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The rights of the roundtable: a discussion on human rights and democratic development.

On a crisp, fall day in November, 35 people from the Synod of British Columbia gathered at Goward House in Victoria. Their purpose was to explore "The Role of the Church in Civil Society at the Beginning of the Third Millennium," in particular through support for human rights and democratic development.

The roundtable discussion was organized by a virtual committee, which met by phone, fax and e-mail: convener Rev. Brian Crosby (Trinity Church, Victoria), co-ordinator Dawn McLean (St. Andrew's, Victoria), Rev. Wayne Stretch (pastoral and program director), Rev. Fred Speckeen (Kelowna) and Rev. Alfred Lee and Michael Hwang (Presbytery of Western Han-Ca). Most met for the first time at the event.

Rev. Glenn Inglis and his colleague, Billy Mayaya, both from the Projects Office of Blantyre Synod, Malawi, set the stage. At a public event on Friday night, Inglis focused on the story of Peter's confession in the Gospel of Mark. Like Peter, he said, we often know who Jesus is but are mistaken in what Jesus calls us to do. So we neglect important issues such as human rights and democratic development. Many of Jesus' public pronouncements, he pointed out, had strong economic themes. Jesus was an activist for the poor, the least, the last and the lost, he said.

Mayaya described the strong social context of the church's role in Malawi, from David Livingstone's desire to end the slave trade to the current program of Civic, Voter and Human Rights Education. He also spoke of the many obstacles to democracy and human rights in Malawi: the conservatism of a church that opposes education on the use of condoms while countless young Christians are infected by the HIV virus every month; the poverty and illiteracy of much of the population that makes them easy prey for the false promises of corrupt politicians; the impact of external debt that has reduced government expenditures in health and education in order to devote a quarter of Malawi's income to debt reduction.

Three panelists, Rev. John Steele, Maeve Lydon and Fred Speckeen, added insights from their experiences in Burundi, Canada and Central America. In small groups, participants explored the need for courage to face justice issues in Canada and the importance of identifying issues in which to put one's heart and soul.

The roundtable was one of a series entitled "Building Global Community: Challenges for the Church in the Third Millennium," a project of the International Affairs Committee of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Rev. Carol Smith, convener of the International Affairs Committee, believes the roundtables (the first was held in Waterloo, Ontario) have been opportunities "to integrate the Christian faith with global concerns."

One challenge keeps coming to the forefront for the committee, Smith says: how can we be more effective in encouraging congregations to become better equipped to understand and respond to global justice issues? "In our system, the presbytery level has the most potential of affecting congregations," she says. "From the enthusiasm and suggestions of the participants, I am very hopeful that the roundtables will help us move forward in our particular task." (From a report by Gail Turner)
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Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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