Evangelicals have a stereotype of the World Council of Churches (WCC): that it is ideologically biased against the West, that it is hesitant to affirm the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and that it emphasizes justice and social action at the expense of personal holiness and evangelism. Evangelicals who attended last month’s WCC convocation on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation held in Seoul, South Korea, by and large came away believing there is no urgent need to revise the stereotype.

When various speakers addressed traditional WCC themes, such as capitalism’s moral ills, there was enthusiasm aplenty. But when a Russian Orthodox church leader from Moscow touted the pluses of private enterprise, no one applauded. Neither was there applause when a Hungarian theologian suggested that South Korea’s rags-to-riches story merited a closer look. Nor when a Dutchman chided the WCC for its past failures to speak out for dissidents in the Communist bloc as boldly as it raised its voice for Third World dissidents imprisoned for taking their stand for justice.

The March 5–13 gathering marked the culmination of a process begun at the WCC’s 1983 assembly in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. At that meeting, the worldwide ecumenical body challenged Christians to view environmental concerns as inseparable from issues of peace and justice, WCC general secretary Emilio Castro said after the Seoul convocation that participants “reached a common understanding that without justice there is no ecological solution to the world’s problems, and without peace there is little hope for justice or the environment.”

While welcoming the emphasis on environmental issues, U.S. theologian Ron Sider faulted delegates’ failure to affirm humanity’s unique status in creation. Sider went to Seoul as an observer appointed by the World Evangelical Fellowship, but was given full voting rights and named moderator of a drafting committee.

In a plenary session on the final day of the assembly, Sider proposed an amendment affirming that “people alone have been created in the image of God.” The amendment passed, but only after the word alone was deleted, which to Sider was tantamount to concluding that “perhaps trees and toads also bear the imago Dei.”

In discussing the conference with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Sider called the theology articulated in Seoul “woefully inadequate” and “occasionally wrong.” He cited a “pervasive unwillingness to place Jesus Christ, true God and true man, at the center of the Christian struggle for shalom,” and he observed that participants “looked for unity less in Jesus Christ than in the common struggle against oppression.” Sider added that there was “almost no interest in discussing the role of personal sin and conversion.”

On matters of politics and economics, according to Sider, “the North was one-sidedly blamed for global poverty.” “Speakers,” he said, “denounced capitalism’s weaknesses without acknowledging its strengths.” Sider called for the WCC to invite “conservative economists and leaders of business to participate fully in the dialogue about how to empower the poor.”

Despite his negative critique of the Seoul assembly, Sider maintains the WCC has made an important contribution by insisting that environmental issues be viewed in the context of peace and justice. And observing that one side effect of industrialized capitalistic societies around the world has been the creation of “economic underclasses,” he said the WCC has a legitimate fear that “triumphalistic capitalism” will “ride roughshod over the poor of the earth.”

Sider also credited the WCC for what he believes is its genuine welcoming of evangelical participation. He said that without such participation—and a more biblically solid theology that evangelicals could help develop—the WCC is destined for marginalization and irrelevance.

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