Globalization and the culture of violence were the focus of a 27 February to 2 March visit to Thailand by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser. His visit to the Buddhist-majority country was the second stage of a 12-day, four-nation WCC visit to Asia; it included visits to schools and hospitals in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and was described as a welcome encouragement to the national Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT).
At a worship service that drew participants from many CCT congregations as well as representatives of other Christian groups, Raiser spoke of Christian discipleship in the face of violence. Building on Jesus' response to the question, "What am I to do to earn the kingdom?", Raiser suggested that Christians must question their own use of violence, whether in international military responses to terrorism or in the war on drugs. Linking active Christian obedience with the difficulty of being neighbours to one another in a world in which the culture of violence is increasingly eroding common humanity, Raiser challenged Christians to apply Jesus' advice: "Do not let evil defeat you; instead conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
Violence and drugs
Being Christian is difficult in a world in which the use of violence in response to violence is increasingly accepted, Raiser said. In Thailand for example, the local manifestation of violence - a "war on drugs" - is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths per month and threatens the fabric of society itself. Since the end of the Vietnam war, Thailand has benefited, and suffered, from globalization and economic growth, and what was once a "flow-through" drug trade has an increasing impact locally and has led to social deterioration.
"We are not living in a Christian ghetto," Raiser challenged his listeners. "We live with Buddhists and Muslims, with urban and rural poverty, with victims of HIV/AIDS. If we want to be a community in the spirit of Christ, we must resist the temptation to use violence in attempting to root out the causes of violence. The root causes cannot be changed by the use of force."
Instead, Christians must fight to build true community. Rebuilding the moral fabric that has been torn apart by drugs is a way of overcoming evil with good. That could mean teaching young people to identify the danger and respond to the evil present in drug use and trafficking, Raiser suggested.
In conversations with the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Thailand, Cardinal Meechai Kitboonchu, and leaders of the country's Muslim and majority Buddhist communities, Raiser emphasized mutual good will and cooperative relationships.
Meeting with the head of Thailand's Muslim community, the Sheik-ul-Islam Sowat Sumalayasak, Raiser expressed his good wishes for the community's peace and well-being. As a fellowship of many churches, the WCC has a sense of spiritual fellowship with Muslims, he noted. In particular, it has clearly rejected the use of military means to resolve the conflict related to Iraq. Although that conflict seems to oppose Christians and Muslims, "We are convinced that it has no connection with religious conviction, but is essentially political. We are convinced that it is our common task, as people of faith, to bring a witness of peace and reconciliation to this problem."
In an audience with Thailand's Supreme Patriarch, Raiser said that Thai Buddhism's spirit of dialogue was a source of inspiration for building relationships between religions. His Holiness recalled Chao Fa (Prince) Mongkut's invitation to missionaries to teach Buddhist monks in his temple in the 1840s, and recalled that he himself had reinstated the practice when he became abbot of the same temple. Thai church leaders accompanying Raiser on this visit expressed their affection and respect for the aging Supreme Patriarch, one of the world's senior religious leaders.