UPDATE: Kobia says will not seek second WCC term

WCC logoThe Rev. Samuel Kobia has informed the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee that he won’t seek a second five-year term after all. The WCC has just put out a statement that “buries the lead,” as we say, by starting off saying it has appointed a search committee for a new head, to be elected in September. It then says Kobia had informed the Central Committee of his decision, citing personal reasons for not running again. His term ends in December.

The central committee received this news with regret but accepts the decision of the general secretary. We want to respect his decision and privacy,” WCC Central Committee moderator Rev. Dr. Walter Altmann said Monday night, according to the statement. “We want to express the deep gratitude of the World Council of Churches for the dedicated services he has given to the council since becoming general secretary in January 2004.

Is Kobia on his way out at the WCC?

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.”

“Digital doctorate” embarrasses WCC sec gen Kobia

Samuel Kobia in Beijing, 21 Nov. 2006/Claro CortesThe Rev. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has had to drop his Ph.D in religious studies from his resumé because it came from a U.S. diploma mill that was never accredited and no longer exists. Ouch!

Kobia told a news conference in Geneva he had no idea that the Louisiana-based university had no right to award the degree he got in 2004 after three years of work via the Internet.

Hearing of the status of Fairfax University was a shock to me. I followed their programme in good faith,” said Kobia, a 60-year-old Methodist from Kenya. If it’s any consolation, Sweden’s Labour Minister Sven Otto Littorin had to purge his CV of a Fairfax MBA last year after a blogger broke a similar story.

Attenzione! Important Vatican doctrinal document due…

Pope Benedict, 10 Dec. 2007 Attenzione! The Vatican will issue an important doctrinal document on Friday “on some aspects of evangelisation.” Pope Benedict has a long track record of making sharp distinctions between Catholicism and other religions in his doctrinal declarations. Some of these have upset other Christians, others have angered Muslims and been challenged by Islamic scholars. This new text has been written by papal aides, not the pope himself, but it is expected to be a close reflection of his views. What Vatican observers are waiting to see is how clearly it states the Catholic view on converting others and how other religions react.

The document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed for over two decades before becoming pope in 2005, comes at a time of growing Catholic difficulties with Anglicans, Protestants and evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. Its hesitant reaction to an invitation leading Muslim scholars for a theological dialogue has raised questions about its interest in inter-faith relations. And evangelisation is now a sensitive topic for Christian churches. The Vatican is working with the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance and Pentecostal leaders on a code of conduct for missionary work .

The declaration is expected to say that conversion remains a goal of Catholic missionary efforts and that Catholic theologians must not water this down by arguing that other faiths can be paths to salvation. This recalls Dominus Iesus, a document issued in 2000 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that said the Catholic Church was the only true church of Jesus Christ and others were “gravely deficient.” In fact, the document should be a guide on how to put Dominus Iesus into practice. The CDF began this process with a clarification of the 2000 document last June — a clarification that caused dismay among leading Protestant theologians.Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie (L), the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain Methodios (2L), Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama (R) pray for world peace in a service in Assisi October 27, 1986

Ball in Vatican’s court after Muslim dialogue appeal

Pope Benedict prays with Muslim clerics in IstanbulAn unprecedented call from 138 Muslim scholars for better Christian-Muslim understanding had a Warholesque 15-minutes-of- fame in most media last week. Their letter to world Christian leaders got covered widely in English-speaking media (including by Reuters) and much less so in many European countries, possibly because the news conferences presenting it were in London and Washington. Some reactions from Christian leaders were included in the reporting that day. The following day, the reaction from the Vatican — the main addressee of the letter that represents more than half of Christianity — made for another story (here is our report and the original Vatican Radio report in Italian).

The story has now faded from the headlines but it’s one of those developments that cry out for a next step. The Muslim scholars invited their Christian counterparts to a dialogue, so the ball is in the Christians’ court. More specifically, it’s in the Vatican’s court. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most centralised branch of the Christian family. The Muslims also have a bone to pick with Pope Benedict, who just over a year ago gave his famous Regensburg speech that implied Islam was violent and irrational. That sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world and, in turn, inspired 38 Muslim scholars to write a first letter in October 2006 that denounced that violence, asked for a dialogue (which Benedict had suggested in Regensburg) and questioned his understanding of Islam.

The latest letter is a follow-up, with a far larger group of signatories and the more ambitious goal of engaging in a theological dialogue with Christians. The wealth of Koran and Bible quotes cited and the argument that Islam agrees with the heart of Christian teaching — to love God and neighbour — showed these scholars want a long and serious theological discussion with Christianity.