PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (BP)–Recognizing the Holy Spirit in other religions, tolerating “homosexual marriage” and denouncing the U.S. war on terror were among the views advocated at the 9th World Council of Churches Assembly Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Founded in 1948, the WCC describes itself as “the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity,” according to the group’s website. The WCC has 347 member denominations in more than 120 countries, including most of the mainline Protestant denominations in America.
In its pursuit of unity, the WCC has advanced an agenda that includes opposing wars and weapons systems, criticizing free markets, promoting a worldwide redistribution of wealth and seeking common ground with non-Christian religions.
“The World Council of Churches has long been a boutique of paganism in Christian garb,” said Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “This year’s assembly happenings, including the recognition of ‘the Holy Spirit’ working in non-Christian world religions, only continues the downgrade.
“Regenerate believers across the world, whatever their denomination or communion, recognize the spirit of the World Council for what it is: the spirit of antichrist,” Moore said. “The only differences between the WCC of today and the WCC of the mid-twentieth century are first one of degree and second one of relevance. No one listens to the World Council of Church anymore, and for that we should be thankful to God.”
HOLY SPIRIT IN OTHER RELIGIONS
“The church is called to discern the signs of the ‘hidden’ Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in other religions,” WCC central committee moderator Aram I said in his report to the assembly, according to a release by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Speaking on the need for unity among Christians, Aram, the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia (one of the Lebanese church’s four major leaders), said a divided church cannot offer a credible witness to the world.
To reach the world, he advocated “a church beyond its walls” that is “liberated from its self-captivity” inside “dogmatic, ethical, theological, ethnic, cultural and confessional walls.” Aram went on to suggest that the Holy Spirit operates in non-Christian religions.
“According to biblical teachings, God’s gift of salvation in Christ is offered to the whole humanity,” he said. “Likewise, according to Christian pneumatology, the Holy Spirit’s work is cosmic; it reaches in mysterious ways to people of all faiths.”
Changes in the church and the world demand that Christians adopt new approaches to ecumenical organizations in the 21st century, Aram said. He noted that inter-religious dialogue can help believers get away from an “exclusivist, monological and self-centered self-understanding” and “look at the basics of our faith in a broader perspective.”
Aram’s comments on other religions were absent from the WCC’s official news release on his report, which focused on Aram’s call for Christian unity.
U.S. ‘RAINING DOWN TERROR’ ON THE WORLD
Throughout the assembly, delegates expressed anti-American sentiments regarding the war in Iraq and made claims of U.S. imperialism.
At a press conference Feb. 18, Leonid Kishkovsky, chief ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church in America and former president of the National Council of Churches, presented a letter described as representing the WCC delegates from U.S. denominations. The letter portrayed U.S. military actions to thwart terrorism in terms of aggression against innocents.
“[O]ur country responded [to Sept. 11] by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors,” the letter stated.
At the press conference, Kishkovsky appeared with John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ; Sharon Watkins, general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Michael Livingston, NCC president; and Stanley Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren.
“Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous,” the letter stated. “We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice.”
U.S. denominations represented at the WCC included the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Church and various African-American Baptist and Methodist denominations.
Anti-American sentiments also were expressed in a Feb. 19 press conference on the church in Latin America. Speaking under the auspices of the WCC, Argentinean Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel denounced American policies in Latin America and spoke against U.S. President George W. Bush.
“Dictatorship in Latin America was imposed by the United States,” he alleged. “All the methods of oppression which we see come from over there, from the Empire [the United States].”
Speaking against the American President, Pérez Esquivel, said, “When Bush prays, God covers his ears.”
HUMAN SEXUALITY WORKSHOP
Any sexual act that is done with an attitude of love and respect is morally legitimate, regardless of whether it occurs in marriage, said Erlinda Senturias, a Filipino member of the WCC’s “international reference group” to guide the council’s conversations regarding human sexuality.
Senturias made her comments Feb. 18 in an unofficial workshop on the WCC’s recent dialogues about sexuality. When a young Irish man in the audience asked whether it was acceptable for him to engage in sexual relations with his girlfriend, Senturias offered a clear answer.
“A sexual experience is a spiritual experience,” she said, according to an IRD report. “If it is done in a spirit of mutual respect and love, it is a very beautiful experience — whether you are married or not.”
George Mathews Nalunakkal, a Syrian Orthodox priest from India spoke against “conservative” views of human sexuality.
“When this appeal to the Bible [in a literal way] is combined with natural law,” he said, “it leads to exclusive and conservative positions.” He also objected to “statements [that] reflect a rather negative anthropology, where man is seen as a ‘fallen’ creature and sin is sexual.”
In the same workshop, Sara Baltodano of Costa Rica presented a summary of conclusions reached by regional WCC meetings in Costa Rica and India. The presentation stressed the importance of “sexual rights.”
“Sexual rights are also human rights,” the summary said. “Right and responsibility go together. This does not mean that we promote sexual rights without the attendant responsibilities of being non-abusive within relationships, and faithful within whichever configuration of relationship one chooses to be in.”
Alan Wisdom, IRD interim president and reporter from the assembly, said Baltodano’s comments reveal a low view of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
Her remarks “revealed the attempt to dethrone marriage from its traditional place at the center of Christians sexual ethics,” he said. “Instead Baltodano’s summary would affirm ‘whichever configuration of relationship one chooses to be in’ –- not exactly a biblical category of thinking, or even a clear rational category.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressed the WCC’s pluralistic thinking in a Feb. 20 address on unity.
“Bush, bin Laden, all belong, gay, lesbian, so-called straight — all belong and are loved, are precious,” he said.
Wisdom said that moving forward, the WCC is facing issues of survival, not just relevance.
In America and elsewhere, mainline denominations continue to suffer in influence while orthodoxy is growing; if the WCC persists in trying to rally churches around the agenda of western liberals instead of around biblical orthodoxy, it faces the prospect of extinction, he said.
“The question is where the WCC will find any unity,” Wisdom said. “The continued pursuit of the political agendas of the Western left–a rapidly declining contingent in the global church–will relegate the council to accelerating irrelevance. But a reappropriation of the orthodox and evangelical Christian faith that is growing in so many African, Asian and Latin American churches would promise a much brighter future.”
Wisdom did not speculate on whether the WCC had the will to abandon liberalism and ecumenicalism for the evangelicalism that is driving Christian movements worldwide.