Three hundred Christian denominations throughout the world have been challenged to make a comprehensive condemnation of apartheid "a fundamental matter of faith."
The top policy-making body of the World Council of Churches summoned its member churches to declare the doctrine and practice of apartheid "a perversion of the Christian gospel."
The adoption by the Central Committee of so strong a statement was seen as settling the contentious issues surrounding the Council's Program to Combat Racism, at least for the immediate future.
There were six absentions among the 140 committee members who voted to continue the controversial special fund under its present criteria. Member churches will be encouraged to increase their support for the program's operating budget and special fund.
The special fund has caused considerable soul searching for West European and North American churches, particularly through the awarding of grants, for humanitarian purposes, to guerrilla groups in Southern Africa. The Salvation Army suspended its membership in the WCC two years ago because of a grant to freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, led by the man who is now the country's premier, Robert Mugabe.
The Wcc also urged its member churches "in obedience to their faith, to examine -- their own involvement in racism, wherever and in whatever form it occurs" and provided them with a program of suggestions.
These included making money, land, resources and publicity available to organizations supporting the racially oppressed. Churches were also encouraged to support sanctions against South Africa and to work for the withdrawal of investments and bank loans made there.
The churches were also called on to challenge their theology, change their structures and mobilize their congregations in the cause of racial justice. Church leaders should help their members "to be effectively active rather than guiltily passive in their opposition to racism," said the central committee.
Although the broad lines of the policy passed without challenge, there was considerable concern about members' freedom to present dissenting views on major WCC policies and about world council's attitude to violence.