WCC work on issues of human sexuality - a chronology

1. From New Delhi to Canberra (1961-1991)

- Several assemblies made reference to human sexuality. The Nairobi assembly (1975) called for "a theological study of sexuality, taking into account the culture of the member churches". Responding to recommendations by the Vancouver assembly (1983), the WCC central committee called for a thorough re-examination of values in sexuality, with special emphasis on how churches develop educational and pastoral care systems in this area, and initated a study on female sexuality. The 1989 central committee meeting in Moscow asked for a second study - on sexuality and human relations - to be circulated for comment in the regions. A publication on "Living in covenant with God and one another: a guide to the study of sexuality and human relations" (Geneva, WCC, 1990) was one result.

2. From Canberra to Harare (1991-1998)

During this period, the issue of homosexuality progressively took centre stage. As preparations for the Harare assembly got underway, the WCC was increasingly confronted with strong reactions from fay groups and gay-friendly churches condeming the fact that the Zimbabwe government continued to attack homosexualis in the country. Contribution to a 1997 consultation on human sexuality were published in The Ecumenical Review in 1998. At the assembly, padare sessions on sexual orientation allowed for mutual encounter and discussion in a safe environment. Based on the padare sessions, the Programme Guidelines Committee recommended to the assembly a shift of focus from sexual orientation to human sexuality that would address issues of personal and interpersonal ethics. The assembly further urged the WCC "to engage in a study of human sexuality in all of its diversity, to be made available for member churches".

3. Post-Harare developments (1998-to date)

The mandate of the assembly was not to start a programme, but to "provide space" through which the member churches are enabled to discuss the difficult issues related to human sexuality. Such discussion has been taking place in the following "spaces":

a. Reference group on human sexuality

Work done includes:

  • Following up on WCC programmatic work linked to the issue of human sexuality
  • Setting up a list server for sharing ideas and information within the Reference and Staff Groups
  • Development of a timeline of work up to the 9th assembly
  • Detailed analysis of church statements received and preparation of Bossey Seminar 2001 following the WCC general secretary's invitation to all WCC member churches to submit their official statements on all aspects of human sexuality.
  • Review of a congregational study guide prepared by the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Gathering stories from the regions for a Risk Book (March 2005)

    b. Staff group on human sexuality

    Work done includes:
  • Publishing two articles in the July 2002 issue of The Ecumenical Review
  • Compiling a bibliography on human sexuality issues.
  • Linking the issue of human sexuality to WCC programmatic work (see following section).
  • Reviewing a study guide on human sexuality prepared by the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg.
  • Preparing a padare on human sexuality at the August 2002 central committee.
  • Planning the Bossey Seminars on human sexuality.
  • Facilitating archiving of materials
  • c. Bossey seminars

    Participants in the first seminar in July 2001 shared cultural, local and global perspectives on human sexuality. The second seminar in April 2002 dealt with a summary and analysis of church statements, collated by the international reference group. The third, in April 2003, focused on Bible studies.

    d. Work on HIV/AIDS

    The work on curricula for theological education looks at the need for more positive affirmation of the human body and of sexual relationships. HIV/AIDS forces the churches to engage more openly and in a pastoral way with issues of human sexuality.

    e. Work on violence against women

    WCC is committed to working with women in challenging the churches to speak out more clearly on these issues and to offer solidarity and pastoral support to women who experience violence.