Thank you so much for the invitation to be with you today and to make a presentation on the theme you have suggested, “The role of anti-racism and the fight against discrimination in the work of the WCC.” I guess you could have chosen any topic but the fact that you have selected to speak about anti-racism speaks volumes about your desire to talk about what matters in the world today. In South Africa, we have a thing called Courageous Conversations where people engage in conversations that are uncomfortable and challenging for them, but necessary for justice, peace, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness and healing. It is these courageous conversations that shapes, forms and builds new relationships and a better country and world for all people and creation. So, thank you for choosing this topic and asking for the WCC work in the fight against discrimination and racism. 

As a global fellowship of churches of 352 member churches in 120 countries in the world and over 600 million Christians with a variety of cultures, languages, races, and backgrounds, the WCC is a fellowship of diversity and unity that is a microcosm of our planet, which is a planet beautified by its diversities and the harmony that emerges out of that diversity. Taken positively, diversity is a beautiful thing because it emerges out of the work of our Creator God. The Trinitarian concept tells us that community and diversity is imbedded in the very nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Diverse, yet held together as one God. 

However, history teaches us that diversity has often been the scariest reality of human beings across generations that it became the obsession for societies which sought to institutionalize uniformity at the expense of diversity, sought to reduce the body to a cell. In trying to fight diversity, discrimination became an acceptable outcome in society and at some point, in church as well. I come from South Africa and many of you are acquainted with the history of my country and its legitimised policy of apartheid. Apartheid is a systemised policy of governance based on racialisation and skin colour. A system that classified people as white and non-white and availed massive economic, social, political and (even) religious privileges to whites at the expense of the majority black South African. Though the apartheid policy is no longer in the country`s laws yet it continues to live in people`s minds, hearts, and behaviour. Racism is still alive in the world. There are so many racial conflicts that continue to pervade the world. 

Today, I will share with you on the work we are doing at the WCC Secretariat in our quest to overcome racism (and xenophobia) and discrimination. While our Transversal programme on overcoming racism only started in 2021, let me quickly assure you that we are fully aware that the WCC’s commitment to overcome racism dates back to its very foundation and formation. The assemblies from 1948 have been consistent in their recognition of the impossibility of reconciling racism and the Christian faith. And the fifth assembly in Nairobi, 1975 was a watershed moment because that assembly unequivocally confessed and proclaimed that “racism is a sin against God”, it denies what God created, that is, one human family and it denies the fair and equal distribution of the Imago Dei among all human beings, all their diversities notwithstanding.

In this presentation, I will share with you brief observations on our context, how our context is witnessing increasing instances of discrimination and inequality, the difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist and our current strategies for being anti-racist churches and why we believe anti-racism is an appropriate response to overcome racism.

Reading Signs of our Time

During the 11th Assembly of the WCC in Karlsruhe in 2022, racism was among the widely identified challenges of our time that the Assembly Message proclaimed, “We join our voices with the Amsterdam assembly (1948) that ‘war is contrary to the will of God,’ and the Nairobi assembly (1975) that ‘racism is a sin against God.’ We lament that we have to repeat these statements.” (Paragraph 12).

The reality of the climate crisis has for some time been reduced to some complex scientific jargon that it looked like it was for experts, scientists and governments, sisters, brothers and friends, our work with members of the fellowship have told us this, where droughts used to occur in cycles of ten years in some parts of Africa and elsewhere, drought occurrences are becoming more frequent, some as frequent as three-year cycles. Where some are talking about rising sea levels, our members in the Pacific region and in the Caribbean are talking about sinking homelands and they have been saying this for decades. While some are suffering from frequent droughts, some of our members in Asia, Caribbean and the Americas are seeing floods as never seen before, storms increasing in intensity and destructive force. Food insecurity, water shortage, forced migration, modern slavery, anti-migrant or foreigner rhetoric are all increasing in our world due to the effects of the climate crisis.

A worrisome development from the past decade has been the steady growth of populist far-right political and social movements, especially in the Global North but generally globally. The common denominator between these social and political movements has been their obsession and outright fabrications targeted at the “migrant”, “the foreigner”, which sometimes means the citizen who does not meet the general stereotype of citizenship. In response, even well-meaning governments have had to put in place policies that discriminate or make it harder for foreigners to find refuge or asylum in order to protect their political survival, as voters are made to believe that their economic problems are directly linked to the countries’ migration policies. The outcome has been an increasing number of racist safeguards against migrants from the Global South. The recently signed EU Pact on Asylum and Migration, shows our world is driven by the desire to exclude than to include. Britan`s government recently passed a bill sending migrants to Rwanda. The message is `we don`t want them in our country. They are a problem to our people. One does not dismiss the fact that this can get out of control, but we need to treat human beings with care and concern. This is happening at a time when climate, conflict and economies are forcing many to migrate not out of choice but out of desperation. The policies lack a humane touch.

