The World Council of Churches (WCC) has designated 1997 as the Ecumenical Year for Churches in Solidarity With the Uprooted. The Central Committee of the WCC voted unanimously on September 22, 1995, to adopt the statement entitled A Moment to Choose: Risking To Be With Uprooted People. This document challenges church members to consider and address the problem of uprooted people as a major crisis of our time.
In a worldwide campaign, congregations of member communions are urged to take bold actions to welcome, sustain, and accompany refugees, migrants, and other displaced people in their midst. The WCC also encourages churches to study the causes of the worldwide migration of people and to work for changes that result in justice and peace for all populations.
The following sections are paraphrased from the document itself.
The uprooted are people who leave their communities and their cultures because they are forced to do so. They are called by various names today-- refugees, economic migrants, the internally displaced, asylum-seekers. Millions of people have been displaced by wars that drag on for years, by deteriorating economies, and by conditions that devastate their environments. Some populations are forced to flee because their communities have been destroyed by such disasters as floods, earthquakes, and drought. However, some "natural" disasters may be caused by deliberate habitat destruction, such as mining, logging, and the extraction of other natural resources for profit.
According to statistics, one of every 50 people in the world is a refugee or international migrant. The majority of uprooted people both come from and remain in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of the refugees are women, children, and youth.
1. Violence: War, civil conflict, human-rights violations, colonial domination, and persecution for political, religious, ethnic, or social reasons are major causes of forced human displacement. Today, 30 million people have been displaced within their own countries because of violence, while 19.5 million refugees have fled to other countries. In addition, sexual violence against women and girls has become a strategy of warfare. Rape is used to further political agendas, to humiliate women and men, and to displace and destroy community life.
2. Deteriorating Economic and Social Conditions: Severe breakdown of economic and social conditions that once provided people with the means to survive in their home communities is accelerating the movement of people. The globalization of the world economy produces growing inequities in wealth and incomes within and among countries. Major technological innovations that contribute to joblessness, burgeoning debt, and rising infant mortality and malnutrition leave people with no option but to leave their communities and to go elsewhere in search of work and food.
3. Environmental Destruction: Environmental devastation has emerged as a powerful motivation for large-scale human displacement. Deforestation, loss of topsoil, and degradation of agricultural land beyond restoration are making traditional environments unlivable. Estimates indicate that today there are 10 to 25 million people who have been displaced for environmental reasons. The manufacturing, testing, and deployment of weaponry in "peacetime" military exercises and in war have serious effects on the environment and make sustainable land use for agriculture and human survival impossible. Renewed nuclear testing continues to threaten the survival of communities and produces permanent displacement of people.
Christians affirm the sacredness of human life and the sanctity of creation. All people are made in the image of God. Respect for the human dignity and worth of every person regardless of age, abilities, ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, race, or religion is a foundation of the Christian faith.
The biblical values of love, justice, and peace compel Christians to renew their response to marginalized and excluded populations. Through Jesus Christ, a just and united world can be envisioned. Jesus' teachings challenge the church, and Christians must have the courage to respond to work for community, peace, and justice and to address the causes that uproot people.
The Bible challenges Christians to build inclusive communities. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19) Jesus was rejected by many of his own people because he identified with the marginalized and excluded. A ministry of accompaniment and advocacy for uprooted people upholds the principles of prophetic witness and service.
The WCC challenges Christians to protect and promote respect for all uprooted people. This can be done by offering shelter or refuge to uprooted people, by sponsoring a refugee family, or by extending sanctuary to people in danger. All churches everywhere must ensure the protection of uprooted women and girls against all forms of violence, must advocate for full legal protection of uprooted children, and must challenge government policies that seek to limit the protections available to refugees.
Congregations can also promote international standards, especially for the ratification and full implementation of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
United Methodist churches are urged to learn more about the 1997 Ecumenical Year for Churches in Solidarity With the Uprooted and to explore ways of promoting its observance in the life of their congregations.
All photographs are copyright © The General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
and courtesy, New World Outlook magazine. This article is reproduced from the March-April 1997 issue of NEW WORLD OUTLOOK, the Mission Magazine of The United Methodist Church, by permission of the Editors. Copyright 1997 by the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.