Evaluation of the Global Christian Forum 1998 – 2007
by Centre IIMO, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.
Excerpt of the Report, pages 60 to 63, Conclusions and Points of Attention
1. A good initiative
According to most of the respondents of this evaluation, the founding of the Global Christian Forum was a right step at the right moment. The traditional ecumenical movement was not able to get the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and communions ‘on board’, although these are a growing part of Christianity all over the world.
2. Attractive working method
Particularly for those who attended GCF meetings, the new and for many, attractive feature of the GCF is that it offers a more personal and spiritual form of encounter than the traditional ecumenical gatherings, giving participants the opportunity to get to know each other better. For some of the respondents, this is a goal in itself, while for others it is a first step toward addressing issues that are really important. Especially for representatives of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, these issues include theological debates on questions like ecclesiology. For others, these issues include responsibility of churches in relation to justice and peace. To overcome the reluctance of some respondents, the method of sharing personal faith journeys could be complemented with the sharing of the stories of the participants’ journeys in and with their churches and could be enlarged by sharing life stories. In Youth organizations several creative methods have already been developed for this purpose.
Two conclusions can be drawn from the success of the ‘GCF method’:
The GCF offers what is for many churches and ecumenical organizations a new way of meeting each other and discussing issues, which results in the decline of misunderstandings and prejudices. Churches should take advantage of this and apply this method – with suggested revisions – more often.
As this method is so successful, it might be possible to apply it to more contested theological issues, such as mission, as well as social/moral issues such as like homosexuality. The GCF would render a service to the churches by trying to apply its methodology in that direction too.
3. GCF and the traditional ecumenical movement
Most respondents regard the GCF not as an alternative to the traditional ecumenical movement, but as a means for renewal of that movement. This leads to two considerations:
It is a good sign that an idea which originated in the bosom of the WCC with the aim of bringing new life to the oikoumene and which has developed into an independent platform is seen as a contribution to renewal. However, during the evaluation process, the researchers often encountered the perspective through articles and quotes by ecumenical experts that GCF is still regarded as a WCC project. This misunderstanding needs clarification.
It cannot be denied that the existence of the GCF raises fear and anxiety among many who cherish the traditional ecumenical movement. Both partners, GCF as well as the traditional ecumenical movement, have to deal with this. The GCF could do so by clarifying what it adds to standard ecumenism.
4. How far has the GCF come?
How far has the GCF come in reaching it goals? Most respondents speak of a promising beginning. It is a start, trust has grown, suspicion has been diminished. But, to be a lasting success, GCF needs to continue for a longer period. At the same time, most respondents and interviewees are not very outspoken about the future of the GCF. The success of the GCF will only be sustainable if the GCF method is applied at the regional, national and grass-roots level too. The Conference of European Churches, for example, has already indicated it intends to support this in Europe. This kind of processes empower the GCF. The GCF could, like other ecumenical bodies, play a role in the mapping and sharing of ‘best practices’.
5. Scope of participation
The scope of participation is good. In the eyes of most respondents at least no important churches or ecumenical organizations have been left out of the process. Of course, not everyone within those churches whose participation in ecumenical gatherings began with the founding of the GCF is convinced of its importance, but here too, a beginning has been made. Several of the respondents see a task for themselves in convincing their brothers and sisters of the importance of the GCF. This seems to be an important task for the future and should be supported by the Committee of the GCF.
6. Support for the Purposes of the GCF
The six purposes of the GCF are generally well supported though people who were interviewed about the GCF seldom mentioned them and referred only to essential aspects of the GCF itself such as broadening the table of the ecumenical debate, getting to know each other, overcoming mistrust and distorted images, all of which are included in the general mission of the GCF. But this does not imply that they do not agree with the Purpose Statement as a whole, although purpose 4 (‘Engage in theological reflection in areas of mutual concern’) is supported less than the other purposes. Almost all respondents share the opinion that there still is a long way to go in the realisation of the purposes.
7. Format of the GCF meetings
Everybody appreciates the methodology of the meetings, although some see it only as a means to another end. The use of both local and regional as well as global meetings is welcomed as very useful. The GCF is challenged to consider its position regarding these different levels.
8. Subjects to be discussed
All kind of issues, theological as well as ethical and social (see pages 39-41), are mentioned as possible items for the future agenda of the GCF. Most respondents fear it is too early to discuss issues that are in dispute, but those with thorough experience of the GCF believe the GCF is already strong enough to discuss all issues, provided that it is done in a proper way.
Communication is currently one of the weakest aspects of the GCF. Surprisingly, quite a number of the ecumenical experts who were consulted by the researchers were not acquainted with the GCF and its activities. More in general, during the time of the evaluation the researchers were confronted with a lack of knowledge of the GCF in their contacts in churches and church meetings. With some exception, the GCF is not written about in articles in church magazines. An inquiry carried out by the GCF secretariat itself regarding the results of the Limuru meeting among the participants of that meeting received little response. This was also reflected in the responses to the questionnaire and indicates that the ‘momentum’ of Limuru did not last long enough to ‘spread the news’. This should be of serious concern to the Committee and should be a point of attention on the agenda of GCF meetings.
10. The structure of the GCF
Most respondents asked for a light structure. We discussed this issue and raised questions about it at the end of chapter 5. The minimal structure of the GCF is both a strength and a weakness. The evaluators believe this issue has not been reflected upon sufficiently by either the Committee or the participants. More attention should be paid to hidden and conflicting motives as well as to those harmful effects mentioned by some respondents.
11. The financing of the GCF
Financing is another difficult issue for the GCF. Here again we refer to chapter 5. The fact that the GCF is financed mainly by members of the ‘traditional ecumenical movement’ is not congruent with GCF participants’ understanding of the GCF.
12. Level of participation
The evaluators were confronted with conflicting statements about the participation of the different faith traditions in the GCF in general and the Limuru meeting in particular. Some voiced disappointment about the level of participation in general: for publicity reasons, the GCF is only interesting if it brings together high level church officials. But on the whole, people are satisfied with the level of participation of Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, especially because many members of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches are known to be critical towards ecumenical initiatives, including the GCF. About the Roman Catholic participation views differed, but several voices pointed out that the participation in Limuru was in accordance with the Roman Catholic standards. In earlier events of the GCF the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity decided on the Roman Catholic delegation, but for Limuru a different approach was chosen: the Regional Bishop’s Councils appointed the delegates. As a result a regional balanced Roman Catholic participation of 20 delegates for Limuru was realized, as a Roman Catholic church leader pointed out. Orthodox participation was regarded as lacking. This is also true of their response to the questionnaire. As noted in previous chapters, Orthodox churches have ambivalent feelings towards the GCF and the WCC because of issues like flexibility, commitment and the possibility of theological debate. The GCF Committee should continue to pay attention to the Orthodox involvement in the GCF.
The evaluators also heard many cautions. In relation to consequences of GCF efforts:
the loss of commitment of churches as developed within the traditional ecumenical movement;
the loss of attention to traditional partners;
the loss of possibilities for public witness.
It should be noted that these cautions are offered only by a minority of the respondents; most are very positive about the GCF and see more possibilities for the GCF than for the WCC in its present form. But as the GCF seeks to address all traditions, it is important to consider these cautions.
‘We have to be aware that until now only the people that are the most open within all denominations will have been present in GCF meetings, people who were able to look critically at themselves too.’
Given by two respondents, these words need to be taken into account, especially for meetings at regional, national and local levels, where it is more likely that participants do not have much experience with encounters of this kind. At the same time, this quote also contains a mission for all the participants of the GCF meetings: to talk and write about their experiences in their own churches and communions more and with more emphasis.