The Presbyterian Church (USA) Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church began talks on the impact of economic globalization on nations and churches, the role of women in church and society, and the role of the church in resolving conflicts, during its meeting at the PC(USA) headquarter in Louisville, Ky., Oct 16, 2004.
The discussions were centered on the resolutions made during the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) General Council earlier in the year. The Council, which met in Accra, Ghana, concluded that the global world economic system and the income gap between rich and poor countries make it harder to form an ecumenical system of international fellowship.
“The economic gap between the United States and other countries makes friendship harder and breeds anti-U.S. sentiment, even in historically friendly countries like South Korea,” said the Rev. Jong Hyeong Lee of Chicago.
The Rev. Jose Luis Torres-Milan of Aguadilla, PR, added that even within the US, economic disparities are widely prevalent.
"I come from an island that is not part of the U.S., but which BELONGS to the U.S.," Torres-Milan said.. "More than 50 percent of our 4 million people live below the poverty line, only 28 percent speak English, and the predominance of employment on our island is part-time at places like Wal-Mart," he said. "This is important for the PC(USA) because many people have made a decision to stay away from church and other social institutions in order to make money."
"The PC(USA) sends millions of dollars overseas while Latino churches in the U.S. and Puerto Rico starve," Torres-Milan added. "We say we're a 'welcoming' church, but we're not enough of a sharing church."
However, the Rev. Mike Loudon of Lakeland, FL noted that despite the problems, capitalism offers many avenues for unity.
"I'd like to offer a word on behalf of capitalism," said Loudon. "I'm well aware it's not a perfect system economically. But the members of the church I serve - who make and lose a lot of money - are also very generous. Their gifts to the church . . . are used to further the work of God in the world."
The Rev. John Wilkinson of Rochester, NY, said he's "convinced that I'm not a very good citizen of the world because I'm so focused on the life of our church." He said things are changing so rapidly in both the church and culture "that I wonder if we're able to transform culture, as the Reformers insist we do. What new paradigms of church can we come up with?"
Jenny Stoner, task force co-moderator from Craftsbury, VT, said U.S. Presbyterians need to be reminded that "sister churches in other parts of the world are also in transition." Reflecting on reactions from other churches to the PC(USA)'s debates on such issues as gay ordination, she said, "Their 'official word' is also not the only voice in those churches. We need to be aware of where they are, but also realize that they are changing rapidly, too."
The Rev. Mark Achtemeier of Dubuque Theological Seminary said he's "struck by differences between American Episcopals and world Anglicans and between the PC(USA) and WARC." He cautioned against the kind of "unilateralism" of the Episcopal Church that has led to serious breaches in the worldwide Anglican communion. "I don't want us to fall into the same chaos that the Episcopals have B> with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa over ordination, for instance. We have a chance to be a significant model for others by negotiating resolution better than has been done by others."
Barbara Wheeler, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, also stressed the importance of modeling "dignified differences."
"It (modeling respectful conflict resolution) matters to us because the world is hungry for and pleading for examples of dignified differences not to make life more comfortable and agreeable for our church but because the gospel demands reconciliation in the face of inequities," said Wheeler. "Our (conflict resolution) has to matter beyond our borders, or it's sinful self indulgence on our part."
The church's mission, Wheeler said, "is to give up conflict without giving up convictions - to dignify difference by not giving up our convictions but by not giving up each other either."