The Christian Peace Conference is Facing Hard Times
In mid-October [October 17-22], 90 persons from 23 countries attended an extraordinary convocation of the Christian Peace Conference at Celakovice, Czechoslovakia. Some Americans in attendance had arrived expecting a funeral. But the 33-year-old Prague-based CPC was not buried: Only its official ties to European and North American denominations are dying.
The CPC was created at the height of the Cold War when the Geneva-based World Council of Churches' pro-Western orientation was clearly evident. East European churches had no ecumenical platform on which they could discuss the ways and means of living and thriving within a socialist setting. In 1958, most Western-based organizations were still implying that martyrdom or emigration were the only truly Christian responses for the churches of Eastern Europe.
But the CPC's support of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 cost it dearly, a blow from which it never completely recovered. The fall of the Iron Curtain has mangled it even further. In Celakovice, the politically-moderate Canon Kenyon Wright of Scotland was elected moderator. He replaces both Bishop Karoly Toth of Hungary as president and Lubomir Mirejovsky as general-secretary. The Czech Mirejovsky had long been accused of undue loyalty to the communist state.
The Christian Peace Conference was born in the shadow of the nuclear bomb and saw the struggle against the atomic threat as a major cause for its existence. It now hopes to replace that concern with the fight for global economic justice. East-West concerns are to be superseded by North-South issues.
Prague has always regarded the WCC to be hamstrung by the need to take into account the contradictory views of its member churches. Consequently, CPC-leadership has always prided itself in its ability to speak "an even more decisive word" on issues of political importance. It now describes itself as "a radical global ecumenical movement, not a council of churches."
Conservatives have long accused Geneva of peddling an agenda (feminism, anti-apartheid, anti-arms race) which had little in common with its actual ecumenical mandate: "The tail" (headquarters) was wagging "the dog" (the constituency). This was no less true of the CPC, for its conservative East European constituency often had little sympathy for the statements issuing from its Prague office. Now, the "tail" in Prague can finally wag at will -- but the "dog" is no longer attached. The CPC is becoming one small grass-roots movement among many, going about ts duties without the sanction or funding of larger church bodies.
Berlin, November 17, 1991
Written for “The Lutheran” in Chicago/USA, 405 words