Conflicts of varying magnitudes are in our faces, in whatever direction we face, but it is also very true that these conflicts do not attract the same attention or response from us all the time. Conflicts are often contextually evaluated, our world has no single position on conflicts – on the one hand, we abhor conflict and have zero tolerance, on the other hand, we justify, enable and fuel conflict. More often than not, as Christians, we choose to be indifferent and outsource our position to politicians, we allow governments to decide or uncritically support government policies and views. Conflicts kill all manner of people, mostly the most vulnerable, innocent bystanders, women and children are the main victims in conflicts, but news headlines are made when victims are white irrespective of how many they are compared to the lives of non-white victims. Conflicts are magnifying racist and xenophobic prejudices and discrimination in our world today, sadly the same also happens in our churches.

One of the most depressing and challenging attitudes today has to do with the global economic landscape. First, our global economic framework is not working for all people, and it is not even a simple question of Global North and Global South, it is a question of the ideological imperatives of these concepts. Here in Germany, the global north and south do co-exist and it does not always have to be about skin pigmentation, it has to do with how the economic outputs of Germany are felt by all people living in Germany and contributing to that output. The greatest supposed miracle of our time is how, during Covid-19, the richest people in the world tripled their wealth while all hard-working people and families lost. Poor countries continue to sink deeper and deeper into debts and leveraging the resources meant to cater for the coming generations to service debts accrued by known despotic self-serving governments with nothing to show for the debts. Alongside the Council for World Mission (CWM), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and the World Methodist Council (WMC), we embarked on the #ZacTax campaign and the New Economic International and Financial Architecture (NEIFA) to draw global attention to this fundamentally flawed economic system but without you we are without oxygen. 

The current global economic system has marginalized and created inequalities whose most visible manifestations are racialized, seen in the way in which the poor countries are not helped to develop but are helped to remain under-developed while the richer countries continue to pillage natural resources without adequate recompense or consideration to domestic beneficiation of natural resources. There are young people, children even, who are forced into industries in Africa (mining of precious metals, growing of Cocoa, fishing – mostly for the foreign market), in Asia (the garment and footwear industry also for the markets in the richer countries). They never get to see the final outcomes of their labour, they never get to wear or eat of their labour, they are just another statistic in our world economy, which is not only racist but also classicist and gendered. Racialized women and children are the greatest victims of this economic framework. Inequalities are palpable all around us. 

I want to speak about the epistemological pandemic that continues to give oxygen to racial discrimination in our world. The rise of European imperialism and colonialism was undergirded by an epistemology that gave primacy to western knowledge and ways of knowing. This epistemology became a fundamental tool in making enslavement and colonization acceptable to wider societies from the enslaving and colonizing empires as well as the enslaved and colonized societies. Systematically, indigenous knowledge systems, knowledge and ways of knowing were delegitimized, destroyed and almost erased that enslaved and colonized peoples lost their sense of the self, their only hope was to become a perfect product of western epistemology. Our theology, ecclesiology, missiology were all prevented from learning from alternative epistemologies. Today, we are committed to working with descendants of enslaved, colonized and indigenous peoples to re-member, re-claim, repair and restore these aspects of people because they are not inherently mutually exclusive with our Christian faith. We see the continuing claims to superiority by western epistemologies in our theological colleges globally, in our universities and across the fields of study. What is western is considered universal and pure, what is African, Asian, Latin American, Pacific is considered “contextual” and therefore impure and only of secondary interest for its exotic-ness.

In short, our world is still running on the racist, gendered systems that place more obstacles on the path of opportunities for people from racialized communities than it does for the non-racialized “white” communities. Since the systems are not meant to benefit all non-racialized communities in an equity basis, it has successfully separated its victims based on skin pigmentation and trickle-down privileges for its own “white” poor folk creating a divide between its victims and breeding opportunities for racial prejudices, discrimination, xenophobia and a groundswell of support for far-right social and political movements each time there is an economic downturn, which is conveniently blamed on the foreigner and the stranger. Sadly, these signs are visible both in our societies and in our churches and we are challenged to make a choice – to be non-racists or to be anti-racist? What is it going to be?

Non-Racist as opposed to Anti-Racist

I want to thank the organizers for asking me to speak about the role of anti-racism in the fight against discrimination in the work of the WCC today. The key concept here is anti-racism. Allow me to briefly expound on this concept, especially by contrasting it against another concept, that is, non-racism. While I use non-racism and anti-racism, what I will share here will similarly apply to other related concepts – non-xenophobia/anti-xenophobia and non-discrimination/anti-discrimination.

