Is Kobia on his way out at the WCC?

February 18, 2008

The Rev. Samuel Kobia in Beijing, 21 Nov. 2006/Claro CortesOnly a few days ago, Samuel Kobia from Kenya was running unopposed for a second five-year term as general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at its Central Committee meeting now being held in Geneva. The story seemed pretty ho-hum. Then the German Protestant news agency epd revealed he had a “digital doctorate” from a unaccredited diploma mill in the U.S. Now he’s in danger of losing his job running the WCC, the global Christian grouping of 349 churches (mostly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox) that represent more than 560 million believers around the world. Our correspondent in Geneva Robert Evans reports he may be on his way out. The rumour making the rounds is that we may hear as early as Tuesday that he will not be there much longer.

All because of a phony Ph.D? No, there’s a lot more where that story came from. The epd also ran a scathing interview with Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein of Kassel, the top German on the WCC Central Committee, in the run-up to the meeting. He made it abundantly clear that the German Protestants, who contribute one-third of the WCC budget, had lost patience with Kobia. Here’s a taste of what he said:

The WCC takes stands on everything. The World Council of Churches does not have to be a little United Nations.”

Bishop Martin HeinHein noted the WCC played an active role during the Cold War and the apartheid era in South Africa but added: “The real difficulty is that both those political challenges are now gone.”

He criticsed Kobia for taking decisions without much consultation and traveling around too much: “I’m sometimes amazed how often the secretary general is on the road.”

In the long term, one-third of the costs of the WCC cannot come exclusively from Germany,” Hein said, adding he thought other churches in the Global North, including the Orthodox churches, could give more.

Kobia, 60, told a news conference last week that he saw visiting outlying faith communities around the world as part of his mandate. Responding to another complaint voiced by Hein, he said the WCC had cut back on some of its many programmes.

Kobia would be the first head of the WCC to serve only one term if he steps down. The first general secretary, Willem A. Visser ‘t Hooft of the Netherlands, served from 1948 to 1966. Kobia’s immediate predecessor, Konrad Raiser from Germany, served from 1993 to 2003.

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germans dictate the agenda of WCC?

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