number 2, december 5, 1998

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Assembly theme turned to sexuality

Human sexuality was the focus of a number of questions at the press conference yesterday with the three theologians who had made presentations on the assembly theme.

Journalists drew especially on Professor Deifelt’s statement in her presentation that "all human beings reflect the divine image, independent of class, race, caste, gender, age or sexual preference".

"If we look into each other’s eyes, we can catch a glimpse of the divine," she said. "When human relationship is broken, we can no longer face each other, look into another person’s eyes. Either we look from above, in a position of power, or we look from below, as we experience powerlessness."

Archbishop Anastasios summed up the issue of homosexuality this way: "Everybody has a place in the church. People who are not sinners have no place in the church.

"We speak about many issues while forgetting the essential element of our identity: living the anamnesis in the certainty that our power does not come from our own projects and decisions, but is found in how God acts in us through his church."

Anastasios underscored the importance of "respect for others". However, he said, "we cannot justify everything because of our freedom. We cannot justify arrogance or hypocrisy because we are free. We need to be able to discern."

Pressed to say whether homosexual people have a place in the church, the Orthodox archbishop replied, "Yes, but it is the duty of the church to say that there are other guidelines. But we are not here to condemn anyone." It is only those who are without sin who have no place in the church, he said.

"I am not inventing Christian ethics," Anastasios said. "Speaking from our own Orthodox background, we are trying to have respect for those who are not acting in the right way."

The panelists also spoke cautiously about another area of ecumenical controversy -- relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

Deifelt said she appreciated the willingness of the Roman Catholic Church to sit down in dialogue with other churches, but added that in Latin America as a whole and in her own Brazilian context, "we see many doors being closed" in relations with the Catholic Church.

Koyama cautioned against making quick judgments about the Catholic Church, which "is complicated and enormous and has a great history behind it. But I see the presence of grace and the workings of grace present in the Catholic Church."

Anastasios noted that ecumenical tensions with the Catholic Church are nothing new ecumenically. "This is not the first time. We must continue the dialogue and not lose our own hope for the future."

But, asked a journalist, how can one maintain ecumenical hope if nothing seems to change?

Recalling that his own ecumenical involvement had begun many years ago when he was a deacon, the Albanian archbishop acknowledged that "I have always felt myself a stranger here, and I have always felt a longing.

"But at the same time, we Orthodox who are involved in the ecumenical movement may feel like strangers in our own environment, accused by some of betraying the faith.

"So there is suffering, but there is also hope. I am optimistic, because I know God exists, because Christ is a reality, because the Holy Spirit is working for us. We have a God of hope. We do what we do for the love of Christ, and for that reason I am optimistic."

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Related documents & articles:

Plenary on the Assembly Theme

Read other articles in this issue:

Assembly theme, carved and examined
Moderator: affirm human rights, teach one community
WCC-Orthodox relations 'critical'
Assembly theme turned to sexuality
Pluses and minuses of council finances

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor