"Ecumenical conversation" on human sexuality models new way to approach difficult issues.
17 February 2005
Free photos available, see below
Dialogue and conversation took centre stage at the WCC central committee meeting on Thursday as members broached the subject of human sexuality. Using a proposed new consensus model for conducting meetings, information was presented and discussed without the heated atmosphere that often surrounds such controversial issues.
"This is our first encounter with this type of session," central committee member Anne Glynn-Mackoul of the Orthodox Church of Antioch said in introducing the process for the hearing. Glynn-Mackoul, a lawyer from the United States, helped to draft the proposed new consensus rules. "We would ask that you enter into a spirit of discernment," she said.
Erlinda Senturias of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, who moderates a reference group appointed to study the subject after the WCC's Harare Assembly in 1998, outlined the work done on the topic thus far.
Dr George Mathew Nalunnakkal of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church followed with a summary review of the 80 church statements on human sexuality collected by the WCC.
Dr Valburga Schmiedt-Streck of the Lutheran Church of the Evangelical Confession in Brazil presented an overview of a series of seminars that examined the issue from several perspectives via "intense mutual encounter and exchange" in small groups.
And Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America explored the ethical challenges facing the church on this broad issue.
WCC Europe region president Bishop Eberhardt Renz, who moderated the session, said that the presentations and table discussions that followed provided "the possibility to exchange our experiences, give our insights […] Consensus starts with this kind of conversation."
The approach was in keeping with the WCC's history on an issue on which its member churches hold a wide variety of viewpoints, stemming from differences in culture, geography, and theology. Rather than enter into decision-making, the WCC has sought to serve as a forum where churches can share these diverse views and learn together from the discussion process.
The consensus model being studied and tried out this week is a step towards formalising that approach for all WCC business. If approved by delegates at this meeting, it would take effect for the WCC ninth assembly in February 2006 in Brazil.
Several delegates affirmed the value of the approach during the human sexuality discussion.
"This allows us to go from confrontation to dialogue," said Msgr John Radano of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, a delegated observer to the meeting. "The world needs to see Christians doing that at this particular point."
No statement on the issue is being planned for the ninth assembly. However, the central committee is expected to continue looking at other ways to continue the conversation, possibly via one of the "ecumenical conversations" being planned for the almost-800 delegates.
In a later press briefing, Kishkovsky said that the dialogical approach represents the best way forward for this time.
"Ideological debate is a totally unfruitful process," Kishkovsky said. "(The issue) is better taken up in discernment mode at this point rather than in a for/against mode." By focusing on dialogue, he said, "Maybe we can still recognise the image of God in those taking the opposite position."
Free high resolution pictures and additional information about the WCC central committee meeting are available at: