1. Migration at the Intersection with Racial Justice & Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

    Clare Wilkins is an Anglican Physics graduate from the UK who works in HR. She enjoys reading and playing board games, as well as playing a variety of musical instruments.

    I recently had the great opportunity of attending the 2016 WSCF Inter-Regional Leadership Advocacy Training Programme (IRLTP) as the representative for the European region. This year’s programme was focused on Migration at the Intersection with Racial Justice and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, and many of our sessions looked at the local context in Asia and particularly within Bangladesh.

    The programme began with a beautiful worship session led by our hosts at SCM Bangladesh and then we launched formally into the training. Rev Malcolm Damon from the Economic Justice Network challenged us to consider how the current world context might affect our need to support others through advocacy. He also introduced us to various platforms through which advocacy can be done.

    In the evening we attended the tenth anniversary celebration of the SCM Bangladesh Senior Friends organisation and were welcomed as guests of honour, presented with beautiful marigold garlands and entertained wonderfully.



    On our second day we started with a biblico-theological reflection on migration from Rev Dr Aruna Gnanadason, which focused our attention on the enduring nature of migration. This enabled us to better see the context when we were then hearing about the current issues WSCF is working on from Luciano Kovacs, regional secretary for North America and Advocacy and Solidarity programme lead. In the afternoon we looked further at specific migration-related issues being faced by individuals around the world, with sessions facilitated by Mervin Toquero of Churches Witnessing with Migrants. These sessions gave us as participants the tools to begin our own action planning and work out what we can do to support advocacy in our own contexts. I look forward to sharing these ideas with you once they have been developed more fully: look out in the WSCF-E newsletter for more soon.

    We also had other incredible opportunities such as meeting migrants who had been tricked by ‘brokers’ into dangerous and frightening situations; spending time talking about the Bangladesh context with people from local churches; and talking to each other about our own contexts.


    For me, the whole experience was a timely reminder of how as a global WSCF family we are able to come together to help make a difference to people’s lives all around the world. I will really treasure the time I had at the IRLTP and I’m sure the people I met there will be lifetime friends.



    Note from the editor: IRLTP 2016 took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 1-6. To download the concept paper of this meeting, click here.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on December 16th, 2016 2:54 pm / Continue Reading »

  2. The dignity of the human person

    Precondition and purpose of the interreligious dialogue in the teaching of the Holy and Great Council


    Natallia Vasilevichfrom SCM Belarus represented WSCF-E at the Holy and Great Council as a journalist. She writes her dissertation at the University of Bonn on the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church in the framework of the Holy and Great Council and pre-conciliar process.

    The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church which took place on Crete in June this year has great importance for the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church. For Orthodoxy, the documents and discussions of the Council of Crete are getting to be a starting point in the formulation of  positions and interpretations on a wide range of concerns about internal church life and general social life.

    One of the key positions noted in the Council’s documents is a courageous statement that religion per se is not necessarily something good, signalling that religions could be of very different quality. This does not mean that one particular religion is better than another or that there are more truthful confessions, but rather that within every religious tradition there are both sober constructive forces and manifestations of a morbid religiosity.

    In particular, the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council notes that the symptom of such morbid religiosity is the fundamentalism which is presented in different religions (par. 17). This is why the task of the representatives of the religious communities is to oppose the “honest interfaith dialogue” to this fundamentalism.  Religious faith is compared with oil which “must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred” (ibid.). Also in the Message of the Council it is noticed that “sober inter-religious dialogue” (par. 4) should promote the establishment of trust, peace and reconciliation because “the oil of religious experience must be used to heal wounds and not to rekindle the fire of military conflicts” (ibid.).


    The document titled “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” notes the potential of local Orthodox Churches to possibly contribute to the “inter-religious understanding and co-operation for the peaceful co-existence and harmonious living together in society.”  Presupposition of such inter-religious co-operation is nothing else than “the common acceptance of the highest value of the human person” (A.3). Thus peaceful co-existence and harmonious life are possible not (simply) by security or absence of military conflicts as such, but namely when the dignity of human person is a cornerstone of social life, since authentic peace, according to the document, “is the ripe fruit of the restoration of all things in Him, the revelation of the human person’s dignity and majesty as an image of God, the manifestation of the organic unity in Christ between humanity and the world, the universality of the principles of peace, freedom, and social justice, and ultimately the blossoming of Christian love among people and nations of the world” (C.1).

    Thus, the peace cannot exist without justice and freedom, and particularly without recognition of the unique dignity of human person. Inter-religious dialogue which is based solely on addressing common problems or persuading different communities of common interests not only does not contribute to the development of freedom, justice and human dignity, but even may hinder this dialogue.

    The key to constructing another model of inter-religious dialogue lies in the promotion within the frameworks of each of the religious traditions the concept of the dignity of the human person regardless of gender, ethnic or social background and religious affiliation. It must be the person which is precisely in the center of the dialogue rather than any “traditional” or “pseudo-traditional” values around the rhetoric of their protection, which is often what interfaith cooperation at the institutional level builds.

    Fundamentalist groups are appealing also to the protection of “traditional values”, considering the preservation of them under the guise of religious orders which have priority over the individual dignity and sometimes even over human’s life. Religion which is oriented to protect itself is very luckily to neglect the individual personalities. Religion which sees itself more valuable than the human person, neglecting the human person’s rights and freedoms, is exactly the kind of religion that Council calls “morbid”.


    With the human dimension of religion it is fundamental to respect the human being. In the Message of the Holy and Great Council it is noted that today human rights are “at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state” (par. 10). Although “the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that “greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced” (ibid.),  human rights should not be underestimated. On the one hand indeed, human rights are not completely sufficient, not absolute, but nevertheless they constitute the public and legal minimum, which cannot be violated by any institutions or communities – not by organizations, not by governments, and not by churches.  The limitation of certain rights is possible only within certain frames.

    For inter-religious dialogue and for the sake of tolerance and nondiscrimination a certain self-criticism of the religious communities is necessary, as is constant dialogue within them on the issues of the respect of the rights of human persons, and the identification, adoption and promotion within the various religious traditions of the ideas of justice, mercy, universal equality based on the belonging to the human race.  Such a dialogue should be constructed not only between the different religious communities, but also between religion and civil society. In certain cultures, the readiness for dialogue, admission of our own mistakes and self-criticism are often considered as demonstration of weakness, while ability to impose own opinion or to defend own interests is considered as a position of strength. However, the genuine criteria of maturity and sobriety of the religious tradition is its inclusiveness, diversity, the ability for dialogue with other, and above all the degree of respect for the dignity of the human person.

    The paper was presented at ODIHR OSCE seminar “Interreligious Dialogue for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination”, Baku, 10-11 October 2016.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on October 28th, 2016 5:33 pm / Continue Reading »

  3. Changing the world together

    Krista Autio a Finnish Theology MA student at the University of Helsinki. Krista have been the Global Networking Coordinator for WSCF-Europe since October 2015.

