World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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7 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 16

Violence against women is a plague that must be stopped. That was the apparent consensus at the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches Monday (7 December) as it marked the close of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women.

But no delegate at a plenary session of the Assembly was willing to declare the Decade an unqualified success, and comments from Orthodox delegates revealed sharp divisions over what it accomplished and what should happen next.

"We have started down the path toward empowering women to share the fulness of their gifts and toward enabling the Church to be enriched by those gifts," said the Rev. Bertrice Y. Wood (United Church of Christ, USA). But the realisation of full empowerment "is still largely before us".

Most of the delegates, meeting at Harare, Zimbabwe, seemed to suppport a letter from the Festival which called on the Assembly "to announce to all the world that violence against women is a sin". One of the panellists at the session, the Rev. Deenabandhu Manchala of India, asked: "Does the Church wish to remain custodian of a culture of violence or as a catalyst to a culture of life? We must stop seeing violence against women as a women's problem."

Several panellists offered their views of the Decade's success and failures. Metropolitan Ambrosius of Oulu (Orthodox Church of Finland) said the Decade had been "very important" for the churches. "In many places women have remained invisible and ignored, in spite of the fact that . . . the Church should always be the community of women and men," he said.

The Decade should not have been perceived as a threat by any church, Ambrosius said. "The decade did not attempt to challenge in a negative way those church traditions which do not ordain women."

But Fr Vsevolod Chaplin (Russian Orthodox Church) said he considered at least one theme discussed by Decade supporters -- the call for inclusive language in church documents and liturgy -- to be "blasphemous".

"I affirm my Church's deep call for human and social rights for women. I strongly call for solidarity in this regard," Chaplin said. "Less and less acceptable for my Church is (the call) to refrain from strong criticism of women's attempts to obscure the agenda (with) radical feminist theology." So long as other WCC churches advocated an agenda calling for all churches to ordain women and to accept inclusive language, "the Eucharistic unity that is a dream will never come true".

Wood said in a press conference after the plenary session that Decade supporters had not pursued that agenda. Inclusive language "was not a big issue" at the Decade Festival (27-30 November) that preceded the Assembly in Harare, although, she added, "I come from the school that exclusive language is equally blasphemous".

Wood also told reporters that Decade leaders had not advocated ordination of Orthodox women. "Our solidarity with them is around the increase of their role as laywomen." Some Orthodox women, she said, have sought ordination to the diaconate, which is in line with Orthodox traditions.

Anne Glynn-Mackoul, a laywoman from the United States and a delegate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, told the plenary session that many Orthodox women were not satisfied with the letter issued by Festival delegates because it did not represent a true consensus.

"We identify with many of the struggles articulated in the letter, especially violence against women," Glynn-Mackoul said. But Orthodox women who attended the Festival contended that the document that emerged from a final drafting process after the meeting did not reflect their views. She was apparently referring to sexuality and inclusive language.

"It is with great respect and deep concern that our presence at the Festival will be misconstrued as an affirmation," Glynn-Mackoul said.

Panelists in the plenary did not respond to Glynn-Mackoul, but Wood said at the press conference that she regarded the letter as a consensus document. "We allowed literally everyone who wanted to speak to be heard, long into the night," she said, describing the process of developing the letter.

The plenary session opened with a dramatic demonstration of women's solidarity. The Rev. Luzmarina Campos Garcia of Brazil, dressed in a biblical robe, proceeded down the main aisle of the hall carrying an urn of water that had been gathered from Festival delegates. The water represented the tears of women around the world. Assembly delegates applauded as Campos Garcia poured the water into a larger urn.

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.