Designating this as International Year for Human Rights was a splendid idea. Freedom of religion and civil liberty, it is said, are like Hippocrates’ twins: they weep or laugh, live or die together. Since effective influence is usually exerted through collective action, it was fitting that the World Council of Churches a few months ago issued a statement on the subject. This said in part: “Disturbances in many countries and regions arise when human dignity is not recognized and human rights are not observed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights warns that, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” The statement called for prompt and concerted action at the national and international level.
This is altogether laudable. So too is a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Mrs. Helen Joseph, whom the South African government recently placed under a second five-year confinement to her home every evening, weekend, and public holiday. Dr. Ramsey was “distressed beyond words at the injustice with which you have been treated and at the hardship and frustration which you are facing.”
These are the sort of words one expects from the WCC and from one of its presidents. Some evangelicals whose concern for human rights is no less keen than that found in Geneva or Lambeth would heartily concur with these expressions. There are others, however, whose sweeping condemnation of the WCC and its works extends to compassionate projects where doctrinal orthodoxy is utterly irrelevant.
Yet though we regret this shortsightedness in evangelical circles, some of us who cover major ecumenical occasions ...1
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