World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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28 November 1998


Ecumenical Decade Festival - Press Release No. 2

Delegates to the World Council of Churches Decade Festival wept, sang and danced Saturday as church women from five nations offered harrowing personal testimonies of violence and abuse.

The statements included stories of rape, domestic beatings, sexual trafficking and abusive employment practices by church institutions.

But the Festival's Hearing on Violence Against Women in the Church also featured four positive testimonials on efforts to confront the issue and four statements of commitment to continue working on the problem.

The World Council of Churches Decade Festival, meeting 27-30 November on the campus of Belvedere Technical Teachers Training College, precedes the Eighth Assembly of the WCC which meets at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare 3-14 December. More than 1,000 women -- and some 30 men -- are participating in the Festival.

A Canadian Anglican priest told of being sexually abused as a child by her priest father. Later, after her parents forced her to join a cult, she was forced to have sex with a young man designated by the cult as her "husband." "I did not refuse because I did not know what would happen if I did," she said. "I call that rape."

A woman from Papua New Guinea said she was in a violently abusive marriage for six years and sought an annulment from the Catholic Church after she left her husband for another man. Twenty-two years later, the Church has taken no action and she is unable to receive Holy Communion.

"The funny thing about this is the perpetrator is not punished by the Church about the violence but the person who took me in and cares very much for me is punished for doing good," she said. "It should not take 22 years to get an annulment."

Not all the stories described physical violence. A clergy woman from Aoteara-New Zealand told how she was forced to resign from her position as a coordinator of ministry education because her supervisors perceived her as a trouble-maker. When she asked her church to evaluate why she had been forced out, her bishop interpreted her request as a "personal attack." Her ministry license was not renewed.

"To those who look at me the metaphorical bruises do not show," the woman said. "Yet from the inside the "bruises' have become disabling. The face of the institution is still smiling benevolently, the words from its painted mouth are still sweet."

Just as often, said Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz of the United States, male dominated church structures abuse women by not taking seriously their theology or their gifts. "Women need to understand that God can be understood through women's experience," she said. "Women's theologies simply reclaim that as women we are made in the image of God."

The hearing opened with a liturgical ceremony in which nine women from around the world carried vessels of water representing women's tears and poured the water into a large bowl on the altar.

"I bring the tears of African women, of those who survived and those who never made it," said the first woman. "Our tears as victims of war and internal conflicts. Our tears as women whose story was never told. Our tears as women, struggling to survive because of national debts and global economic control."

World Council of Churches General Secretary Konrad Raiser -- the only man on the podium -- declared the Church "should not cover up the sickness any more."

"My final commitment is to work for and encourage a community of women and men where the sin of violence against women can be confessed and the healing power of forgiveness can be experienced," Raiser said.

The hearing concluded with a "healing act in the Shaman tradition from Korea" led by Professor Chung Hyun Kyung, who used music and dance to lead women from "crucifixion to resurrection."

A liturgical dancer swirled a rainbow-colored streamer behind her as other women passed throughout the audience with patches of color pinned to their sleeves. Delegates reached out to touch the colors as Chung sang reassurances that a woman's touch has great healing power: "Changes, changes, everything she touches changes."

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.