Changes in funding, as well as a new assertiveness of Roman Catholicism and the growth of Pentecostalism ,are posing serious challenges to the international ecumenism of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
TheHarvard Divinity Bulletin (Autumn) reports that traditional donors to the WCC who “have been willing to do their development work through WCC are increasingly doing their own work independently. This reality is reflected in a budget that has fallen 30 percent since 1999.” But in the face of such financial problems, the council has maintained its controversial social activism, though, unlike in earlier years, the focus is less on issues of race and politics than those of globalization, economic priorities and military engagement. At the same time, there is a new emphasis on reaching youth, as shown by the recent General Assembly, which was rife with discussion, advocacy, and papers targeted to this age group.
But the main challenge is finding new ways to include the growing Pentecostal churches and to strengthen relations with the Catholics. While the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict has maintained a level of involvement with the WCC, it is also increasingly pursuing its own bi-lateral relations with the Orthodox, thus creating a conflicting ecumenical vision to that of the council.
The Orthodox, meanwhile, are deepening their work with the council, even if more traditionalist wings of these churches protest such involvement. At the same time, Petersen finds a “growing desire for rapprochement between evangelicals and the ecumenical movement, perhaps as led by Latin American and African Pentecostals.” In fact, increasing Orthodox leadership, with their more traditional approach, may encourage such new evangelical participation.
(Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 45 Francis Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138)