number 4, december 8, 1998

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The topic was sin

By Philip Jenks

Topics ranged from definitions of sin to abortion when panelists from the World Council of Churches Eight Assembly morning plenary session met the press yesterday afternoon.

The topic of the plenary was the WCC’s Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. The Decade Festival, held on the campus of Belvedere Technical Teacher’s College in Harare last week, issued a letter to the Assembly that, among other things, declared violence against women to be a sin.

Journalists asked the panelists to define "sin."

The Rev. Deenabandhu Manchala of India defined sin as anything that deprives people of the quality of life. "Widespread violence certainly deprives women of life," he said.

"I might add," said the Rev. Rose Lala Kikobe Biasima of the Democratic Republic of Congo, "that anything that has a negative affect on the dignity of human beings is a sin."

The Rev. Bertice Y. Wood of the United Church of Christ (USA) offered a more theological perspective. "My definition of sin is anything that is in conflict with God’s creative world. Most sin can be seen as a sin of pride or a violation of the creative order. The ecumenical movement has been very clear in saying racism is a sin, which is stronger than saying it’s not very nice."

The three panelists sat beneath bright lights and faced more than 100 journalists who asked questions in English, French and German.

A German journalist asked the panel if they believed discrimination against lesbians is a sin.

"I certainly do, in that it falls short of the model of Jesus who went to people who were perceived to be outcasts," Wood replied. It is also a sin, she said, to discriminate against "anyone else that society may have difficulty with."

Manchala and Biasima said the issue of homosexuality is not high on the agenda of their churches during the Ecumenical Decade. More important, Biasima said, were such topics as "war, famine, poverty and misery. We recognise that lesbians have a free choice to live in ways that seem appropriate to them."

Manchala added: "I believe that all are welcomed at the banquet of the Lord."

In response to another question, Biasima said she hoped the Ecumenical Decade will help churches refocus on issues of economics and justice. "Women are still very poor," she said. "If you look at our own countries, frequently they have been poorly governed, but there has been international complicity as well."

Dictators in Africa and other poor countries receive loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but do not invest them for the benefit of their people," Biasima said. "It seems there is a conspiracy between corrupt governments and the IMF. Now we have been asked to pay back enormous sums for loans that didn’t improve conditions. I say, it is terribly unjust. What do the churches do now? The WCC must continue its commitment to do something practical, not just use words."

The assembly is expected to issue a statement calling for the cancellation of the debts of the world’s poorest nations.

The reporter from the Associated Press asked panelists to define what the Festival statement means when it referred to "reproductive rights. Does that mean abortion?"

"It does include abortion for some people, probably less so for others, depending on the church," Wood said. When pressed by a reporter from the Moscow times to name the churches that approved of abortion, Wood cited the United Church of Christ’s long-standing support for a woman’s freedom of choice.

"We are quite clear that we are not for abortion but we are for a woman’s right to choose," regardless of her social position or ability to afford the procedure, she added.

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Read other articles in this issue:

A day of hearings
Attention! Debt to be chained up
Padare' to showcase vitality of ecumenical movement
Harare liturgy marks growth of Orthodox Church in Africa
Invest in human rights education, church told
Assemblies: Nelson has seen them all
Church doing well in Africa?
Decade plenary reveals consensus and division
The topic was sin

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor