visser_logo_small.gif (1783 bytes)The Theme of Humanity and Creation in the Ecumenical Movement
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Section headings:

dot.gif (101 bytes) Background dot.gif (101 bytes) II.C The Canberra Assembly (1991)
dot.gif (101 bytes) I.A. The Commission on Faith and Order in the 1960s & 70s dot.gif (101 bytes) III. Three Open Questions
dot.gif (101 bytes) I.B The Commission on Church and Society in the 1960s & 70s dot.gif (101 bytes) III.A Sighting the end of human existence
dot.gif (101 bytes) I.C The Commission on Faith and Order in the 1980s & 90s dot.gif (101 bytes) III.B. The meaning of human freedom in the context of faith, service to community, and responsibility for the gift of creation
dot.gif (101 bytes) II.A 1980s Conciliar process of commitment to Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation dot.gif (101 bytes) III.C Breaking limits in striving after life causes death -- first of our environment, and ultimately of ourselves.
dot.gif (101 bytes) II.B Feminist Theology in the 1980s


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II.B. Feminist Theology

In the eighties an important emphasis on a deeper understanding of humanity and creation came from feminist theology, which pointed out with increasing insistence the close connection between discrimination against women and aggression against nature. In both cases the same idea of male dominance is at work. Rosemary Radford Ruether speaks for many people when she says: "We cannot criticize the hierarchy of male over female without ultimately criticizing and overcoming the hierarchy of humans over nature." [Rosemary Radford Ruether. Sexism and God-talk, Towards a Feminist Theology, London, 1989, p. 73.] A new relation between men and women will also lead to a new relation of "partnership" with the environment. The emphasis should be on God's motherly care for the life God has created rather than on the sovereignty of God, the creator. Feminist sensitivity and environmental awareness increasingly go hand in hand.

II.C. The Canberra Assembly (1991)

In contrast to previous assemblies the subject of creation was at the centre of attention in Canberra. One of the four sections was devoted exclusively to it. The report develops the Christian view of creation specifically from the standpoint of the working of the Holy Spirit, partly because the main theme of the assembly was pneumatology. But quite apart from that, a change had taken place. There was a greater sense of the need for a deeper spirituality in dealing with creation. The emphasis on the action of the Holy Spirit seemed to open up new perspectives in this respect. "Recognizing the priority of the Spirit opens faith's vision to the vast panorama of God's activity in creation." [Kuala Lumpur, p. 315. ]God's Spirit is present in all created things; it binds all creatures together in one whole and human beings have to assume their allotted place in this communion of the Spirit.

A conference held in Kuala Lumpur in 1990 in Assembly preparation put it as follows:

"The Spirit of God's uncreated energy alive throughout creation. All creation lives and moves and has its being in this divine life. This Spirit is in, with, and under 'all things' (ta panta). The Spirit strives to bring them to their full perfection (redemption). Because of the presence and pervasiveness of the Spirit throughout creation, we not only reject a view in which the cosmos does not share in the sacred and in which humans are not part of nature; we also repudiate hard lines draw between animate and inanimate, and human and non-human. All alike, and all together in the bundle of life, 'groan in travail' (Rom. 8) awaiting the full redemption of all things through Jesus Christ 'in the power of the Spirit.'"

If created life shares in the uncreated life of God through the all-pervasive presence of the Spirit, then we humans, bonded to one another and the rest of nature, must respect the mystery of life and acknowledge the dignity of all creatures. In our co-existence with the rest of nature, we may understand ourselves in various ways -- as the present trustees of the tiny speck of creation called Earth, as servants of the Spirit and the earth, as the priests of creation, as its tillers and keepers, as co-creators, or as that portion of nature come to consciousness of itself in creation's own ongoing life."  [Kuala Lumpur, p. 316.]

This view did not go uncontested. Many people saw it as one-sided, some even as heretical, and at the Assembly itself it became apparent that the ecumenical movement is still a long way from a general agreement, let alone a common understanding on the subject of creation. The relation between Christology and pneumatology in particular gave rise to disagreements at the Assembly. What does it mean that the Spirit which permeates creation is the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ? Whereas the Commission on Faith and Order, in its study on the Apostolic Faith, had developed a strictly trinitarian understanding of creation, the Assembly emphasized the person of the Spirit in preference to the first and, above all, the second person of the Trinity. The differences could not be resolved at the Assembly itself and indeed the working out of a common view was declared to be one of the urgent tasks awaiting the WCC.

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Despite the deep lack of consensus at the theological level, the Assembly did manage to agree on some aspects of the environmental crisis. The urgent need for rapid action was stressed in Canberra as never before at an Assembly. Of the aspects discussed, the section on "Rethinking Economies" is particularly relevant in considering "sustainable growth -- a contradiction in terms?" I therefore quote it in full:

"32. With modern communications, prices can be known immediately all around the world. However, knowing the price of something does not mean we know its value. To think that price equals value is a conventional economic fallacy. Price is only one specific way of looking at value: the value in exchange. In a market economy price is based demand and supply, which are both calculated on a very narrow, short-term basis. Immaterial needs get no price; hence these needs are often increased instead of being satisfied through consumption. Waste, in which all material production ends, is usually disregarded. And since the poor have little money, their needs get excluded. In measuring supply, the market responds only to those costs which can be expressed in money. Moreover, it is an advantage to producers to leave out those costs which they do not pay for themselves, such as environmental degradation and human disease that may result. As a consequence, a good deal of environmental damage is being caused without entering 'into the books'.

"33. What we need, therefore, is first of all a new concept of value, based not on money and exchange but rather on sustainability and use.

Humankind has failed to distinguish between growth and development. While advocating 'sustainable development' many people and groups in fact often have found themselves promoting 'growth'. Growth for the growth's sake -- the continued addition to what already is present -- is the strategy of the cancer cell. Growth for growth's sake is increase in size without control, without limit, in disregard for the system that sustains it. It ultimately results in degradation and death. Development on the other hand -- like the strategy of the embryo -- is getting the right things in the right places in the right amounts at the right times with the right relationships. Development, while supported both by growth and reduction of its parts, results in a self-sustaining whole. Development of the earth by human body, maintains a balance among all parts of the whole. What is 'just' and 'right', then, must be found in social, biological and physical relationships involving humanity and earth. True development, as opposed to simple growth, focuses on the eco-system level.

"34. It is necessary, then, to correct prices in such a way that they take into account the need to maintain the ecological functions which nature is offering humankind. For example, those living in wealthy nations would have to pay far more for the use of exhaustible energy resources. It should be noted that particularly energy prices, prices of raw materials and agricultural prices are already subject to effective manipulation. The means of public manipulation of prices should be used to reflect both ecological requirements and the need for distributive justice. The churches in the European Community, for example, should press for a radical change in the Community's agricultural policy, detrimental as this policy presently is to both the environment and African, Asian and Latin American farmers. The practice of the USA to dump their agricultural surplus in developing countries should also be vigorously opposed." [Signs of the Spirit. Official Report, Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Geneva 1991, pp. 63-64.]

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