Ecumenical Conversation Works at New Definition of ‘Security’

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


The ecumenical conversation on “human security” at the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly was an exercise in changing the concept of what security means, as well as opening minds and hearts to the suffering of those who live in insecurity around the world.

Engaging the issues

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


The ecumenical conversations at the WCC Assembly were opportunities for participants to delve deeply into one particular current issue facing the worldwide church. They also were designed to give guidance for the work of the WCC staff in coming years. The way the official description put it, ecumenical conversations were for “harvesting affirmations and challenges to the WCC and the wider ecumenical movement.”

Participants were encouraged to commit to one ecumenical conversation for the four days they were offered, an hour and a half each afternoon. Topics for the 21 ecumenical conversations ranged from new ecumenical landscapes to moral discernment to developing effective leadership to mission in changing contexts. Groups discussed the Korean peninsula and the Middle East, children’s rights and healing ministries, among other topics of interest.

At the end of the process, each ecumenical conversation turned in a one-page document outlining the important points that surfaced over the four sessions. The 21 documents were printed up and shared with the Assembly’s delegate body.

Redefining security

There is a changing definition of the concept of security, participants learned in the ecumenical conversation titled “Human security: Towards sustaining peace with justice and human rights.”

A leadership team from the Philippines, United States, Germany, and Ghana, and a member of the WCC staff, kicked off the conversation by inviting several presenters to share biblical and theological reflections, analysis of human rights issues, and stories and case studies of important areas of insecurity in the world today. Presentations were followed up with some time for small group discussion.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


A linkage with human rights emerged strongly. So did evidence that a lack of security leads to human suffering, evidenced in tragic stories from the lives of migrant workers in the Arabian Gulf who live in virtual slavery, victims of human trafficking–mostly women and children, internally displaced people and refugees, and stateless people such as those of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic and the Rohyingas in Burma.

One recurrent thread in the conversation was suicide, violence against the self, as the only way some victims have to get out of horrific situations. Another thread was the suffering that ensues when violence and weapons are turned against others. And another was economic deprivation and the desperation caused by poverty.

Access to weapons, the continual development of more highly sophisticated weapons, and the amount of resources poured into them emerged as important aspects of human insecurity. Stories from places like Nigeria where the spread of small arms into the civilian population is wreaking havoc. Presenters spoke of the threats to humanity posed by highly sophisticated weapons such as robotic drones, and the threat of nuclear weapons as well as the threat posed to humanity and the environment by nuclear energy and its waste products.

A brief time spent on the idea of “just policing” and related concept of government “responsibility to prevent” violence led one small group to state clearly that the concept requires critical analysis. They expressed the fear that it would be used by some national powers to justify war and military intervention.

Another small group pointed out that the corporate world also holds responsibility for much suffering and human insecurity.

It became clear that in order to work toward peace in our world, the definition of what security means must shift from national security, or military security, to focus instead on what is required for human life. For at least one small group, this boiled down to the basics: food, water, shelter, the foundational requirements for living.

‘Don’t just pray, take action’

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


The leadership team encouraged participants to consider the question of what role churches play in all this.

One person’s response was blunt and to the point: “Don’t just pray, take action,” she said. “Awareness, advocacy, and action, this is what churches can do.”

She spoke out of the experience of working to prevent human trafficking in India, which she took up after finding out that some women she knew had fallen into the hands of traffickers. The traffickers lured the women away from their hometowns with promises of good jobs in far away cities. But when the women went to start what they thought was a new better paying job, they ended up being trapped and enslaved.

“In our spirituality, there needs to be constructive anger,” she said, expressing her own anger at the greed that is fueling this worldwide problem. She cited the statistic that human trafficking has become the second most lucrative industry in the world after the drug trade. “Without anger we cannot seek justice and peace,” she said. “Jesus was angry.”

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

As well as hearing the stories of suffering, said another woman, it is crucial for the church to listen to stories of courage and resilience. If people do not see glimpses of hope, they become overwhelmed and then are tempted to distance themselves from the problems of the world around them. “We talk about women of courage” in her work with survivors of domestic violence, she said, instead of talking about “victims.”

A priest from Russia pointed out the need to share frankly this kind of information with one’s congregation, in order to prevent church members from falling into situations of abuse themselves.

Once that kind of education begins to happen, things will start to change, another church leader pointed out.

Others highlighted a need for churches to be “bridges” to society and government in order to defend and enhance human security. “We need to tell governments that action is required,” one participant said. “This is a matter of political will.”

An Orthodox leader spoke out of the Syrian context, where his church is caught in the midst of a violent civil conflict. Out of his church’s experience, “War is sin,” he said. “War begets war. War will never make peace.”

In this context, he added, the Christian church must seek “peace with justice, or justice with peace. This is what is wanted.”

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

[gt-link lang="en" label="English" widget_look="flags_name"]