Human rights is the hallmark of church assembly
Vancouver, British Columbia
World Council of Churches delegates here seemed determined to leave a legacy of a strong stand on human rights as the trademark of their Sixth Assembly, which closed today. The theme of the gathering was: ''Jesus Christ - The Life of the World.''
This issue was threaded through formal and informal sessions and was highlighted by sharp criticism of US policies in Central America.
In a statement on human rights, delegates urged Christians throughout the world to adopt a ''pastoral approach, which combines prayer, preaching, and practical efforts in action.''
A human rights study group called for the elimination of all forms of inhumanity, brutality, discrimination, persecution, and oppression, both within the delegates' own countries and situations, and in ecumenical solidarity on a regional and world level.
This stance was in line with the final message of the Sixth Assembly to the World Council of Churches' (WCC) 301 member churches which holds that evangelism and action for peace and justice cannot be separated.
This came against the backdrop of what observers here called a significant movement toward visible unity among member churches here.
Political conservatives, including supporters of President Reagan's policies in Central America, charge that clergy have improperly injected themselves into a political controversy. WCC leaders insist, however, that human rights is a religious issue.
''In reconciling God with humankind and creation, Jesus Christ has also reconciled human beings with each other,'' stated a paper issued as a guideline for delegate debate. ''Love of our neighbors is the essence of obedience to God, '' it continued.
What can churches do to make their members more sensitive to human rights issues? Recommendations include: establishing an international day of prayer on this issue; creating a world action week to educate church members and others; and setting up regional and global review conferences to assess progress being made by churches on this question.
These wide-ranging suggestions are almost certainly acceptable to the general assemblage here. More controversial are positions which include broad condemnation by WCC of US policies in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Among them: opposition to any type of military intervention by the United States, covert or overt, in Central America; a demand that the (pre-coup) government of Guatemala cease its policy of exterminating the ''lives of men, women, and children among its indigenous population''; urging the government of El Salvador to enter into ''fruitful dialogue'' with its political and military opposition, with an eye toward lasting peace; and encouraging the process of reconciliation among Nicaraguan minorities and the Spanish-speaking majority.
WCC delegates here have repeatedly urged more emphasis on freedom, particularly religious freedom, as a human right to be protected by churches and the religious community.
''Freedom and religious freedom must be championed with more vigor than ever before,'' said Baptist minister David Russell of the United Kingdom. He urged churches to bring out into the open any affronts to religious liberty.
Swiss Reformed delegate Jean Pierre Jornod agreed. He said the WCC should ''denounce and intervene'' when violations of religious freedom occur. United Church of Canada delegate Robert Smith showed concern over the recent action by the government of British Columbia to dismantle its human rights commission. He wants the WCC to make specific reference, in its final resolutions, to the aboriginal land rights of native Canadians.
Earlier in this 18-day convocation, Julia Esquival, a Guatemalan poet and ecumenical writer living in exile in Switzerland, made an impassioned plea to Central American delegates here to rally ''on behalf of their desperate brothers and sisters whose lives are endangered by threatened US military action in the region.''