For several years I have been posting on the issue of the Church and Empire. I began my journey through researching the recent work of biblical scholars on the first century church and its struggle with the Roman Empire. Through those writings and additional ones I became aware that Empire is still with us. What hides this reality is that today’s empire looks different from the Roman one.
More recently I discovered that the church in its councils was developing documents to make the churches today aware of the presence of this empire, its effect on people, and the need for the church to combat today’s empire.
I confess to making an error at this point. Because the council documents started using the term ‘empire’ later than the biblical scholars I made the assumption that the work of the church councils was later than the scholars. I am in debt to Chris Ferguson, General Secretary of the staff for the World Communion of Reformed Churches, for helping me correct my error.
In the chart I prepared of the church documents, the first of those documents referencing empire was the Accra Confession of the WCRC, which was written in 2004. Documents from the Lutheran World Federation, the Council for World Mission, and from the World Council of Churches followed the Accra Confession. What I have discovered, however, is that the WCRC, and its predecessor council the WARC, had been dealing with ‘empire’ for over 20 years before. they just hadn’t called it empire. I count fifteen consultations over a period of about 23 years that went into creating Accra. At the time Accra was adopted, it is important to note that 90% of the books on my ’empire’ bibliography had not yet been written.
What is significant about these meetings is the fact that the WCRC represents churches from both the global south and the global north. Or, as the Accra document put it: “Some of us are descended from those slave traders and slave owners, and others of us are descendants of those who were enslaved.” It is obvious that to come to a consensus required lots of listening as well as speaking.
Here is the pre-Accra history:
1977 Nairobi, Kenya: WCC launches the “Just, Participatory and Sustainability Society”
1981 Geneva, Switzerland: WARC prepares draft papers
1982 Seoul Korea: WARC General Council “Reformed Faith and Economic Justice”
“ the present world economic order and structures are unjust at their very core. As long as they are maintained, the enormous gap between rich and poor will continue to grow.”
1992 Wellington, New Zealand
“We want to turn to the sources of our faith in order to resist the temptation to accept a status quo which is unbearable for many and unsustainable for all in the long run . . .”
1994 Pittsburgh, USA: Adopted plan forThree Regional Conferences
1995 Manila, Philippines: (Asian churches)
1995 Kitwe, Zambia: (African churches)
1996 San Jose, Costa Rica: (Latin American churches)
1996 Geneva, Switzerland: Evaluate the three conferences results. Prepare for General Council
“the affirmation of life, commitment to resistance against injustice and the struggle for transformation are an inseparable part of Reformed faith and confession today.”
1997 Debrecen, Hungary: General Council: “Break the chains of injustice”
Debated status confessionis or processus confessionis
“We Christians of Reformed churches are aware of our complicity in an economic order that is unfair and oppressive, leading to the misery and death of many people. We participate in attitudes and practices which erode the foundations of the earths livelihood. We want to affirm the gift of life. We consider this affirmation of life, commitment to resistance, and struggle for transformation to be an integral part of Reformed faith and confession today.”
1999 Harare, Zimbabwe: WCC General Assembly: WCC decides to join WARC in its initiative in faith and the problem of globalization.
1999 Bankok, Thailand: “Consequences of Economic Globalisation.” “The main focus was to hear the stories and experiences of people at grass-roots level in the light of the Asian crisis.”
2001 Capetown, South Africa: Purpose: to help the WARC member churches understand the theological basis of the process. “The global economic system justifies itself and seeks to replace God’s sovereignty over life.”
2002 Budapest, Hungary: At this consultation, the emphasis was on the ecological, economic and social consequences of globalization in Central and Eastern Europe.
2002 Soesterberg, Netherlands: Objectives:
to analyse how economic globalisation and the role of money affect societies in Western Europe;
to develop a response by Western European churches to questions raised by churches in Central and Eastern Europe and in the South.
2003 Buenos Aires, Argentina: Consultation attended by all sections of the South in WARC.
“The neo-liberal model cannot be transformed or adjusted: it has inherent contradictions and has failed again and again to lift the countries, peoples and natural environment of the South out of their misery and towards life.” “This system is structural sin; globalised neo-liberalism is in complete contradiction to the central tenets of the Christian faith.”
2004 ACCRA, GHANA: Debrecen called on the WARC member churches
“to work towards the formulation of a confession of their beliefs about economic life which would express justice in the whole household of God and reflect priority for the poor and support an ecologically sustainable future.”
For information on the Accra Confession, go here: http://wcrc.ch/accra
Sources for this post include
The historical context of the Accra Confession by Averell Rust, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, writing in Herv. teol. stud. vol.65 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2009.
The Accra Confession as a Response to Empire by Jerry Pillay, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, writing in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, https://doi. org/10.4102/hts.v74i4.5284, Nov 2018