The nearly 500 delegates to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) elected Clifton Kirkpatrick – current stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA – as its new president on Monday, August 9, 2004. The unanimous vote, which was made during the WARC’s 24th general council in Accra, Ghana, reaffirmed the great role America plays in the current day global Christianity.
Upon his election, Kirkpatrick said he was surprised about his victory, mostly because of the anti-Americanism that seemed to flourish among many of the poorer nations.
“I had real questions about this (coming from the US),” confessed Kirkpatrick. “Because the driving sources of the growing economic and political and military divide in the world are from the US, though not all of them.”
According to the WARC press release, Kirkpatrick said he raised the issue with the Alliance’s nominating committee and others in WARC and was encouraged to let his name stand as the replacement for CS Song of Taiwan.
“I frankly am surprised that more people have not raised these questions. If there were other candidates, I would have taken a second look,” said Kirkpatrick.
With this election, Kirpatrick, 59, will be experiencing some of the busiest years of his Christian ministry – just last month, Kirkpatrick was re-elected as the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA). His stated clerk position, which he held since 1996, lasts through 2004; His WARC presidential seat lasts for a whopping 7 years. Prior to his role as the highest ecclesiastical leader in the PCUSA – and the second highest paid member of the 2.4 million member denomination – Kirkpatrick served for 15 years directing worldwide ministries for his church.
During an interview following the election, Kirkpatrick said he was “taking this on with a serious degree of humility.”
He also added that his election might have been due to the PCUSA’s recent actions to stop economic and other injustices in the world.
He then outlined three major challenges the 75-million member alliance would have to face in the modern world: transforming the church, WARC and the world. At that end, Kirkpatrick urged Alliance members to play a critical role in renewing the church by including more youth, working for gender justice, focusing on spiritual renewal and demonstrating solidarity for churches in difficulties.
“We are called to transform the world and that’s why we want to transform the church. We want to overcome empires of control and domination to build a world where five or 10 per cent of the population doesn’t control so much of the world’s wealth,” said Kirkpatrick. “The church is a missionary society. In some sense we are chosen by God to be God’s agents to transform the world. It’s at the core of who we are as a people.”
Kirkpatrick was elected as part of a list of 39 nominees. However, according to the WARC, the general council was unanimous in voting for Kirkpatrick and the elections took less than an hour to complete.
Kirkpatrick, who was a part of the previous executive committee, will now head 40-member committee. The committee is the Alliance’s highest decision=making bodies between the general council meetings, which take place only once in every seven years.
Other officers elected during the general conference in Ghana included five ordained clergy: Lilia Rafalimanana of Madagascar, Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang of Indonesia, Ofelia Ortega of Cuba and Gottfried Locher of Switzerland, and two lay people Helis Hernán Barraza Díaz of Colombia and Marcelle Joy Mafi of New Zealand.
Currently, about two-thirds of the executive committee members are ordained clergy; eighteen are men and eight are women’ and ten of the lay members are women and four are men.
The Alliance’s general secretary is Setri Nyomi, from Ghana.
According to the WARc, there is one side effect of Kirkpatrick’s election: Now, two of the three global church organizations based in Geneva, Switzerland, will both be headed by a US clergyman as president and an African clergyman as general secretary. The Lutheran World Federation is led by US bishop Mark Hanson as its president and Zimbabwean theologian Ishmael Noko as general secretary. The World Council of Churches, also headquartered in Switzerland, also has an African general secretary.