Its balmy setting belied the stormy nature of the World Council of Churches Central Committee meeting in Jamaica last month.

The eleven-day sessions on the campus of the University of the West Indies opened placidly enough. The colonial-style chapel, with ceiling checkered by the coats of arms of the Caribbean nations, had its doors and windows flung open, revealing the lush surrounding foliage. The international gathering heard Scripture passages on liberation themes read in three languages from a lectern carved in the shape of a pelican with wings extended.

Subsequent sessions were less placid. Since the last meeting in Geneva in 1977 a mountain of criticism had piled up for the 140-member committee.

In his report, general secretary Philip Potter recalled the inauguration of the WCC thirty years earlier in Amsterdam. “This ought to be a time of celebration,” he said, but he judged that the mood was “more of sober and even anxious reflection.” The WCC was “at a crossroads vis-à-vis its relations with the member churches and the size and direction of its work.”

“In the first twenty years of the life of the Council,” Potter said, “we had a clear mandate to promote the unity of the church.” But, he went on, in more recent years the realization that “the whole life of humankind comes under God’s rule and [is] therefore the concern of the churches” has come to the fore. This led to the perception “that a radical change of economic, social, and political structures is needed.”

“The present debate,” Potter continued “has raged mainly around the Program to Combat Racism [and its $85,000 grant to the guerilla groups fighting ...

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