    In the middle of August I had the chance to travel to the Alps of Northern Italy. My destination was Agape Political camps, which was organized in the historical Ecumenical Centre Agape in Prali. I was surprised that the camp was much more global than I expected. Often I meet merely European participants at ecumenical meetings, but this was something else. I was fascinated how many nations were represented from Latin America to Africa and Asia, and from Northern America to Europe and Middle East. Me as a representative of a Nordic country, had truly the chance to learn about the diverse realities that people were coming from.


    The topic of the camp was migration. The most precious thing was to actually meet and listen the true stories of migrants around the world that had come to Europe. Being born in Europe is not a privilege Europeans have deserved or earned. It is a coincidence, but we like to think that Europe is somehow ours and our ownership should be respected by others, the outsiders, while Europeans have never respected the ownership of other continent’s inhabitants to their own land and culture. We talked how Europeans or Americans have experienced “migrant amnesia”, when it comes to critical evaluation of our own social history. Europeans and Americans have contributed heavily to the world disharmony, that is often the cause of migration directly or indirectly. Europe also likes to see itself as a victim of uncontrollable “refugee flux”. Europe fails to see, that actually the conflict countries or their neighbouring countries bear the biggest responsibility of displaced people.

    Among lectures and workshops, we also had the chance to build friendships, dance and laugh. The most unbelievable experience for me, was to walk on the top of Lago Verde. I have newer hiked in the Alps and wasn’t expecting how hard it would actually be. After the first pit stop, we started to walk up very steep path. After a while I thought, that maybe I should turn back. Luckily I was walking with two new friends of mine from Pakistan and Uganda and they kept encouraging me to continue. I must have been the most irritating person to walk with, but they never left me behind. I have never experienced such loyalty!

    For five and a half hours we were climbing up and waiting to see what’s on the top, and we made it! The route was very difficult for me, so the feeling of reaching the rest of the group at the top was incredible. It was one of the most amazing things I have done so far and it really taught me an important lesson to never give up. This is something I will cherish in my heart.

    The friendly and wonderful atmosphere of the whole week was full of agape. People from different ethnicities and religions truly showed the willingness to come together and change the world together.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 20th, 2016 1:32 pm / Continue Reading »

  4. We shall overcome

    13912304_285164508515744_8836719979282974212_nMinju Kim
     is a student from South Korea, currently studying Language, Culture and Communication in Hong Kong. Her lifelong challenge and adventure has always been living in a multicultural society, as from time to time she has the opportunity to live with people from different countries. Minju likes reading, writing and sharing thoughts with other people.

    This summer, I had a chance to participate in three camps in Agape Centro Ecumenico. The Center is at the top of a beautiful small village called Prali which is located an hour drive away from Turn, Italy.


    For three weeks, I had an advantage of enjoying the magnificent nature surrounding the place. What I earned in Agape was not only this nature but also an opportunity to meet friends from all over the world. Each year during summer, multiple camps held by the Hosting Committee of Agape brings people around the world to discuss on various topics. The three camps I attended were theological, work camp and political, each one’s theme being childhood in the Bible, happiness and migrants. In each camp, I learned through many discussions and activities with other participants. I gained new knowledge and thoughts but in this short writing, I would like to talk about what I generally learned and was kept reminded of through all the camps. 


    Despite my expectation of English being the lingua franca, I faced some language barriers with some participants as some were from non-English speaking country. It was not what I had presumed before arriving in Agape and I was more than a little surprised by this. However, as the spirit of Agape lays in voluntary work and living together as a community, I soon found a way to communicate with other people without restraint. Discussions during theological camp helped immensely in adapting into a situation like this. Through regular sessions, we were able to share our thoughts and opinions with interpreters’ help and while listening carefully to others’, I suddenly struck me that listening openmindedly comes before being too concerned about which language one was speaking. Accepting others’ viewpoints about a subject and sharing mine logically at the same time sounded like an obvious attitude of communication but it is never easy. It becomes harder when a person who has a different opinion is someone you have never come across before. It was this camp where I could practice viewing a topic from different perspectives with people who I have never met before. Overcoming the language barrier, I learned the importance of open-mindedness and understanding a concept from a broad point of view.  


    If one asks me what I had gained other than learning how to be truly open-minded from Agape, it would be diverse cultural experience. One of the best features about Agape is pursuit of everyone’s happiness through sharing joyful spirit of each individual. Learning how to dance and sing in different languages were challenging yet giving me a rare opportunity to experience cultures of countries I have never been before. Experiencing Italian culture applied to everybody, through food, notion of time and other daily lifestyles. Traditional dances performed by friends were more than impressive, and unique snacks from diverse countries were unforgettable. Picking up some useful expressions or even knowing how to pronounce our names in different languages were short and brief experiences but it did not take long for me to realize they were chances never provided so easily if it were not for a multicultural society like Agape. I could also learn political aspects of many countries. It struck me how there were so many crucial issues regarding democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and etc in so many countries that mainstream news sometimes do not pay attention to. Meeting and making friends from many countries helped me increase my awareness of global importance. I personally took the chance to introduce an important problem in my country, South Korea. Sewol Ferry Incident which happened only two years ago in 2014, has taken away so many innocent passengers’ lives by people outside the ferry being unaware of the seriousness of the situation. It was heartwarming and even grateful to have an opportunity to talk about such a tragic incident of my country and share grief by distributing yellow ribbons which symbolize Korean people’s promise to not forget what had happened to the victims. 


    To describe my amazing 3 weeks at Agape in one word, I would say ‘potential’. Everyone whom I met in Agape had hope deep in their minds; and also the will to carry it out in actions once they step out to the bigger world. Encouraging others’ beliefs by supporting or simply listening closely one’s view made me think that this is how we shall overcome the difficulties around the world. Appreciating one’s culture along with other cross-cultural experience could play a pivotal role in creating more peace in the world. As a participant of 2016 summer camps, I cannot wait to go back there someday and develop what I had learned there more.  

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  5. Introducing Humanity Crew: A Palestinian Response to EU Refugee Crisis

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

    Social race leads to social exclusion and isolation. Today, only the strongest species survive. Our everyday life is like a rat race. Social exclusion has long formed part of human civilization and, though it seemed to go into hiding after the Second World War, now rears its head again. The mantra of social Darwinists, ‘survival of the fittest’ spread among technocrats and policy makers. For example, global corporate elites with its constant calls for free market competition leads to transform our society into a jungle zone. People are forced to be competitive in order to survive. Therefore, competition is the name of the game. Individual were cut off from the communal source of life. Not all surprising some people think that being a collectivist person is out of date.

    Photo by Hadje Sadje

    Photo by Hadje Sadje

    A famous American economist Joseph Stiglitz observes, ‘…a society in which materialism overwhelms moral commitment’ because ‘[m]arket fundamentalism has eroded any sense of community’. The advances of market principle have led to the virtue of new world order that human being are defined into ‘competitive’ and ‘not competitive’. As the world become more competitive the more people have fewer opportunities and chances to get a modest life. Obviously, the global corporate elite provides great opportunities and social benefits for competitive individuals. As we have seen that human solidarity is no longer a social principle and moral virtue, for the rest are misfits and outcasts. It is profit in particular, represented the paramount danger to human solidarity. Undeniably, everyone seems to be on their own now. Human solidarity has been replaced by commodity and competition.  

    Even so, and against all odds The Humanity Crew challenge the social Darwinist dominant culture. In 2015, when EU refugee crisis broke out, the massive boatloads of refugees and migrants to seek asylum made their risky journey to Europe and by traveling across the Mediterranean Sea. On one side, EU refugee crisis harbor different reactions and responses from European Union. The crisis evoked a sense of solidarity among Palestinians on the other. On the same year, the Humanity Crew responds to EU crisis by organizing and recruiting volunteer Palestinian doctors, psychologists, and young professionals. Reason for this, to provide psycho-socio interventions for Arab refugee children. The Humanity Crew believe that socio-cultural backgrounds of the EU refugees are one of the bloodlines of the organization. Humanity Crew notes, ‘coming from similar social-cultural backgrounds as the refugees, and communicating in the same language, Arabic, we are in a unique position to provide in-depth and sustained support’. As Dr. Essam Daod one of the co-founders narrated:

    ‘We realized that there was no one who really understood these people, understood their language. A child lying in bed after being rescued at sea, having lost his parents and having no one to speak to, having no one to tell him where he is and what is happening with him or where his parents are. A child is lying in bed as if he were dead, as if he separated his soul from his body, in order to survive.

    Many people can provide emergency medical aid, but we can give something else: we can reconnect the body and the soul, we can support and embrace. We decided to be a safe haven for them, to try and see them, to ask them how they feel, to call out for their soul to come back.’


    Photo: Humanity Crew 2016

    By providing a psycho-social aspect, Humanity Crew is one of the prime forces in launching a humanitarian movement in Chios and Lesvos Islands, Greece.

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  6. What is Agape made of?

    Maria Kozhinova is a Helsinki-based long-term WSCF volunteer, and currently works as Communications Officer for WSCF-Europe. She studied Speech Communication in Jyväskylä, and International Studies in Leiden. Environmental issues, Irish dance and big dogs are among countless things that make her tick.

    Butterflies, mountain butterflies everywhere. During lunches and during workshops, creating invisible air lace; during the night, attracted by the bathroom lights, dancing next to my ear while I am brushing my teeth. These butterflies have become for me the symbol of Agape: they are not intrusive, yet they are all around you if you just look around. I felt the same with the “spirit of Agape” – it is not forced upon you, and yet after a few days, sooner or later, when you look around, you start realising why people who came to Agape once, always remember the adventure, and I guess, always want to return.

    This is how Agape church looks like - no walls to divide denominations, faiths, anyone. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    This is how Agape church looks like – no walls to divide denominations, faiths, anyone. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My experience with Agape started in spring 2016, when I decided to take the challenge and to apply for the Agape scholarship. The deadline was in March, and the application seemed pretty serious in terms of describing motivation – why should I be one of those people receiving a subsidized chance to stay at Agape? I was endorsed as a delegate by the WSCF-E Regional Office, and a couple months later I found out that I am one of the lucky ones! Scholarship awarded.

    Agape has mesmerized me right from the beginning. I was expecting to see some old mansion in the woods, with mattresses all over the floor, a mini kitchen, and meeting rooms too small for all to fit. But instead I was met by stone walls of an aesthetically mouthwatering architectural ensemble, a yummy combination of dark-grey stone and dark wood. Truly, although built over 60 years ago, Agape Centre could just as well be built yesterday. I have discovered that Agape is not just one building, but it actually consists of a number of interconnected buildings. On my first morning in Agape, the mountains have greeted the newcomers with a beautiful sunrise and a clear blue sky.


    Sunrise reflections. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Sunrise reflections. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    The camp I was attending was the last of the three international camps, organised every summer. The other two camps were a theological camp, and a community-serving “work” camp. My political camp was dedicated to exploring the root causes of migration through non-formal and informal methods of education, such as workshops, role plays and storytelling. For me, and probably for some others, storytelling sessions by migrants were an eye-opener. Hearing people telling their stories of travelling months, or even years, to their destination, and then later sharing a lunch or a dinner with them, or dancing side by side at legendary Agape parties, and laughing together, are the experiences which tuned my brains and my heart to a different frequency. I realised, in the words of my colleague Maria Gabriela, “we are all migrants”. This topic, as well as many other interesting thoughts, are reflected in the camp journal, which the journalist workshop (in which I took part), collected during the camp.

    All sessions at Agape were sinchronically translated to English, Spanish, Italian and French. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    All sessions at Agape were synchronically translated to English, Spanish, Italian and French. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    I loved the fact that people there were from all over the world, not just my continent. Hearing “International Political Camp” beforehand, I thought that it will be like most events I have attended so far – mostly European, with two-three participants from overseas, cherished as “special guests”. I couldn’t be more wrong: at Agape 2016 International Political Camp, there were people from all over the world – in addition to most European countries, there were participants from Zimbabwe, Cuba, Kenya, Uruguay, Turkish Kurdistan, South Korea, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Tonga, Brazil, Sudan, China, Uganda, Colombia, Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, and Cameroon! This is really rare and precious experience nowadays, because such truly global events are seldom organised due to money restraints. I very much appreciate the fact that the Hosting Committee really made an effort to invite people from Global East and -South, despite that it would be so much easier (and cheaper) to invite participants only from nearing countries. Almost all participants mentioned to me that they sincerely appreciated the genuinely global nature of the camp.  I think it is important that such platforms for discussion exist – when else could people of all ages, faiths and sexes meet and talk, outside of the usual political neo-liberal world structures? Participants brought stories about events and struggles which are not visible in the mainstream media. Some participants could lit light on such stories which are featured in mainstream media, but portrayed in a way which is not reflecting the whole situation, such as, for example, young African women’s dangerous and scary voyage on their way to Europe. Having all these perspectives and experiences on the table has enabled us to have the discussion about migration on a very deep, very special level of expertise, and has touched each of us on both informational and emotional levels.

    Hamdi, one of the young people sharing their stories of migration. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Hamdi, one of the young people sharing their stories of migration. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Agape is all about interaction and being together as a community. Even the structure of main area vs. sleeping area is designed so that it would be most easy and most desirable for people to spend time in the main area, with other members of Agape community. This is also where the best conversations happened. I am not a small talk-person, I rather stick to a small number of people and get to know them really well. I had this experience also in Agape, and I feel that connection with my new friends has a very special flavour, as it was “seasoned” by Agape experience. It also has a hint of mate flavour, as I received a very precious gift from my new friend – a mate gourd with half-kilo of best Uruguayan mate! Now I can have my Agape experience at home, as well.

    My first experience with this weird overseas grassy drink. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My first experience with this weird overseas grassy drink, Uruguayan mate! Photo by Jonathan Cornú

    There were also a few mini-gatherings of WSCF people during the camp – we were many! We shared a meal or two, and met for a few discussions on WSCF thematic work. The most interesting ones was when members of the WSCF Advocacy and Solidarity committee met and shared their ideas and views on work with migrants and refugees in WSCF. We had a special honour of sharing our thoughts and ideas with WSCF Senior Friends, Rev. Liberato Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs at the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and Dr. Katalina Tahaafe Williams from the World Council of Churches.

    Sharing a lunch with WSCF people. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    Sharing a lunch with WSCF people. Photo by Luciano Kovacs


    One of my absolutely favourite experiences during the camp was the hike day. We got a chance to communicate with people, unrestricted by the schedule or thematic discussion. I was among the last people in the hiking group, and for me it was the best option! We stopped to check on interesting stones, lizards and tree shapes, and once we walked upon a stock of grazing cows!

    This is my favourite cow whom I "christened" Flavio; the guardian cow of the squadron of free-roaming mountain cows. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    This is my favourite cow whom I “christened” Fabio; the guardian cow of the squadron of free-roaming mountain cows. The bells of these wandering cows were the hymn of Agape for me – I even got one bell to take home. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Man as part of Nature, never Man vs. Nature. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Man as part of Nature, never Man vs. Nature. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My camp was such a beautiful experience. Big thanks to the Staff team for excellent preparation of thematic materials, panel discussions and storytelling sessions! Also thank you for providing the translation, it must be insanely complicated to enable such a diverse and rewarding linguistic and cultural experience to almost 100 people! Finally, a big thanks to the Agape Hosting Committee, for making this International camp possible, and making it a very special, global yet individual, experience for each of us. I have never had such a pleasantly piercing international experience. On the day I left Agape, I promised myself that I will return.


    Alvaro Soler’s “Sofia“-song was used to call people to each starting session, sort of like a bell, but better. There was also a Sofia-dance to this song, introduced to us by the Staff – every time Sofia was playing, anyone could join the dance freely. This song was like our special 2016 camp alma mater song.

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  7. The Agape Experience

    Charles McKinney is a Peace Corps TEFL volunteer in Macedonia where he teaches English in a rural primary school. When he’s not busy with Peace Corps work, he likes to explore new parts of the country and, when permitted to cross the borders, he endeavors to see as much of Europe as possible. Charles was a first-time visitor to Italy recently and a first-time participant at Agape’s political camp. Connect with him via LinkedIn.

    Tucked away in the bodacious Alps Mountains of Northwest Italy not far from the French border is found an ecumenical center by the name of Agape that has been around since 1947 when it was constructed post-World War II by a dynamic new generation of Protestant youth under the tutelage of a Waldensian pastor. Agape’s foundation and evolution to this day has been rooted in a spirit of volunteer service, communal living and diversity, equity and inclusion to all the people who encounter its atmosphere. Each year folks the world over flock to Agape to partake in the various camps it offers: political, theological, work, family, women’s (to name a few).

    This year I attended the international political camp on Migration: Breaking Down Boundaries on a Journey toward a Common Home in Prali, Italy, an hour by car from Turin (the nearest metropolis). Men and women from over 30 countries assembled for this impactful camp that explored the causes and effects of universal migration, the human rights issues associated with migration, and practical ways that we all can get involved as activists to combat injustices faced by migrants/refugees before, during and after their journeys in search of a new normal, a better way of living.

    Welcome to Prali! Photo by Charles McKinney

    We heard the powerful and heartfelt stories of migrants from Turkish Kurdistan, Somalia and Sudan, putting us up close and personal with the bona fide struggles they endure and the victories they work toward as they establish themselves in their new homeland, that being Italy (a Promised Land for many refugees escaping political, religious and/or military conflict or persecution in their native lands).


    Personal story. Photo by Charles McKinney

    For a whole week, I had the chance of meeting, learning from and enjoying the company of newfound friends that all brought something unique to the table of brotherly love and unity. Community service remained at the forefront of this experience as everyone pitched in to prepare for each meal that we ate collectively and, likewise, to clean up afterward. The multiple interpreters present facilitated everyone’s ability to understand the guest presenters during the camp; English was not necessarily the lingua franca as I had presumed beforehand and was challenged in being able to communicate with the non-English speaking campers. Nonetheless, nonverbal communication became all the more important in this context.


    Role play “The Challenges of Migration”. Photo by Charles McKinney

    Not only were we stretched intellectually, but also physically as many of us embarked on an intense daylong hiking adventure in the Alps on the third day. Most of the group persevered until it reached the zenith while the rest of us relished the idea of moving at our own pace, taking frequent breaks and snapshots of the breathtaking landscape before eventually eating lunch and power napping. Then we decided to make the descent down the mountain in an attempt to avoid what appeared to be a potential rainstorm. Gelati and crepes awaited us on solid ground!


    High in the mountains. Photo by Charles McKinney

    One of the highlights for me at this political camp, especially as a Peace Corps volunteer representing both Macedonia and the USA, was when I conversed with Dr. Katalina Tahaafe Williams from Tonga. She sat on the human rights panel, discussing her work and the hardships she has witnessed by migrants in the fight against the dehumanization and discrimination that tries to impede their progress en route to a promising tomorrow. Dr. Williams told me how she was influenced by a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga and how her family even named her after the place where the Peace Corps volunteer (who was a nurse) was from in the States (Katalina Island). It was heartening to hear this educated, cosmopolitan Tongan woman applaud the Peace Corps for its longstanding grassroots work and to be connected in this way. Now I just need to keep on running, working and acting in conjunction with my convictions that proclaim the inherent dignity and sanctity of every human life, migrant or not. I remember the countless migrants stranded at the Macedonian-Greek border in refugee camps, stagnant yet hopeful they can reach their dreams, never to return to a life or country infused with violence, pollution and despair.

    Thank you God and Agape for this outstanding opportunity to live in a Utopian milieu for seven days, the prototype for how the whole world should be at its best!

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 2nd, 2016 11:05 am / Continue Reading »

  8. The Holy & Great Council of the Orthodox Church: result in great & lasting good?

    Natallia Vasilevichfrom SCM Belarus represented WSCF-E at the Holy and Great Council as a journalist. She writes her dissertation at the University of Bonn on the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church in the framework of the Holy and Great Council and pre-conciliar process.

    The forefather of the World Student Christian Federation, John R. Mott, being a participant of a special American Mission to Russia appointed by US President Wilson, spoke on June 19, 1917 at the Great Sobor (Council) of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Council was a landmark in the history of orthodoxy, witnessing the theological revival and courage, which impressed the General Secretary of WSCF:

    It has been most encouraging and inspiring to visit this great gathering and to see the open-minded and thorough way in which so many of your church leaders are facing their problems and seeking to adapt the church to new and modern conditions. This process is sure to result in great and lasting good. Let us have the courage to welcome and accept the truth form any quarter. In this period of change and readjustment when we are earnestly seeking to lay hold of new truth for life and work of the church, let us with like intensity and conviction hold fast to all that is true in historic Christianity, let us continue to ring true regarding the unchangeable and mighty truths of creedal Christianity; let us in a day of crass materialism and of cold intellectualism preserve the priceless possession of mystical Christianity; let us at all costs see that our Christianity is abounding in vitality; and, through the fearless and unflinching application of Christ’s principles, let us insist that it be made an adequate transforming power in social and national life and in international relationships… Above all let the Church be unfailing  in reminding the people that God only can enable us to accomplish His high and holy purpose. While everything else is changeable and changing, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yea, and forever. 1

    Mott’s words full of hope: “this process is sure to result in great and lasting good” unfortunately were not to be accomplished for the Great Sobor, as the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and further terror against the church led to destruction of the Sobor’s best intentions and aspiration, its legacy survived only in emigration.  However, all these words could be prophetically addressed to the other Great Council, which opened its works on 19 of June, exactly 99 years after the speech of Rev. Mott in Russia.

    Natallia Orthodox Council 2016 - 2

    Photo by Nikos Kosmidis. A group of ecumenical observers

    The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church took place on Crete 19-26 June 2016, and the main sessions took place in a small Cretan village of Kolymbari. This remote destination concluded century-long journey of preparations and efforts, challenges and obstacles on the way towards the Council, which became an extraordinary event, although the Councils shall constitute natural order of the church’s decision-making process and serve as an expression of its unity.

    Started on the day of Pentecost to manifest its charismatic character, the Council appeared to be a very “normal” event, far from spectacular miracles of flames coming from above, and rather with miracle of humbleness, miracle of proximity, miracle of simplicity; miracle that one could twit and broadcast live videos in facebook. As my friend Ilona Sidoroff commented:

    Feels kinda weird… I mean we learned the synods at schools and now three of my friends are present there and I can follow it in Facebook. I mean wow, but at the same time is this really happening?

    And the main miracle was that the Council really took place, being so many times in history postponed, canceled, having process of preparation frozen due to external circumstances like wars or due to hostilities between the local churches. The Orthodox church is, confesses to be and aspires to be the one, and not “a federation of churches”. However, it is organised as a family of local churches, each one with its canonical territory and administrative structure: there are fourteen diverse autocephalous local churches sharing mutual recognition.

    Contemporary Orthodoxy is a complex and even controversial phenomenon, sometimes giving the impression that the Orthodox Church is rather divided than united. However, the problem for unity is not diversity, which is legitimate and acceptable, but divisions and conflicts, which emerged when each of the local churches “promotes its own interests and ambitions”2. The differences in practices, conflicts and misunderstandings shall be dealt in sincere aspiration and trust, in a constant process of discussions by re-discovering again and again the truth of the Gospel, of the holy doctrinal and canonic Tradition, not denying the historic experience, social and scientific developments:

    Divided by reasons of history and differences of language and nationality, the local holy Churches of God find their unity in mutual love and their courage in close fellowship with one another; and they derive power to make progress in faith and devotion, rejecting the crafts of hostility and proclaiming the Gospel universally.3

    Definition of the Council as an “expression of unity” might sound in regard to the Holy and Great Council ironically if not sarcastically, to note that four synods of the local Orthodox churches out of fourteen in the last moment broke their commitment and refused that their delegations come to Crete, claiming to postpone the Council for a later date: Patriarchates of Antioch, Bulgaria, Georgia and Moscow (alph. order). In sport they call it “forfeit”, and those not coming considered to be the losers. Just imagine that some national teams would not come to the Euro football championship, which started in France at the same dates as the Holy Council, if claiming to postpone the tournament or change its venue after the long process of being qualified.

    However, even being physically absent at the Council, the four forfeited “teams” contributed significantly to the content of the Council’s documents and to the process of their reception: five of six draft documents enjoyed unanimous approval by all local churches, and all six were developed by committees formed from representatives of all the local churches. Moreover, all the final versions of the documents are open for those not present to join.

    In the regard of opted churches I would like to mention courageous open letter composed by young Georgian theologians (incl. those who are affiliated with SCM Georgia) addressed to their Synod. In their lamentation, blaming on the one hand fundamentalist forces, on the other hand, political establishments, these theologians have manifested the presence of an alternative voice inside the Church of Georgia:

    The aspiration of the Orthodox Church to show herself as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” and to give unanimous answer to modern challenges are hindered and criticized by fundamentalist and ultraconservative religious groups in our local church. These extremist groups of priests and believers disseminate false and incorrect information about the upcoming Council. The Patriarchate of Georgia does not reacting against these destructive forces in a proper way. On the contrary, it sometimes even justify their activity as a defense of Orthodoxy.

    The orthodox world around us is divided mainly in two major “camps”: pro-Constantinople and pro-Moscow Orthodox churches. If the Orthodox Church of Georgia will not attend the upcoming Council in Crete, it will confirm once again that our church is ally Moscow Patriarchate which is an instrument of the Kremlin disgusting policy in post-Soviet countries.4

    Natallia Orthodox Council 2016 - 1

    Photo by Nikos Kosmidis. Ecumenical observers in the Gonias monastery during Pentecost liturgy. Sitting (left to right): (1) His Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Roman Catholic Church; (2) Archbishop Gomidas Ohanian, Holy See of Cilicia of Armenian Apostolic Church; (3) Mor Timotheos Moussa Al Shamani, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mor Matta Monastery, Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch; (4) Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Roman Catholic Church

    Idea of a “national interest” or an “interest” which fits more geopolitics and Realpolitik and which overpasses the idealistic concepts of “unity” or “common good” unfortunately plays significant role in the self-identity of the local churches. Russian theologian Andrey Shishkov goes as far that in case of local churches as autocephalous, self-governed churches it’s time to restore the Schmittean concept of “sovereignty”, however insisting on necessity of the Council to become a new authority, which demands to diminish “privatised” particular authorities of the local churches and requires from the local churches to refuse from their “sovereignty” for the sake of universal church5. In the Encyclical of the Council it is stated:

    The Orthodox Catholic Church comprises fourteen local Autocephalous Churches, recognized at a pan-Orthodox level. The principle of autocephaly cannot be allowed to operate at the expense of the principle of the catholicity and the unity of the Church.6

    In some sense, step to come to the Holy and Great Council was for the local churches a step of courage, of trust, of self-restraint, of kenosis, but not all were unfortunately psychologically ready to give up their self-governance: like some old bachelors running away from marriage right from the altar! Continuing wedding metaphor, despite the runaway of four local churches, the marriage has happened. As it happened in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), despite that fact that half of the young ladies were not prepared for bridegroom’s arrival.

    As the result of the Holy and Great Council the following eight documents were adopted:

    Visualisation of the Council’s documents looks inspiring with the keywords: God, Christ, Spirit, Church, Human, Man, World, Peace, Love, Freedom, Life, Faith, Unity.7

    Church word cloud - Orthodox Council by Natallia Vasillevich

    One can easily see the largest and dominating word “Church”, that signifies both that the inner church issues were the most urgent to be addressed by the Council, but also that that was the Church who dealt with those topics; it signifies, how much the Council was concerned with the self-identity of the church: who we are and what we are concerned with.

    This central notion also boosted the biggest controversy of the Council in regard to what was called by the document on the ecumenical movement as “the rest of the Christian world”. Can we use the word “church” towards non-Orthodox communities, speaking about Roman Catholic Church or Protestant churches or that is the notion appropriate exclusively for our own church, the Orthodox one? Or can we erase from the document on ecumenical relations which welcomes participation in the ecumenical movement and in theological dialogues, the word “church” after centuries of using it in relation to heterodox communities, and to start to use simply, for example, notions like “Roman Catholic community” or “Protestants confessions”, denying their self-identity as churches? Despite the strong opposition, the fathers of the Council (with some individual exceptions of bishops not signing the document voted by the church delegations) unequivocally insisted, that “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her”8, and claim that “the Orthodox participation in the movement to restore unity with other Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is in no way foreign to the nature and history of the Orthodox Church, but rather represents a consistent expression of the apostolic faith and tradition in a new historical circumstances”9. In the same time, the Council condemned those individuals and groups, which “under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy” attempt “to break the unity of the Church”10.

    Next two significant words for the documents are “man” and “human”. And anthropology, teaching on human being, also played a central role in the Council’s concerns. In the document “Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s world” a human being was in the centre, and the very notion of “human being” was not away from controversies in relation to the notion of “person”. Theological debate were initiated by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who claimed the problematic character of the notion “person” and fought against personalism, which, according to him associates “the energy-will with the person”, and not with the nature, while “will and self-rule do not belong to the person, but to nature. The person is the one who desires, while desire is an appetite of nature and will is a result of the desire of the one who desires.” Could be considered just as philosophical debates, but anthropology – how we see a human being, nature and freedom, results in how we treat the human being in relation to the society and its organisation, in particular, in implications how much important is to protect freedom of person – meaning freedom of choice, freedom of will, freedom of making personal decisions on the basis of unique personhood and not on the basis of human nature. Despite criticism, the Council insisted on necessity to use of the “modern” concept of a “human person”, arguing about its value, which implicitly includes also recognition of the value of personal identity and the freedom of a choice. The Council recognises that

    Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our Church also adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of the citizens and the need for constant self-criticism on the part of both politicians and citizens for the improvement of society. And above all she emphasises that the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that ” greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced.11

    Natallia Orthodox Council 2016 - 3

    The third notion which I would like to pick from the picture is the “world”. As His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew manifested in his opening speech at the Council:

    The Church does not exist for itself, but for the entire world and its salvation, having as its head Christ ‘the firstborn of all creation’, in whom and through whom God pleased to ‘reconcile to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His Cross, whether on earth or in heaven’ (cf. Col. 1.16, 20).

    In this regard, the world is not something “outside” the Church, as the salvation is proposed to the whole creation, and all thing are to be reconciled in Him, so to say, to come “under His head”12. We see the world not as something alien and hostile for the church, but rather church is called to follow example of Christ, it

    shares in our anguish and existential problems, taking upon herself … our suffering and wounds, which are caused by evil in the world and, like the Good Samaritan, pouring oil and wine upon our wound… The word addressed to the world is not primarily meant to judge and condemn the world…13

    That is an important shift in the self-identity of the church: how to relate to the world which is wounded;  and touching the wounds, to be rather “oil and wine” to heal them, than “salt” which is never helpful for healing the wounds and causes more pain.

    In hope to receive “oil and wine” on the wounds, calling to the safe space, with a fear to be judged by the “salty” words as an answer to a personal story of sorrow of being LGBT in the Orthodox Church, Misha Cherniak on behalf of Orthodox LGBT Christians addressed courageous open letter to the Holy Council.

    ….Even though LGBT people are quite often presented as being a group external to the Orthodox Church, the European Forum of LGBT Groups can testify that, in fact, the proportion of people of non-traditional sexual orientation and gender identity is the same within the Orthodox Church as it is outside. This has become clear to us through our many activities related to Eastern Europe and thanks to the presence of Orthodox Christians among our member groups….

    We ask you: in your sermons and speeches, whenever you mention LGBT persons and issues, remember that we actually might be standing right before you! We are not an abstract concept, but actual human beings—your children, sisters, and brothers…

    We ask you: do everything you can to stop this violence and aggression! Too often, those who shout words of hatred claim to base them in the holy Orthodox Tradition. We plead with you, beloved teachers and guardians of our Tradition: do not let it be misused to bring death and destroy human lives! Let love and care precede admonition….

    We believe that Holy Scripture and the Orthodox Tradition offer many examples of consolation and blessing for the diverse reality of human sexuality, which includes LGBT persons and their relations. We are aware that our understanding of Holy Scripture and Orthodox theology as enabling the harmonious reconciliation of our sexual and religious identities may seem audacious—but we ask you to hear us out. We urge you to establish safe spaces for dialogue: situations and places where those of differing views can share not only their opinions, but also their doubts and personal stories.14

    Not an abstract concept, whether it be “person”, “human being”, or “man”; but “actual human beings” – what a powerful claim! The theological discussions do not deal with an abstract concepts, they have direct implications on the life of the concrete people. Concepts might be ideal constructions, like in the Document “The Sacrament of Marriage”, which quite abstractly prescribes, that “Marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians is forbidden according to canonical akribeia” (II.5.i). But when it comes to concrete human situation, this idealistic akribeia has to be reconciled and balanced by another principle of application of canons – oikonomia, pastoral flexibility and discernment (II.5.ii.). At the same time, even wide application of oikonomia is not the final answer to the challenges, because as a principle it proposes just exceptions from the rule, legitimate deviation from the norm. While dealing with concrete situations of the reality – with the “today’s world” which is dynamic and rapidly changing, with development of sciences, requires constant reflection, reconsidering and reconsidering of our canonical norms in new circumstances.

    In conclusion, I would like to recall again word’s of John Mott – as my personal impression:

    It has been most encouraging and inspiring to visit this great gathering and to see the open-minded and thorough way in which so many of your church leaders are facing their problems and seeking to adapt the church to new and modern conditions.

    Sometimes, of course, watching the process of the Holy and Great Council, I was not only encouraged and inspired, but disappointed and even devastated. Sometimes I had impressions that Great Sobor of the Russian Church in 1917-1918, one century ago, was much more progressive than the actual one. But there is still hope and conviction, that the Holy and Great Council is not something what just happened once, that it will result in great and lasting good. The Council boosted the theological reflection, diagnosed many divisions, wounds and weaknesses, and it will continue to be a reference point for the Orthodox Church, its identity and its positions.

    Natallia Orthodox Council 2016 - 4


    [1] Mott, John R. “Before the Russian Orthodox Church,” in America’s Message to the Russian People; Addresses by the Members of the Special Diplomatic Mission of the United States to Russia in the Year 1917. Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1918. Pp. 105-111

    [2] From the Opening Address by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Inaugural Session of the Holy and Great Council.

    [3] Answer of the Russian Orthodox Church to Patriarch Joachim III’s letter informing about his election as the Ecumenical Patriarch quoted in: Patriarchal and Synodical Letter of 1902. Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism. Statements, Messages and Reports on the Ecumenical Movement. 1902-1992. Compl. by Gennadios Limouris. WCC Publications, Geneva, 1994, 1-5

    [4] Open Letter of Georgian theologians to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Georgia –

    [5] Shishkov, Andrey, Церковная автокефалия через призму теории суверенитета Карла Шмитта, in: Государство, религия, церковь №3, 2014, 197-224.

    [6] Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, p.5

    [7] Visualisation of the Documents content (created using Voyant Tools)

    [8] Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, p.6

    [9] Ibid., p.4

    [10] Ibid., p 22

    [11] Message of the Holy and Great Council, p.10.

    [12] Eph. 1:10 “To unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth”, where unite in Greek is ἀνακεφαλαιὠσασθαι, so to say, to head-up. This concept of heading-up, recapitulatio was further developed by Irenaeus of Lyon in Adversus haereses: Christ embracing the entire Creation to save it.

    [13] Mission of the Church in the Today’s World, Introduction.

    [14] Open letter from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, gathered at Crete, June 2016.

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  9. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me & to accomplish his work”: Reading & Responding to the Signs of the Times

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

    On 8 July 2016, I arrived at Mytilene International Airport, Lesvos Greece. The main purpose is to join the voluntary program of the Christian Peacemaker Teams Mediterranean (CPT). The Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organisation working and participating in a non-violent struggle around the world. Inspired by the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the CPT stand for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war. In response to the sudden influx of refugees in European nations, CPT is answering the call The CPT Mediterranean project was initiated by CPTers in Europe. In 2014, CPT was invited by Greek local partners and the goal of this project is to work alongside local of local partners to accompany and to protect refugees in the Lesvos Island, Greece.

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Situating the prophetic role of the CPT in EU Refugee Crisis

    Lesvos Island is one of the key points of entry for the refugees wishing to travel to Europe. The European Union heads of state or government were overwhelmed by the massive flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. In response, the EU frame the refugee crisis as security and economic issues. EU heads of state and Turkey government agreed and finalised the deal on 20 March 2016. In general, the outcome of the deal: all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey; and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. After the finalisation of the EU-Turkey deal everything has changed. The EU-Turkey deal puts asylum seekers stock up in limbo—a life of waiting for their applications. EU refugee’s everyday life is like a rat race. EU refuges stock up with no job, uncertain future, no freedom of movement, live in a constant fear of xenophobia, and live in poor housing conditions. EU refugee camp conditions vary wildly in their size and ethnicity. These people are risking everything for a chance on asylum application to be approved by EU states. In light of these disputed EU-Turkey deal, CPT Mediterranean Project might be brought into a more fruitful conversation and better inform the Church’s response to the global refugee crisis, particularly in European nations.

    Standing on the Gaps

    In the rise of the far-right and nationalist parties, EU refugees lived under the constant fear, violence, and threat of xenophobia. Being a EU refugee, some far-right individual and groups perceived them as a threat to national security, lingering terrorist, not entitled to free movement, and the worst is a carrier of the disease. At the project’s onset, I am aware of the severity of ideological tensions among the European clergy, church members, and activists in response to EU refugee crisis. However, CPT takes an important step in the pursuit of Christian prophetic presence in the EU refugee crisis. I am aware that there are many different classifications of NGO works in the entire Island of Lesvos but CPT Team demonstrates that contemporary Christian community is not detached from the reality on the ground. The concrete contribution of CPT is redeeming the idea of social justice as one of the primary concerns of the Gospel of Christ, not simply praying for vulnerable but by undoing oppression, undoing racism, undoing heterosexism, and sexual harassment. The CPT Mediterranean Team is standing on the gaps for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war.

    Hadje Lesvos 2

    Photo by Kayla Louise, CPT 2016

    I personally owe so much to CPT Mediterranean Team to have the privilege to work with them. Bringing me to volunteer opportunities throughout CPT Mediterranean Project, CPT Team helped foster my awareness of the EU refugee crisis and vulnerable economic migrants actualised my Christian faith marked for me by immense privilege. I developed a deeper understanding of the justice of God work as a response to standing for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war.

    Hadje Lesvos 3

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Now, are we ready to accept the challenge? EU Refugee Crisis is calling—how will you answer? As our Lord Jesus Christ says:

    “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”


    If you need more information about Christian Peacemaker Team program please contact us by email at . Or, to learn more about Christian Peacemaker Team please visit our official website:


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  10. The Twilight of the Imago Dei & the Rise of Global Corporate Power

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 


    “In a world of increasing inequality, the legitimacy of institutions that give precedence to the property rights of ‘the Haves’ over the human rights of ‘the Have Nots’ is inevitably called into serious question..

    David Korten

    At the beginning of the 21th century, the idea of neoliberalism had become so widespread in both popular and academic debates. In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism a British Anthropologist David Harvey elegantly puts it this way, “neoliberalism is a political economic theory that proposes human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trades [1].” Despite its strong voice of individual freedom reiterated by a number of economists over the year, IMF and the World Bank admitted neoliberalism is wrong all along. Interestingly, it is not visible to us however, it is virtually assured. With grim repercussions to the present, what we see now on the global stage thus devolves from structural greed, materialistic, and utilitarian cultures.

    In 1995, American intellectual activist David Korten published a book entitled, When Corporates Rule the World, offered a critical analysis of elite corporate power and its destructive global economic system. Korten argues that elite corporate power is destroying the world and has emerged as a dominant government [2]. In this book, Korten still looking for reformist stance against global economic system. In the following publication, The Post Corporate World, Korten seems to say that he shifted into a radical perspective that capitalism is to be an evil social force. In the end, the implication of this Korten’s perspective is that there is a possibility for a world to be without capitalism. Although this radical stance is debatable among economic technocrats and social scientist, nonetheless, there are people who attempt to offer resistance and alternative options to these unstoppable corporate-led globalization.

    In this circumstance, these two important books reminds me of catastrophic aspect of the international trade triumvirate’s agenda: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Trade in Service Agreement (TiSA). At its early stage the TPP is being negotiated by the government of the United State and eleven other countries, encompassing 40% of the global economy. The TPP is beginning to unmask its economic regionalist project known as TPP, TTIP, TiSA Triumvirate. The international trade triumvirate claims to be a “free trade” agreement. However, it is a Trojan horse of elite corporate power to advance corporate interests.

    In addition, the international trade triumvirate’s agenda would instrumentalise to remove all of regulations that protect human rights. Critics contend that the rise of the international trade triumvirate is not just economic phenomenon but also a complex geopolitics of the conflict. After the TPP leaked documents’ secret agenda came out, it kept me worried about the future of humanity in the hands of a global elite corporation. Obviously, the impact of corporate power that is concentrated in the hands of a few elite is quite disturbing and alarming. I feel a deep sense that I am living in the end times. As a Christian activist, working on different social issues I never expected that this “outdated” socio-economic vocabulary will confront us again and again. It seems that neoliberalism is like an invisible enemy or foe working along with other social institutions.

    Source: Sepponet

    Image source: Sepponet

    In this short article, I will focus exclusively on TPP’s corporate agenda and the rest will be carried out. Recently, democratic values, human dignity and sanctity of God’s creation have again been under attack by market ideology. The legality of the TPP’s agenda, and its procedures emerged in the wake of heated debate over Western states, grassroots movements, and policy makers. The debate erupts over the TPP’s legality and legitimacy of the use of force to implement its neoliberal policy that would protect those elite corporations is against democratic values. As it turns out, TPP overrule the state power. Noam Chomsky during his live interview in HuffPost in 2014, describes the TPP agenda as:

    “…It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

    It is clearly nothing new about the treat of elite corporate power that has plagued humanity since the beginning. Today, if I put it more controversially, elite corporate power is becoming more complex and aggressive. We are pressed on all sides knowing that this structural greed is eroding our human dignity. We will not be a bit surprised when, as faith-community, we circumscribed with this environment also known as structural greed.


    Image source:

    A decisive point for the broader understanding of disastrous terms and conditions of the TPP, Naomi Klein describes:

    “This deal—the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP—has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” It’s the latest and largest in a series of international agreements that have attacked working women and men, fueled mindless and carbon-intensive consumption, and prevented governments from enforcing their own laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions. NAFTA-esque deals around the world have been a disaster for democracy, good jobs, and environmental justice.”

    Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc

    Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc

    This critical insight is expressed in several reasons, in which, why we need to stop and challenged the international trade triumvirate: TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. The Human Right Watch (2016) summed up some key issues about the TPP’s corporate agenda: first, it is extremely exploitation of workers. Lower wages and job off-shoring will rise in the US and in all TPP member countries. Second, new intellectual property rules would give big pharmaceutical companies to extend their lucrative monopoly of drug sale. In short, it will raise drug or medicine prices. Third, it will threaten and reduce environmental protection policies. Meaning, it will increased water and air pollution to ensure continuation of the fossil-fuel production. Fourth, it will increase the volume of importuned and potential risky food or genetically modified organism (GMO). Fifth, the TPP Investor Rights will kill local industries and it will empower multinational and foreign companies. Finally, the most disturbing and controversial aspect of the TPP is their proposal to establish the Investor-State Dispute Settlement also known as the ISDS. The ISDS serves as mediator to settle disputes between states and elite corporations. However, the critics suggest that it would empower elite corporations to overrun the sovereignty of state members in the future. It also made it difficult for the state members to limit and regulate multinational corporations. At its best, the international trade triumvirate will instrumentalize the ISDS in order for them to be outside, immune, and above the law. ISDS will challenge member state’s sovereignty. It is unimaginable, for example, to see how elite corporations will sue member states for the loss of profits and removing those regulations that protect labor rights. In short, it is more on trading, profits over people. When I think of these future terms and conditions I cannot help but to think of the twilight of the Imago Dei (Human Dignity) and the rise of Antichrist—Elite Corporation.

    Corporate school Hadje

    Image source:

    The question for the Christian churches, then, is why the international trade triumvirate agenda matters? In view of this, I believe our world today stands in need of a serious moral thinker that would wrestle with problems which are not out of date, but which recur again and again in our life. For me, there are five indispensable reasons for Christian churches and activists to resist and condemn the international trade triumvirate general agenda. First, TPP’s corporate agenda is, however, not only a socio-economic phenomenon it also has theological, and moral dimensions. Second, I learned Christianity as a way of life is centered totally on serving God by loving and siding with marginalised community. It is not an option but it is a must. Third, neoliberalism is not an impasses subject in contemporary moral and ethical debates, it is a form of “Idolatry of the Market” which is at its root in spiritual matter. The recent TPP’s corporate agenda exposed the underlying scandalous corporate greed at the expense of our fundamental humanity. We are assured by powerful elite corporations that they were running the global wealth effectively that has not turned out to be the case. Fourth, we should remind these elite corporations that God’s creation is not owned by them. We are stewards not owners. God’s creation is intended to be justly, and equally distributed among people. TPP’s corporate agenda distorts and enslaves God’s intention for human communities and for all of creation. Fifth, TPP’s corporate agenda has deleterious effects on human dignity, democratic values, and sanctity of God’s creation. I was horrified at the corporate agenda of TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. It is clear enough that international trade triumvirate’s corporate agenda pushes human being subject for dehumanisation and exploitation. The global corporate agenda considered human being not as a human being created in the image of God but reducing human being to their economic value and destroying their lives to its commanding false needs. Treating human being as acquisitive individuals who must be seduced into materialistic, greedy, and utilitarian cultures is basically not of God.

    Charity and trade

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    We, Christians should rediscover our prophetic role to challenge the modern day Babylon namely, the Wall Street. Being made in God’s image, we have fundamental rights that elite corporation should value, respect, and recognize. As Christians, God expects us that we should challenge individuals, communities, cities, societies, and countries to stand against TPP, TTIP and TiSA. We must stop worshipping this structural greed. We should condemn the prevailing structural greed and its materialistic culture which perpetuates suppression, exploitation, and dehumanize us. This is the task of the Christian community to live out of its theology and so to proclaim and enact the Kingdom of God.


    [1] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2.

    [2] David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, (United States: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2001).

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on June 28th, 2016 10:42 am / Continue Reading »

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