WCC in Porto Alegre: "Struggling against intolerance is a form of resistance"

Jan 29, 2003 09:29 AM EST

Struggling against intolerance is a vital way of resisting the free market model of globalization, according to Geneviève Jacques, director of Programmes for the World Council of Churches (WCC). Speaking at the third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jacques suggested that the struggle against intolerance is directed against dogmatic claims that the free market model is the only option; it responds to a situation of existential crisis produced by the culture of violence and its deadly fruits.

Jacques was speaking at an official Forum programme panel discussion entitled "Fighting against intolerance. Addressing an audience of 600 just a few metres from the River Jacuí, Jacques suggested that globalization's "illusion of universality" seriously threatens the "universality of human rights".

The harmful consequences of globalization - inequality, uncertainty and social fragmentation - constitute a "culture of violence" that crushes cultural diversity, she said. People and communities react by seeking new references that will allow them to strengthen their identities. Asserting these references as absolute values leads to the development of intolerance, thus threatening the universality of human rights.

Jacques challenged her audience to "go further than tolerance" to strive for a "pluralist vision of coexistence and solidarity" that affirms "the dignity of difference". In this context, religions have a lot to contribute, she said, as they are among the "most powerful responses to the question of identity". Affirming religious identity can make a positive contribution to coexistence; fanaticism threatens it, however.

"Pluralism" is necessary, Jacques said. But pluralism involves "seeking a meeting of diversely committed people" rather than covering up differences. To succeed in this, we must create "opportunities for dialogue and mutual trust". Initiatives like the WCC's "Decade to Overcome Violence" (2001-2010) are significant in this context. The Decade provides opportunities to criticise religious legitimisation of violence, and also for self-criticism by those who have "ambiguous attitudes and exclusivist claims".

The Decade calls on churches to create a "life-promoting dialogue" between different religions, to promote mutual understanding and to combine efforts in a common struggle for justice and human rights. Likewise, it invites them "to read the signs of the times", reject the "spirit, logic and practice" of violence, initiate practical action from the perspective of the victims of the culture of violence and, finally, promote networks for exchange and communication.

For Jacques, the World Social Forum provides a special opportunity to "seek a meeting of diversely committed people". Here, among so much diversity, we can enjoy the richness of being able to share experiences and dreams, broaden our horizons, combine efforts and promote strategies, in the knowledge that tens of thousands of participants fervently believe that "a different world is possible", she concluded.

The text of Geneviève Jacques' speech can be found on


The WCC delegation is participating at the World Social Forum within the framework of an Ecumenical Caucus set up by the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Latin American Council of Churches and an ecumenical coalition of Brazilian churches and related organizations.

Delegation members are leading a series of workshops showing links between Christian spirituality and examples of resistance against the unjust world order by churches and social and ecumenical organizations.

By World Council of Churches