice was highlighted by a representative of an ecumenical mission body speaking at an international church conference in Edinburgh on 3 June.

Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, from India, voiced a “growing concern that the prophetic voice [of the church] has been gradually diminishing in ecumenical circles including the World Council of Churches (WCC)”. Coorilos is the moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Speaking at the 2-6 June Edinburgh 2010 Conference, Coorilos said that “a false dichotomy between evangelical and ecumenical strands [of Christianity] is irrelevant”. However, he warned that “attempts at widening the ecumenical umbrella” should not dilute the “prophetic dimensions of mission”. “Passion for evangelism and quest for social justice should be held together”, he said.

The Edinburgh 2010 international gathering commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the landmark 1910 World Mission Conference which took place in the same city and is widely considered the symbolic starting point of the modern ecumenical movement. Some 300 delegates from over 60 countries and virtually all Christian traditions are attending the event.

“I sense an obvious lack of courage and commitment on the part of the global church to address issues of global justice – social, economic and ecological justice – and religious pluralism”, said Coorilos. He was responding to a keynote speech delivered by Professor Dana Robert, from the Boston University School of Theology in the USA.

Coorilos agreed with Robert that the role played by colonialism in 1910 is today played by economic globalization. This is characterized by neocolonialism, systemic injustice and violence, a growing globalization of poverty, and the social and economic marginalization of people and exploitation of mother earth.

In a context such as this, “mission as a quest for justice is not simply an option but a mandate”, Coorilos said. Today, “we are challenged by Jesus Christ to confront systemic demons and satanic forces that express themselves in the guise of economic globalization, casteism, racism, patriarchy, ecocide and so on”, he added. “Mission in this context is about calling them by name and casting them out.”

Giving some examples of issues that Christian “mission as contestation” needs to address, Coorilos mentioned “the continuing aggression of the State of Israel to the people and land of Palestine”, and the “islands and peoples that are going to simply disappear due to climate change”.

In seeking a renewed understanding of Christian mission for the world in the 21st century, “Edinburgh 2010 is yet another opportunity to discover anew the grace and power of God for us, the Church and for the whole created order”, Coorilos concluded.

The Edinburgh 2010 conference gathers with the theme “Witnessing to Christ today” and is hosted by the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. The WCC supports its organization, together with partners in the ecumenical movement, within and beyond the fellowship of WCC member churches.

The wide spectrum of churches, denominations and mission traditions united around the Edinburgh 2010 project makes it one of the most representative of the diversity of world Christianity today. This spectrum includes Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent traditions.

The conference will end on Sunday, 6 June, when participants will join members of the local churches and gather at the 1910 Assembly Hall for “a significant celebration”, the organizers have announced.

The WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism is to meet in Edinburgh following the centennial conference on 7-9 June. The commission is composed of some 25 members, who represent WCC member churches, mission bodies and representatives of ‘wider ecumenism’. Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Pentecostals are full members of the commission and participate in all its activities.

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