Chiang Mai, Thailand: In a comprehensive Report to the Executive Committee, the General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia Dr Mathews George Chunakara presented pressing economic, social, and geopolitical challenges in Asia, and also posed questions about the future of the ecumenical movement in Asia.
The General Secretary’s Report is one of the highlights of the Executive Committee meeting and provides a comprehensive overview of the ongoing situation of the Asian ecumenical movement and how it relates to the world.
The CCA General Secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara described the several challenges to Christian witness in Asia, such as religious intolerance and religio-ethnic violence, the politicisation of religion, authoritarianism, and ultra-nationalism, and shrinking civil space, among others. Although a façade of progress was being portrayed regarding Asia, several Asian communities were still grappling with realities of poverty, inequality, rising unemployment, an uneven and uncertain global outlook, and escalation in the climate emergency. This was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A salient issue that the CCA General Secretary highlighted was the conflict in Myanmar, a “forgotten country” in the ecumenical movement. The Myanmar military had carried out brutal nationwide crackdowns across the country and were responsible for mass killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, and other human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. In a fresh round of violence, seventeen civilians including nine children had been killed by military airstrikes on a church building in Kanan village in Sagaing, under the control of the pro-democracy resistance. This happened on 7 January 2024.
The General Secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara further highlighted the new trends of emigration of Asian Christians, which was changing the demographics of minority communities, causing their numbers to shrink further in their own homelands. While migration is nothing new, what had been experienced in the past few years was unprecedented. “Today, an emerging concern is whether Asia will become the least Christianised region of the world soon, given the fact that population is ageing and young people are migrating to the West. If changing demography among Asian Christians continues, one can expect a decrease in the Asian Christian population in the near future,” remarked Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
Other issues reported by the CCA General Secretary related to the matters on the Programme Structure of the CCA, the five-year Strategic Programme Plan (2023–2028), the future direction and location of the CCA, and the future of the ecumenical movement.
“We live in an era of ‘Post Normal Times’, in which the future is not emphasised as such, instead the present is emphasised as the future. The distinction between the present and the future has become so diffused that it is hard to differentiate when the present ends and the future begins… The future of the ecumenical movement is already in God’s hand and draws its life and light from the heart of the Gospel. We need to realise and recognise that the Holy Spirit is working among us, taking us and our churches, driving us and binding us together, and thus enabling us to carry out the task of renewal and restoration in the world,” said the CCA General Secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
The General Secretary’s Report was received with appreciation. During the ensuing discussion, aspects such as increased ownership of CCA by its member constituencies and pooling of resources, and the offering of Asia’s pluralism as a model for interfaith harmony and cooperation were also touched upon.
After an orientation on the Programme Structure of the CCA, in a special session, the Executive Committee unpacked the decisions and mandate of the 15th CCA General Assembly. The outcomes of the Deliberative Sessions at the Assembly, namely, the Programme Review, Programme Direction, and the ‘Churcha’ Ecumenical Conversations, were discussed and suggestions for future programmatic work were proposed. The CCA’s financial situation and sustainability was also presented and discussed by the Executive Committee members.
The Executive Committee meets from 17–19 January 2024.