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

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 38

The Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches soundly rejected a bid for membership by the Celestial Church of Christ in Nigeria on Thursday night after delegates expressed concern that the church still has polygamous clergy.

But a delegate pointed out to session Moderator Soritua Nababan that the vote was unconstitutional because WCC rules for membership require a two-thirds vote by member churches represented at the Assembly, "each member church having one vote." Nababan declared that the final determination of Celestial Church membership will await the advice of the Assembly's legal advisor.

The point of order followed immediately after Nababan had called for a vote of all Assembly delegates. The motion to admit the church into membership failed by a vote of 369 against, 234 in favour, with 57 abstentions.

The Celestial Church stopped ordaining people with more than one spouse in 1986 and strictly observes a rule that all new clergy must live in a monogamous marriage, explained Gabriel Habib, moderator of the Assembly's reference committee.

But the fact that polygamous Clergy from "the previous period" remain in "spiritual leadership" in the Church was a problem for some delegates.

Metropolitan Anba Bishoy (Coptic Orthodox Church) moved to accept the church as an associate member of the WCC until polygamous clergy die or resign, but Nababan ruled that the motion to accept the church into full membership had to be voted on first.

"In this case, I move to refuse," Bishoy said.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
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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.