Global church body elects Norwegian liberal as head

Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:36pm EDT
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By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top global grouping of Protestant and Orthodox churches elected as its new head on Thursday a Norwegian Lutheran who wants it to do more to support Christians in Muslim countries.

The incoming general-secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Olav Fykse Tveit, will have to tread a fine line on the Middle East after his predecessor denounced Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands as "a sin against God."

Tveit, 48, was chosen by the 150-member Central Committee of the WCC -- which links 560 million Christians in 349 churches and communities in 110 countries -- in a two-candidate contest with a South Korean Presbyterian theologian, Seong-won Park.

Tveit, who takes over on January 1 from Kenyan Methodist Samuel Kobia, did not set out the policies he plans to follow at the head of the 60-year-old body during his brief acceptance speech.

But insiders say that, apart from the problem of Christian minorities under Islam and the expected fall-out from Kobia's Israeli "sin" comment, as a liberal he will have to handle growing dissent from Orthodox churches on gay sex issues.

In an interview with the German newspaper Rheinischer Merkur this month, Tveit said the WCC needed "to deal intensively with Islam," adding it could not leave churches in Islamic states to deal alone with the problems they face.

"But we should not increase tensions through thoughtless comments," he said.

However, he made clear he felt the WCC should take the path proclaimed by his own church in Norway of working together with Muslim representatives for religious freedom that explicitly included the right to change one's religion.   Continued...