World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 30

Theological colleges have been called upon to include sexual orientation in their curricula. A meeting held Wednesday (9 December) during the World Council of Churches Assembly, independently of the official agenda, was told that the theology that justifies the inclusion of sexuality is that God created everyone equal and that Christians must love each other.

Several speakers told two events in the Eighth Assembly's Padare, a three-day programme of 400 presentations by Christian groups, that there is still much discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians, even in so-called open, liberal societies.

The Rev. Douglas Tor, of the Anglican Church in South Africa, said at the Padare in Harare, Zimbabwe, that three reports on homosexuality drawn up in South Africa since the Seventies had not been preceded by consultation with gays. However, a report on "Anglicans and Sexual Orientation" commissioned by his Church had sought comments from some homosexuals, though not within the Black, Indian and Coloured communities.

Mr Tor said that the gay movement in South Africa does not have adequate education materials, apart from those produced by other countries. One report in South Africa on sexuality had referred to homosexuality only in the context of Aids.

Participants said in discussion that people are dying as a result of the stigma attached to homosexuality. Some have committed suicide after being forced to reject their sexuality while others have died of Aids. "Silence is deadly," said one participant. The lack of dialogue has also made it impossible for some gays to take part in other important issues, such as debt and the economic situation.

Mr Tor, who said that he is homosexual, added: "The Church needs to hear that (gays and lesbians) love Jesus. But churches are not welcoming." He hoped that the gains won in Europe would transfer to Africa. Mr Tor queried the absence of a publication on homosexual theology. Padare participants hoped that sexuality would be put on the WCC agenda in order to have it included in theological training.

Another participant from the US said: "The role of judgment should be left to God and compassion and care should be the churches' work." At the same time, gays and lesbians should work on other issues, such as poverty and Aids, and should be in the lead in the quest for justice, unity and salvation for all people.

Participants said that the Church has failed to speak on sexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality needs to be deconstructed. Same-sex relationships will always be deemed second class if there is no deconstruction.

At another Padare event on gays and lesbians in the Church, participants said there is need to broaden the debate on sexuality and the rights of homosexuals so that this is not seen in the context of promiscuity. Spirituality and sexuality need to be viewed as together making up the whole being. Even in countries where gays can be open, it has not necessarily translated into an easier life for them.

In Namibia, Black people do not want to discuss the issue of homosexuality as they believe it is un-African, said one participant. His nephew is homosexual. "There is no way I could ever be negative about him"b he said, adding that there is need to find ways of making people and the churches accept the reality of sexuality. Participants also said that homosexuality will be more difficult to ignore as the young generation are no longer willing to conform like earlier generations.

The atmospheres during the discussions at the two Padare events were very different. In one, where the audience was mainly white, the atmosphere was relaxed and people exchanged information calmly. At the other, where most of the participants were black and came from Zimbabwean churches, there were emotional exchanges as the visitors sought to know why gays and lesbians feel they deserve a separate audience.

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

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, 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.