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close this bookOvercoming Violence: WCC Statements and Actions 1994-2000 (WCC, 2000, 130 p.)
close this folderReports of the Programme to Overcome Violence
View the documentReport of the Consultation on the Programme to Overcome Violence, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 13-18 April 1996
Open this folder and view contentsFinal Documents: Programme to Overcome Violence Consultations
View the documentPeace to the City: A Global Initiative of the WCC
View the documentDreaming the Decade to Overcome Violence - Final Report of the Peace to the City Core Group, Stuttgart, Germany, 15-16 June 1999

Report of the Consultation on the Programme to Overcome Violence, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 13-18 April 1996


The Programme to Overcome Violence (POV) created by the Central Committee in Johannesburg, January 1994, has already stimulated movement among the member churches and groups related to the ecumenical movement around the world. Both they and the various programs of the WCC have begun to focus their work against violence and for peace in this broad context. From the outset, it was clear that the rapidly rising tide of violence around the world, its many manifestations and its deep-rooted, complex causes combine to make this one of the most important, but at the same time one of the most ambitious programme initiatives undertaken by the WCC. Expectations of the POV differ widely from region to region, and among the various constituencies of the WCC. Hopes run high for quick results, for the impact of violence in its many forms is deeply felt.

The POV can be regarded as a broad framework within which the efforts of churches and groups can find their own place. There is room for many creative, interrelated initiatives. At the same time, the Council has recognized the need for a clear, focused challenge to what the Programme has described as a global culture of violence. That focus should galvanize the efforts of the churches in a dramatic common witness to the hope that we share that God wills peace and justice for all, and that in Christ this hope can be realized.

The Central Committee asked that a small consultation be convened to help define that focus. To this end, Unit III on Justice, Peace and Creation invited a group of persons engaged in creative, church-related efforts to build a culture of peace to advise the WCC on next steps for the POV.

This meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 13-18 April 1996, at the headquarters of the Institute of Religious Studies (ISER), hosted by “Viva Rio,” a remarkable broad-based citizens’ initiative to construct a culture of peace in a city whose social fabric has been shredded by both momentary and endemic violence.

This Consultation has elaborated a mid-term focus for the POV from now until the forthcoming Eighth Assembly of the WCC (Harare, 1998), as a means of mobilizing church and ecumenical actions to overcome violence in a way which will equip them to make a forceful common commitment for building a culture of peace as we approach the third millennium.

It proposes to the Central Committee the initiation of a campaign entitled:

Peace to the City
A Global Initiative of the World Council of Churches
Programme to Overcome Violence

This report weaves together and expands upon earlier work on the POV done by the Central Committee, the Unit III Commission and its staff, and the CCIA Board. It is commended by the Consultation to the Central Committee for appropriate action.


Within the last decade, the world experienced vast changes that may mark the end of an epoch, particularly in world affairs and in some regions. Systems of state socialism in Eastern Europe collapsed. The Cold War ended, and its grip on international relations relaxed. The superpowers took significant steps in disarmament. South Africa achieved a remarkable transition to its first democratically elected government. New possibilities for peace arose in Africa, in Central America, in Asia, and in the Middle East.

Yet hopes for peace inspired by these changes collided with the outbreak of new wars across and within national boundaries. Warring parties continue to use weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction, and noncombatants remain the principle victims. A resurgence of conflicts which exploit and manipulate peoples’ histories, identity, ethnicity, race and religion led to practices of genocidal violence, ethnic cleansing and crimes of hate. Rape resurfaced as a systematic practice, an integral component of the arsenal of terror, humiliation and defeat. Millions of people were uprooted by violence and war, and places of refuge became scarce.

Meanwhile, other long-standing practices and structures that promote systems of violence endure. Violence against women increases inside and outside the home. Safe space for children continues to shrink. Trafficking of women and children for sexual slavery remains rampant. Increasing economic exclusion for many suppresses possibilities for genuine social and political participation. Attitudes and systems of racial discrimination persevere. Crime and urban violence makes human habitats increasingly unlivable. Ecological degradation threatens the possibility of health and wholeness for current and future generations as well as all of creation.

Violence permeates our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, our nations and our world. Violence endangers all other possibilities for justice, participation and ecological sustainability.

In the face of these realities, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches launched, in January 1994, a Programme to Overcome Violence. In initiating such a programme, the WCC hopes to engage with churches, Christian groups and others committed to this work in a journey of transformation toward constructing cultures of peace with justice in homes, churches, communities, nations and the world.

With its origins forged in the midst of war, the World Council of Churches’ engagement on issues of peace and justice does not begin with the Programme to Overcome Violence. Throughout the history of the Council, much of its work relates to these issues, although the nature of the debates within the ecumenical movement about such questions have shifted somewhat across time. After decades of experience in active programmes as well as theological reflection, a renewed emphasis on joining work for peace with engagement for justice more deliberately and explicitly came at a number of points in the 1990 Seoul Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, but particularly in the adoption of Affirmation VI, stating, “We affirm the full meaning of God’s Peace. We are called to seek every possible means of establishing justice, achieving peace and solving conflicts by active non-violence.”

Although no consensus exists among churches about Christian approaches to violence and nonviolence, a deep yearning to build lasting peace, grounded in justice, finds a new, more urgent expression in many churches today. Such urgency arises from concrete experiences where churches face situations and structures of violence in arenas stretching from the local to the global. At stake may be the very survival of life in human community, sustained with the creation.

At this point, the WCC does not seek to resolve the long-standing debate about Christian perspectives on violence and nonviolence. Nor do we seek to specify the relative justice of particular wars or specific uses of violence. Rather, we want to focus on building and rebuilding “jubilee communities” (in the language of the WCC Eighth Assembly) of justice, peace, and ecological sustainability at local, national and international levels. Together with the churches, we want to start afresh with new and renewed vision, more penetrating analysis and more creative methods to obtain a just peace. The following assumptions, principles, and recommendations should guide the WCC’s continuing engagement with churches, Christian organizations within and beyond its own traditional constituency, people of other faiths, and all those who share our hope for overcoming violence, particularly in the period up to the Eighth Assembly in 1998.

Rationale for Peace to the City

Many parts of the Bible make reference to the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem (e.g. Revelations 21:2). On the one hand, this vision of the holy city draws attention to the eschatological dimension of our faith. God will one day create peace with justice in its full meaning. On the other hand, this vision of the heavenly Jerusalem is a means used, for example, by the prophets repeatedly to challenge unjust structures. Rich images and concepts - an abundant life for all, justice found in right relations among people, with God and creation, and peace in all its fullness - are linked with the vision of the holy city throughout the Bible. An initiative immersed in Biblical imagery and witness will encourage Christians to resist violence in all its forms.

The writers of the epistles began with the greeting, “Grace and peace to you”. “Peace to the City” invokes this greeting to those who, as churches in New Testament times, experience division, tension and who live in the midst of violent societies.

Cities are the main unit of modern, contemporary society. As centres of population, commerce, finance, political power and culture, they form a metaphor for the modern world.

Cities are found all over the globe - North, South, East, West - and contain many common characteristics.

Cities experience most forms of violence. They house the people and institutions that shape systems of globalization and national military rivalries. Cities demonstrate the global homogenization of norms, values and culture represented in these systems. State and police violence are prominent in the city. Civil wars often take place in the midst of cities. Ethnic groups, youth and criminal elements use the city as a battleground. Women dare not venture out at night or during the day in the wrong part of the city for fear of violence and rape, only to return home often to find no safety there either. Children, especially those in poor sections, have little safe room to play outside their homes and, like women, too often face the threat of beating and sexual abuse inside their homes.

Cities contain both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Both rich and poor live in cities, and both are potential victims of many of the forms of violence found there. As the places where the vast majority of the world’s people live, cities often demonstrate that civilians bear the heaviest burdens produced by the death and destruction of war, crime and other forms of violence.

Urbanization of the world takes its toll on creation. People crowded into small spaces often brings severe consequences to the environment as well as to the human spirit. Although in close quarters with one another, people nonetheless often become more isolated and atomized.

Yet cities are also one of the significant places where people organize to reconstruct their communities, form new civic alliances to rebuild the potential for living with greater justice and peace, to reorient their homes and personal lives for health, healing and wholeness, and to reclaim the richness of their cultural diversity. Poor people in cities demonstrate remarkable ingenuity for survival, and poor sections give evidence of determined vitality.

Cities are one of the places where people organize to bring about social change. When people build institutions controlled by and accountable to people in the neighbourhoods where they live, they may then be able to use this experience to transform the state and global arena. When people reclaim their cities, they reclaim their rights to control their lives.

Churches and other Christian and religious groups are in the city. An initiative focused on the city gives new possibilities for partnerships between those already involved in ecumenical networks, many evangelical or pentecostal groups, and other faiths, largely outside these networks. The city is a place where Christians can give dramatic, concrete and effective evidence of their commitment to overcome violence.