by Deann Alford
World Evangelical Fellowship moves into the new century with a new name and energized vision.
World Evangelical Fellowship moves into the new century with a new name and energized vision. The new name, World Evangelical Alliance, was among the changes made at WEF’s 11th General Assembly, May 4-11 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Some 600 Christian leaders from 84 countries attended the strategic week-long gathering and pre-assembly meetings. The General Assembly is held every four to five years.
WEF will become the WEA on January 1. It’s a move that comes as evangelicals around the world are restating their commitment to full obedience to the Great Commission of Christ. This commitment extends to social issues, whether helping refugees or taking stands on Third World debt and on the abuse of women, all of which received special focus at the assembly.
"I think that the name change reflects the reality [of WEF]," said Mark Albrecht, who moderates the e-mail news service of WEF’s Religious Liberty Commission. "WEF is composed of autonomous national fellowships and therefore somewhat decentralized. To call WEF an alliance is more reflective of that."
WEF’s leadership calls itself "the world’s largest evangelical cooperative," uniting both churches and parachurch organizations to pool resources and expertise. "Now more than ever, WEF sees the church of Christ firmly established around the world, even as it engages in appropriate social action and advocacy for religious liberty in the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth," said Bill Taylor, executive director of WEF’s mission commission.
WEF international director Agustin "Jun" Veneer told a press conference at the assembly that the highlight of the 2001 General Assembly was evangelicals’ making a greater commitment to look less at themselves and more at society for the betterment of the community.
The focus of the Kuala Lumpur gathering was wholistic, rather than reducing the gospel to "simple proclamation."
"I’m very much in favor of that," Albrecht said of WEF’s added focus on advocacy. "I think the gospel is often heard better in that context."
WEF delegates passed a resolution calling on world governments and financial institutions to "act decisively, transparently and with integrity to combat corruption and fulfill the Jubilee 2000 vision [of forgiving Third-World debt] by taking the necessary steps to break the chains of debt and give a new start to the world’s poorest nations."
While the Jubilee 2000 campaign has been partly successful in getting governments to cancel debt, "We still have a situation where more money is flowing out of poor countries in debt repayments than is given in aid," said Stephen Rand, prayer and campaigns director of the UK-based relief and development agency Tearfund. "There are countries spending more on repaying debt than on health and education. Debt still means that children of the poor are dying of preventable diseases."
While welcoming pledges made by Western governments to cancel the unpayable debt owed by impoverished developing nations, WEF said "There is unfinished business on the international agenda" to meet the goal of cutting world poverty in half by 2015.
A report by WEF’s Commission on Women’s Concerns found that violence against women is nearly as bad in the church as in wider society. WEF has called on the church to denounce from the pulpit all forms of abuse and violence against women and girls, to protect and help those in need of safety, to offer healing to victims and to admonish abusers.
"We are very aware that [some] Christian leaders are abusing their wives and abusing women," said Winnie Bartel, chair of the women’s commission. Bartel herself was sexually abused as a child by a deacon in her church. Church leaders covered up the abuse. "If more male leaders took a stand and went to bat on this issue, it might have a great influence on their peers and create a sense of accountability that’s missing," Bartel said.
The women’s commission launched the book No Place for Abuse, which addresses the issue, provides sermon outlines and Bible studies, and contains counseling techniques and practical pastoral tips.
James Stamoolis, executive director of WEF’s theological commission, said that abusers sometimes use the Bible to justify their actions. "There are no grounds for the often-held view that the Bible supports the idea of women as mere property of their husbands or families," he said.
Outgoing director Veneer, a Filipino lawyer, pastor and former head of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, has led WEF for nine years. "For nine years Jun provided leadership for a global movement from the ‘South,’ [that is, non-North American or European]," Taylor said. To Taylor’s knowledge, Veneer has been WEF’s only leader not from the West. "He has both broadened and sharpened the focus of the World Evangelical Fellowship." Taylor lauded Veneer for bringing a more integrated theology to WEF. "When Jun Veneer talks about discipling a nation, it’s not just evangelization and churches, but there are also social, justice and economic issues, in the name of Christ."
Veneer now steps down from his post, and with it, WEF’s international headquarters in Singapore is closing. The assembly appointed a six-member interim International Operating Team to guide WEF during its search for a new international director and as WEF considers the right structure and leadership for the future. During the yearlong search process, WEF’s international secretariat will move to Wheaton, Ill.
Earlier this year, the WEF international council asked Interdev, an evangelical group that helps create strategic partnerships between Christian organizations, to restructure WEF and evaluate its vision, structure and leadership. Interdev will also make recommendations for WEF’s future, for the interim operating team and the council, Taylor said.
Central to the issue of redefining the organization, Taylor said, is "How will the individual believer in Mongolia, Nepal or Bulgaria link to the global body of Jesus Christ?" Once restructured, Taylor said, "I would hope WEF would serve the global body of Christ in a much better and significant way."
Deann Alford is Latin America Mission correspondent for Compass Direct.
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