The Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV)Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace, 2001-2010, was adopted by the World Council of Churches at its 1998 Harare Assembly. It builds on the previous Program to Overcome Violence, which had begun in 1994 when apartheid had left South Africa with a legacy of violence. The most recent initiative runs parallel to the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World. It calls churches, organizations, movements, and individuals actively to pursue nonviolence and reconciliation in all their activities.
While the Decade to Overcome Violence is a call to all churches and their members to address the universal problem of violence, the WCC explicitly challenged the Historic Peace Churches (HPC) to share their experiences and insights with the ecumenical movement and to help initiate an ongoing dialogue. Encounters between the HPC and mainline churches on the issues of war and peace happened in Europe after World War II and into the 1960s, but not systematically on an international basis since then and especially not outside Europe and North America.
Fortunately, the HPC network heard and responded to the WCCs call for special attention to the evils of violence. Of course, HPC efforts go back for centuries, but these Christians have since the 1970s been constructive leaders in ecumenical peace efforts. The HPC Continuation Committee in North America, the Friends World Committee for Consultation, the Church of the Brethren, and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), all had some experience in peacemaking. Christians in those organizations took the lead in planning and convening a theological consultation in 2001 at Bienenberg Seminary near Basel, Switzerland. This consultation came to be known as Bienenberg I (and many of its proceedings were published in Seeking Cultures of Peace: A Peace Church Conversation, ed. Fernando Enns, Scott Holland, and Ann K. Riggs; Cascadia Publishing House, 2004).
On that occasion it became clear that conversation about peace theology and practice could appropriately be done only if it took into account the perspectives of people in the rest of the world, especially in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. It was later decided to schedule this conference in Africa. This direction is wholeheartedly supported by the WCC, whose special focus on Africa is an ecumenical accompaniment to the African churches search for a new vision for the continent.
The WCC therefore is very pleased to be part of a second theological consultation by the Historic Peace Churches. For the voices of Africans associated with the Historic Peace Churches to be articulated and heard within the ecumenical context, it is important to create platforms, such as this one, for encounter, process, and deliberation. While on some continents the HPC churches are only a small minority of Christians and of the broader populations, in Africa their numbers are substantial. Their history, theology, and witness is invaluable to the church of the twenty-first century. We are confident that the current efforts underway have the potential to engender fruitful dialogue and to empower the voices of the HPC beyond Europe and North America for the benefit of the ecumenical family as it engages in a decade-long journey of overcoming violence.
© 2007 by Cascadia Publishing House