Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is there a role for churches in advocating for a new economic world order?

A Lutheran Seminary keynoter and author proposed that the Church once more plays the kind of influential,international diplomatic role in human rights that its leaders were known for decades ago
Tuesday, December 2, 2008 11:30 am, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Brossman Learning Center
scroll down for lecture notes and more

The 2008 Nolde Lecture

During the 1940s, '50s and '60s influential church leaders profoundly shaped the international diplomacy and human rights issues of the day.

Could it happen again? British author Canon John S. Nurser, whose career has chronicled human rights history internationally, thinks it's possible despite current challenges. Canon Nurser addressed an audience celebrating the life of the late Professor O. Frederick Nolde, who during the above period hob-nobbed with the likes of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Eleanor Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy while taking part in diplomatic talks surrounding Vietnam and the Suez Crisis. Nolde spent two years with others drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Nolde penned sections on Freedom of Religion in the Declaration, which becomes 60 years old next week. In those days he often introduced himself to world leaders as a professor of Christian education at a Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. The professor, who taught at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) for 40 years prior to his death in 1972, is featured in a chapter of a book authored by Nurser entitled For All Peoples and All Nations (Georgetown University Press, 2005). Nolde directed the seminary's Graduate School during many of those years and lived in Wyndmoor, Pa, near the LTSP campus.

"What the ecumenical Christians of the 1940s called 'Christendom-thinking' accepted that in a global era that there no longer ought to be faith-based states, but that world Christianity is called to ask for a specific set of rights in secular states, provided those rights are equally available to all citizens, whatever their faiths," Nurser said in remarks he titled, "Human Rights Needs the Churches: The Gospel Needs Human Rights." "Whether that can hold today remains a vital question. Its fundamental assumption is the divine and human imperative of hospitality, of being 'serious' that our neighbors, within reasonable limits, should be at ease in their life situation. A Christian who follows St. Paul is above all concerned that a neighbor's conscience should be so at ease. This is in my opinion a happy companion to the Golden Rule offered by Jesus and indeed by many others." Nurser's remarks were part of this year's observance connected with the O. Frederick Nolde Ecumenical Lectureship and Seminar at the seminary.

Nolde, among other things, founded the World Council of Churches' Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and convened a May, 1945 meeting in San Francisco that decided on a commitment to human rights in the Charter of the United Nations.

But what of today? Could churches play a role in helping to establish a new and responsible economic world order with the United Nations and issues of human rights as part of the focus for a just world?

"In our own time I suggest churches may be sensing a vocation to become 'serious' about the present economic and financial arrangements of the world," Nurser said. "These two, as was the case of matters in the 1950s, need to answer gospel questions and be changed. In the area of greed and economic privilege - so much closer to our daily life - we have become vulnerable. In my judgment, moving to a global economic order worthy of the task will be a long and painful struggle. Without the stamina that comes from religious conviction it will fail."

Nurser said there is no way that global and economic financial life can be governed "without first agreeing on what institutions have to be set up to begin to undertake such regulation, and then establishing them. And how is such authority to be made to relate to political authorities? The United Nations' human rights bodies have been emasculated from inside by precisely the states that have the most to answer for at that bar. Perhaps the United Nations itself will have to be reformed first. After all, for the first 10 years of its life the UN's Economic and Social Council (to which the Human Rights Commission was responsible) was at the same level as the Security Council."

Nurser called for the kind of spirit that can be found in an examination of Nolde's life work, recognizing that "many voices in the public square, including Christian churches, are calling for a better way to be found to manage global economic and financial life." He suggested that could lead to churches working together to set up an informed conversation about global markets - one that could lead entrusting an agreed-upon agenda to an appropriate officer and staff empowered to act on their behalf.

Following Nolde's approach of decades ago, such an office would cultivate familiarity with the range of economic expertise, both practical and academic, he said. Those involved would get to know the relevant players in international conferences personally, as Nolde did, he said.

"Many Non Governmental Offices (NGOs) now do this, and follow where the CCIA led," he said. "Perhaps the churches no longer have bodies that are sufficiently heavyweight and representative and trans-national in such a field," he said. "Perhaps - above all - the churches have still to work at the mobilization of public opinion of which they are capable" in order for the original vision to be rekindled with relevance for today.

Nurser concluded by reading a paragraph, a kind of "credo", framed by Nolde in 1954 for the occasion of the second assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, IL, a credo that Nurser feels holds continuing relevance for today:

    "This troubled world, disfigured and distorted as it is, is God's world. He rules and overrules its tangled history. In praying 'thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven', we commit ourselves to seek earthly justice, freedom and peace for all men and women. Here as everywhere Christ is our hope - The Fruit of our effort rests in His hands. We can therefore live and work as those who know that God reigns, undaunted by all the arrogant pretensions of evil, ready to face situations that seem hopeless and yet to act in them as men and women whose hope is indestructible."

LTSP President Philip Krey, Nancy Nolde, Canon John Nurser"Canon Nurser with LTSP Student and Alum Respondents
LTSP President Philip Krey,
Nancy Nolde, Canon John Nurser
Canon Nurser and Nancy Nolde
with LTSP Student and Alum Respondents
Members of the Nolde family with Canon John Nurser and his wife
Members of the Nolde family with Canon John Nurser and his wife

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Nolde Lecture 2008 notes in Adobe Acrobat format.

About Nolde lecturer Canon John S. Nurser

Canon John S. Nurser's career focus has been directed toward the secular political structures related to human rights that Christian faith communities helped to establish. He was a Commonwealth (Harkness) Fund Fellow at Harvard Divinity School (1956-57). At Peterhouse, Cambridge (1953-56), he developed a doctoral dissertation focusing on "The Idea of Conscience in the Work of Lord Acton." He served on the steering committee for "Liberty Under the Law," a U.S. Constitution bicentennial exhibition featuring the Lincoln Magna Carta (1985-87). He is an Anglican priest.

Nurser's book For All Peoples and All Nations (Georgetown University Press, 2005) contains a chapter on Nolde's seminal diplomatic work in a time when church leaders played an especially prominent role on the world diplomatic stage. While Nolde taught Christian Education and directed the Graduate School at LTSP over 40 years, he also acted diplomatically in dozens of international situations, including serving as a mediator in the Korean War at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1953). He served as a mediator in negotiations leading to the cessation of hostilities between Greece and Cyprus (1955). In 1968, he played a key role by calling on President Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh to express the churches' concerns for a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam conflict. Nolde was the founding director of the World Council of Churches' Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, which in 1966 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Comments from lecturer Canon John S. Nurser about O. Frederick Nolde

"One of the most extraordinary personal achievements of American history was rooted at LTSP," Nurser contends. "Professor O. Frederick Nolde, who taught Christian Education there during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, played a crucial role in mobilizing American Protestants to demand a post-World War II 'global order,' and one based on human rights. On behalf of the World Council of Churches, he was instrumental in rallying national delegations at the United Nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. He drafted the Declaration's Article 18 on freedom of religion. Our present economic crisis is evidence that we in the Christian churches have the responsibility now, 60 years later, to mobilize support for a responsible economic global order." Nolde was a Wyndmoor, PA, resident during his seminary teaching career. He died in 1972.

"Fred Nolde was by formation a teacher," Nurser notes. "The churches of the world are called to think far more carefully than we do now about the relationship between Christian revelation, the practical world of human experience, and universal human rights. And the fruits of this thinking need to be taught effectively in congregations, in an ecumenical and interfaith context, and in the public square."

About the Nolde Lectureship and Seminar

The Nolde lectureship and seminar encourages students, clergy, and lay leaders to learn about human rights issues through regularly offered courses and events at LTSP, noting that human rights "is an imperative of the Christian Gospel with a particular concern for human rights issues related to the work of the United Nations." Among the goals of the program is to "raise consciousness in seminaries and congregations of the need for effective programs of religious education, both inside and outside of Christianity, on behalf of human rights, particularly the rights of freedom of conscience, information and religious liberty." The program sponsors a special seminar every other year, and a lectureship in the alternate year. Associates in the initiative include the Lutheran Office for World Affairs, the Office of Governmental Affairs of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the United Nations Office of the World Council of Churches, and the Office for International Affairs of the National Council of Churches of Christ of the USA. The program is funded through a generous gift by the Nolde family.