For some decades, well-meaning people publicly confessed that they were colour-blind, that they were not racists – this was the core of being non-racist. In simple terms, non-racism for both individuals, institutions, and societies meant that an individual, institution, or society chose not to be prejudiced against people different from themselves in the course of their living and working. They were committed to make their own spaces free of racial prejudice and discrimination. While this attitude could be enforced by institutions and societies, in practice this was mostly supposed at an individual level. One person choosing that there is no problem with racialized people. Such a non-racist attitude could not stop one from working in a racist institution, for as long as the non-racist individual did not directly racially discriminate against another person. Non-racism does not oblige anyone to resist and dismantle racist systems, the individual only concerns her/himself with her/his own actions and attitudes. If we are to overcome racism, it means we must pray and hope for individual transformations but even with billions of transformed individuals we might still fail because they will not be obliged to become a community neither will they be obliged to question the systems within which they function.

While it is important for us as individuals to be non-racists, if we are to overcome racism, xenophobia and discrimination it is important that we become more than just non-racists. This is why we have followed the idea and concept of anti-racist Christians, churches, and people. At the core of this concept are the ideas of resistance, un-learning, un-becoming, un-doing, dismantling, re-imagining, re-claiming, re-learning and re-discovering our humanity, relationships, policies, structures and communities. To be anti-racist is to commit oneself to become an agent for overcoming racism by not only choosing not to be racist, but by committing to taking action against the racism done by others, institutions and society and exercising the option for the racialized. Anti-racism obliges us to scan and interrogate our family, school, church, college, work, and general community environment to understand how racism, xenophobia, and discrimination are enabled in policy and practice. To be anti-racist is to intentionally choosing to be uncomfortable with the norm unless the norm is anti-racist at its core! Anti-racism recognizes the power of intersections and therefore does not simply look at the surface but at the inner workings of power and authority because only at that inner core can racism be overcome. 

Racism, historically, has never been its own vehicle, it has mostly hitched a ride on other systems – enslavement, colonization, gender inequality, access to health services, education, political rhetoric and propaganda, access to economic opportunities, exposure to consequences of climate and environmental practices, global economic relations, banking practices and policies, conflict, migration policies, and law enforcement, judicial processes and incarceration practices. In all these spheres, racism has found a home. To overcome racism means to rid all these spaces anti-racist, but for us, as Christians, anti-racism has to begin in us as individual Christians, in our local congregations or parishes, in our churches as a collective, in our mission agencies, in our theological institutions and in the ecumenical movement at large. Then, as anti-racists, we take our commitment to all the other spaces we listed above, acting locally in solidarity with other local actors to create a critical global anti-racist movement in Christ!

Our response as WCC

In July 2021, the WCC re-prioritized racial justice in its work by launching the transversal programme on Overcoming Racism, Xenophobia and related Discrimination. By making this programme a transversal or cross-cutting, the WCC was acknowledging that this was not just a programme with which it sought to engage the wider fellowship and the world, in fact, this programme signalled our dual-pronged approach:

  1. The WCC was committed to making itself an anti-racist institution and secretariat of the member churches.
  2. The WCC was committed to actively exercise the option for the racialized peoples globally, not only with its member churches but with all other people’s sharing this commitment.

This two-pronged approach and its global reach distinguish it from its predecessor, the Program to Combat Racism (PCR) of 1969. The goal of this transversal is to contribute to the overarching theme of “Justice, Reconciliation and Unity” as pronounced by the 11th Assembly by centering racial justice because there cannot be true justice unless racial justice is achieved, and there cannot be true reconciliation unless human relations are no longer decided by the amount of melanin one has in their bodies and not the Image of God that God has generously implanted in all human beings, and there cannot be true unity of Christians and of Humankind and Humankind and creation unless justice and reconciliation have been realized in their fulness. 

Our approaches currently focus on awareness raising and advocacy, capacity building and upskilling, resource production and publication, and networking and collaboration. It might be surprising that in this day and age, we still need to raise awareness to the reality of racism, xenophobia and discrimination but the truth is that there are many who do not believe racism is still a big problem, especially, as enslavement and colonization ended a long time ago. 

  1. Many only associate racism with the individual experiences at the hands of a few officials in some strategic places like airports, supermarkets. Systemic racism is much more devastating than these interpersonal incidences and systemic racism is not always visible to all people and in some cases persons have enforced racist policies without even realizing it. In former colonized communities, they have thoroughly internalized the racist logic that racial ideology has been embedded in indigenous language, seen for example, in the way in which success earns one the designation of “white” showing that whiteness is not about skin colour but about an assigned status, which can be achieved. For this reason, we have intentionally embraced a renewed commitment to decolonization and reparations as part of our approach to mission and anti-racism. A great deal of work has been happening through the collaboration of CWME and Overcoming Racism. We are focusing our regional work to equip our communities to develop the necessary competences to unmask the contemporary manifestations of racism in their communities. We also take seriously the platforms that are provided by the United Nations in order to give our member churches and allies the opportunity to bring non-governmental voices into these spaces. We just hosted a pre-session event on 15 April to prepare as Christians (sometimes as faith communities and civil societies) how we can engage with the UN systems, in this case, it was preparation for the Third Session of the United Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (UN-PFPAD). We are grateful that with a Grant that we received from the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), we were able to sponsor two participants from Africa to participate in the PFPAD session for a whole week. Internally, we are also holding workshops and seminars for staff and in the near future, we plan to have such workshops for governing body members. It is our hope that sooner rather than later, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion audits will become the norm in the ecumenical movement.
  2. The CWME focus on mission from the margins sees the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and People with Disabilities. These are groups that are also affected by racial tendencies depending on where they are. WCC is placing emphasis on these minority and often excluded groups. 
  3. We have also taken to build the capacity of member churches and ecumenical partners on how to effectively use the existing UN racial justice mechanisms. It is our hope to have trainings targeted at our constituency, currently we are doing these trainings over a few days online and limited to people from countries that will be up for the Universal Periodic Reviews, which happens once every five years. Through these trainings, we are seeing a great improvement in the submissions that are being made by member churches and ecumenical partners to the United Nations. We hope to expand these trainings and to create mechanisms of following up with those that have undergone trainings. We also hope to see those trained to also participate in sessions of the UN, even though in many cases financial incapacity inhibits them and where we can, we always try to sponsor persons to participate. WCC staff members are also asked to participate in these workshops, as a way of spreading the deployment of the racial justice lens in other programmes and into other UN mechanisms that are accessible to these other programmes.
  4. Networking and collaboration are critical elements of this work. We cannot do this work alone and even though this is a transversal, it is still understaffed. To mitigate against this understaffing, we have successfully launched the Collective for Anti-Racist Ecumenism (CARE) Network and since January 2024, the Network has already met twice and another meeting will happen before many in Europe and North America, take their summer breaks. The Network is providing local actors from around the world with a global platform to amplify their activities and to be in solidarity with actors from elsewhere. At the same time, the Network is giving the WCC the legs and hands it needs in the grassroots, allowing it an opportunity to learn from the people in the grassroots. I want to invite you to join the Network, if you are not yet already a member because I know there are a number of organizations in Germany that are members already. Through the Network, we stand on the cusp of creating a truly people’s movement for overcoming racism.
  5. WCC takes seriously the production and distribution of theological and biblical resources to help us bring to the table an appropriate Christian response to the quest for racial justice in the world. Soon, we are expecting to get an Anti-Racist Churches bible studies booklet, which is now going through the publication process. Alongside it, is also an Ecumenical Anti-(Un)Conscious Bias Toolkit, which should follow soon after the Bible studies booklet. Through the network and the Reference Group, we hope to learn about the felt needs among our constituencies and to only produce resources that are addressing the felt needs, which helps in creating co-ownership of the resources with member churches and ecumenical partners.
  6. Finally, the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe stated that we must give more concentration to racism and decolonisation. In the WCC Strategic Plan approved by the Central Committee in June 2023, we made Overcoming Racism and all other forms of discrimination to function as a transversal, meaning that it permeates and undergirds the work the Council does in its fullness. The Strategic Plan (2023-2030) intentional embraces methodologies and epistemologies that continues to challenge racism and promotes decolonisation. The concept of a Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity tells us that we are all pilgrims and co-pilgrims on a journey of learning, sharing, praying and walking together. 


Racism is real, the integrity of our faith, our work and our being is threatened by the persistence of racism. For this reason, I exhort you sisters, brothers and friends to intentionally commit to being anti-racist, anti-xenophobia, and anti-discrimination both individually but most importantly institutionally because at an institutional level, it allows us to address the often subtle but vicious systemic racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. I was pleased to note in my visit to Christian Aid in England last week how they are working on racism and decolonisation. I believe, you in Europe can help us to take these conversations further as we continue to engage Courageous Conversation and Courageous Actions to turn the world around, to be more of what God desires it to be, where people respect and love one another as human beings created in the image of God. In mission we do not only bring our resources but whole selves into God`s purpose. I trust you would continue to do this with us in the WCC in our Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity.