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Delegates Respond to Keynote Speech

Bishop Kigasung, Ms de Neyeloff React from Unique Perspectives

WINNIPEG, Canada, 24 July 2003 - The keynote speaker at the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Bishop Dr Margot Kässmann said that she wished she could rewrite her keynote speech in dialogue with her responders.

The bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany, expressed her deep gratitude to key responders, Bishop Dr Wesley Kigasung, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, and Ms Virginia Ivañez de Neyeloff, delegate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Venezuela, for their feedback to her keynote address delivered here Wednesday. She also responded to three delegates who offered additional remarks from the floor.

Bishop Kigasung reinforced Kässmann’s theme of the authority of scripture – sola scriptura – and asked the audience to "listen again" to the earliest accounts in Genesis of the wounding of creation, when God asked of Adam, "Where are you?" and of Cain, "Where is your brother?" The bishop said that the human avoidance of responsibility didn’t change God’s "good and holy intent" for creation. These stories, he said echoing Kässmann’s words, challenge us to respond to our brothers and sisters "with eyes wide open" to the call to accountability implicit in God’s questions.

This message of hope, continued Kigasung, takes form in Jesus and the fulfillment expressed in John 3:16. "Jesus is the hope for all who experience pain and suffering." We must "listen again" to the groaning of the silent majority.

Kigasung concluded with a strong challenge to Christians living in Christian countries, who have actually inflicted many of the world’s wounds. "Listen," he said, "review (your actions) and respond … for the healing of the world."

De Neyeloff reacted to Kässmann’s address from the concrete, regional context of Latin America, where men and especially women feel "the pain of injustice, corruption and unnecessary death." She discussed the historical perspective in which indigenous cultures, that once had their own sophisticated links to nature, were then enslaved and exploited by European conquerors and force-fed a new religion.

"Violence in families is not only the result of poverty, but has cultural and religious roots," she said. "Half of society is steeped in prejudice and inertia ... the other half will have to bring about change."

De Neyeloff proposed concrete steps, such as promoting use of the LWF handbook, "Churches Say 'No' to Violence Against Women," offering gender training from an early age, strengthening models for a "new" masculinity, ordaining women, and making possible free education for the masses. She especially encouraged an "ecumenical response to globalization" in which sectarian points of view are avoided and cooperation encouraged in the face of economic exploitation. She spoke about the enormous debt burden in Latin American countries and said that is a matter of "sinning or serving God" to establish the basis for promoting social justice.

Several delegates also responded to Kässmann’s keynote speech from the floor. Anders Wejryd from the Church of Sweden took issue with Kässmann’s assertion that healing is a central outcome of the Great Commission, and not merely a secondary, diaconal task. The "diaconal task," avowed Wejryd, is the primary response. He also spoke to Kässmann’s point about the inability of poorer nations to afford advanced treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases and stressed the need for enlightened democratic control of medical advances, especially in the field of genetic engineering.

Tore Johnsen, Church of Norway representative of the Sami people, spoke of "the European culture in dialogue with itself," and asked, "Are we (European nations) aware of how powerful we are? Are we willing to address our own cultural hegemony?" He challenged participants to "Listen with the heart . . . and be prepared to change our mindset."

Ingrid Vad Nilsen, also from the Church of Norway, said, "I am a practical person" and "we must not only analyze and theologize" but act in practical, "diaconal ways. . . We need a painful growth experience."

In conclusion Kässmann added to de Neyeloff’s proposals for action in Latin America the need to address the issue of the rapidly growing charismatic healing movement. She agreed that "Diakonia" must be part of the "Esse" (to be, essence) of the church.

To the concern about genetic engineering, she added her own from the perspective of German history. "I want to say, ‘hands off,’" she declared.

As for the unwitting conviction of European cultural supremacy, she stated "I cannot analyze someone else’s context! We in the north have to call our own people to listen. We need to be silent."

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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