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Olav Tveit

PETER KENNY and STEPHEN BROWN report for Ecumenical News International…

Ecumenical News International

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches has said that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories should be declared a “sin against God”. 

“Occupation along with the concomitant humiliation of a whole people for over six decades constitutes not just economic and political crimes but, like anti-Semitism, it is a sin against God,” said WCC general secretary Rev Samuel Kobia, in a report on 26th August to a meeting of the church grouping’s main governing body, its central committee.

Olav Tveit

PRESIDENT-ELECT: Rev Olav Fykse Tveit has been elected general secretary of the World Council of Churches. PICTURE: Peter Williams/WCC.



The Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, an ordained pastor in the Church of Norway, has been elected as general secretary of the World Council of Churches. 

The announcement was made in Geneva on 27th August by the WCC’s main governing body, its central committee. 

Rev Tveit, born on 24th November, 1960, is general secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations. He was chosen during a 26th August to 2nd September meeting of the WCC governing body. 

The Norwegian theologian will succeed Rev Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, who stands down at the end of 2009. 

Two candidates were proposed by a search committee. Rev Tveit’s challenger was the Rev Park Seong-won, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of Korea and a professor of theology at Youngnam Theological University and Seminary in Kyeongsan, South Korea. 

Rev Kobia had announced at the last meeting of the Central Committee in February 2008 that for “personal reasons” he would not seek a second term in office at the head of the Geneva-based grouping that now has 349 member churches, principally Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant. 

In an interview with a German newspaper in advance of the election, Rev Tveit said he would like to see increased contacts between the WCC and the world’s fast-growing Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and greater cooperation between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The Catholic Church is not a WCC member but it has members on some WCC committees. Rev Tveit also said that the WCC needed to give greater attention to relations with Islam. 

Rev Kobia was elected in 2003 to lead the Geneva-based grouping. He was the first African appointed to the post, and took up office in January 2004 for a five-year term. After he had announced in 2008 that he would not seek a second term, his tenure was temporarily extended. 

• To read the full text of Rev Tveit’s first speech to the WCC central committee following his election, click here


He noted that at its founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948, the WCC has declared that anti-Semitism is a “sin against God”. Rev Kobia said, “Are we ready to say that occupation is also a sin against God?” 

In his speech, Rev Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, referred to areas he visited during his tenure and noted the need for urgency in seeking peace for the Middle East region. 

“In the context of war and violence in the region, people are desperately searching for security for themselves and their families,” he said. 

He was giving his final report to the main governing body of the WCC as the grouping’s general secretary, before he steps down at the end of 2009.

Rev Kobia was elected to a five-year term that began in 2004 and announced in February 2008 that for “personal reasons” he would not seek a second term. 

The WCC groups 349 churches, principally Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC but has members on some of its committees. 

Speaking to journalists after delivering his report, Rev Kobia referred to the “dehumanisation” of both the occupied and the occupiers in the Palestinian territories. 

“The concern is not only for the victims but also the perpetrators,” he stated, referring to Israel. 

Rev Kobia recalled that former South African president Nelson Mandela had once said that a condemnation by the WCC of apartheid as “sin” had helped undermine the system of minority white rule. 

In his report to the WCC governing body, Rev Kobia said that the “the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories” needed to be seen “within the broader historical context of ethnic upheaval in Palestine which paved the way for the creation of the modern state of Israel”. 

While he said Israelis recalled “The War of Independence” that led to the foundation of the State of Israel, for Palestinians the period would always be known as the “Nakba” or “catastrophe”. Many Palestinians would remember this as “a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that saw the largest forced migration in modern history”, Rev Kobia said. 

“It is estimated that no less than a million people were expelled from their homes at gunpoint, civilians were massacred, hundreds of Palestinian villages deliberately destroyed, mosques and churches profaned, and convents and schools vandalised. 

“What in 1948 was described by Palestinians leaders as ‘racism and ghettoising the Palestinians in Haifa” has by the beginning of the 21st century in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza become a full-blown apartheid system complete with its brand of ‘Bantustans’,” argued Rev Kobia, referring to the nominally black-ruled territories in South Africa during the apartheid era. 

He said that hundreds of church-owned properties were at risk in current evictions of Palestinian families and demolition of their homes in East Jerusalem, and that the Israeli actions hobbled efforts by the new U.S. administration to reach out to the Middle East. 

Rev Kobia also referred to visiting Damascus with the heads of the Middle East Council of Churches and of the Christian Conference of Asia. 

There they met, “Iraqi Christians who had been forced to leave their country simply because they were Christians and the occupation of their country was seen as a form of modern day Christian crusade”. 

“This issue requires, at the least, close co-operation with churches in the receiving countries but, even more, a common commitment for peaceful solutions to the conflicts in the region,” asserted Rev Kobia. “We must all play a part in finding solutions. The Middle East needs peace and needs it today, for tomorrow is too late.”



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