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Churches' response to human sexuality

14 February 2006

World Council of Churches' contributions to the discussions on human sexuality
From Harare to Porto Alegre
Background Document 



It was over forty years ago when, at the request of its member churches, the World Council of Churches (WCC) began to address the issues of human sexuality. The foci and nature of the work done have been influenced by the aspects the churches felt challenged to address at a given time. The survey carried out by Birgitta Larsson best explains how the Council dealt with issues of human sexuality in the period between the New Delhi Assembly (1961) and the Canberra Assembly (1991). The major findings were published in "A Quest for Clarity" (Birgitta Larsson, The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 50/1, WCC Publications, Geneva. 1998). 

Several General Assemblies made reference to new questions facing the church. The New Delhi Assembly, for instance, stated: 

The churches have to discover what positions and actions to take in regard to sex relations before and after marriage; illegitimacy; in some cultures polygamy or concubinage as a social system sanctioned by law and customs; in some Western cultures short-term marriages, or liaisons, easy divorce; in all parts of the world mixed marriages (inter-faith, inter-confessional and inter-racial) with the diminishing of caste and class systems and of racial prejudice… All this, and much else, forces the churches to re-examine their teaching, preaching and pastoral care and their witness and service to society. 

The Uppsala Assembly in 1968 took the entry point of the debate on "birth control", but continued to state: 

Family patterns change in different social settings, and Christian marriage can find its expression in a variety of ways. We should like materials elaborating the problems of polygamy, marriage and celibacy, birth control, divorce, abortion and also of homosexuality to be made available for responsible study and action. 

Inspired by the reflections on "alternative life-styles" by the ecumenical consultation on Sexism in the 1970s (June 1974, Berlin), the Nairobi Assembly (1975) called for "a theological study of sexuality, taking into account the culture of the member churches": 

Whereas we recognize the urgent need to examine ways in which women and men can grow into partnership of mutual interdependence, it is recommended that the WCC urge the member churches to

  1. affirm the personhood and mutual interdependence of individuals in families;
  2. affirm the personhood and worth of people living in different life situations. 

The Christian Church is in a key position to foster and support the partners to marriage in their search for mutuality. The church is in the same unique position in respect to persons living in different life situations (e.g. single people living in isolation, single parents), extended families and persons living in communal patterns. There is evidence that these people are not fully accepted by many societies and are often ignored by the church. 

The assemblies in Vancouver (1983) and Canberra (1991) came up with similar statements, including additional concerns related to biotechnology. Responding to recommendations by the Vancouver Assembly, the 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 initiated a study on female sexuality. Because of the rich diversity of the findings, a second study was commissioned on Sexuality and Human Relations. The 1989 Moscow Central Committee asked to circulate this study for comment in the regions. The result of this process was the very comprehensive and very carefully edited publication on Living in Covenant with God and One Another: A Guide to the Study of Sexuality and Human Relations…(Geneva: WCC, 1990), which still is a very good resource for study encounters and group discussion at different levels. 

Whilst churches expected the WCC to contribute to more clarity and perhaps even a common position, it proved to be difficult for the Council to respond to such requests. The member churches through the WCC were obviously more successful in identifying a range of key issues that need to be addressed in different contexts and in creating opportunities for careful considerations of the various aspects and perspectives involved. 

Birgitta Larsson's survey suggests that:

  • very different and changing family patterns and life-styles challenge the churches to address a wider range of issues of human sexuality; frequently noted are issues of pre-marital sex, short term marriages or extra-marital sex, polygamy, marriage and celibacy, homosexuality, etc.;
  • the WCC addressed issues of human sexuality through different studies in response to requests coming from the member churches, which were taken up by the decision making bodies;
  • studies were successful in so far as they did not pretend to lead to a WCC position taken by the Central Committee, but rather provided information and considerations for careful discussions by the member churches together and in their different cultural contexts. 

The WCC has functioned well as a space for facilitating and enabling the dialogue on issues related to human sexuality. 


In the period since the Canberra Assembly, the issue of homosexuality progressively has taken center stage. Gay and Lesbian Caucus met during the Canberra Assembly and drafted a letter to the new moderator of Central Committee asking that work on sexual orientation be transferred from Family Life Education to Justice Unit. The decisive turning point was, however, the 1994 Central Committee meeting in Johannesburg. The Unit III Committee report was hotly debated in the plenary in response to references to violence against women, particularly lesbians. The announcement of Harare as the venue for the Eighth Assembly prompted a Dutch journalist at a press conference to raise the question about reports of police in Zimbabwe randomly arresting gays in the streets of Harare. As the preparations for the Harare Assembly got underway, the WCC was increasingly confronted with strong reactions from gay groups and gay-friendly churches, condemning the fact that the Zimbabwe government continued to attack homosexuals in the country as a severe violation of human rights. 

A first staff workshop, facilitated by former WCC staff member Alan Brash, was organized in July 1995. Alan Brash also produced a statement on the issues at stake that was later published in the Risk Series under the title Facing Our Differences.  

In December 1996 the Orthodox-Protestant dialogue in Antelias spent much time on the sexual orientation issue and agreed on the human rights aspects of the issue. This was, however, later challenged by Orthodox as well as by some Protestant voices in the WCC, prompting a WCC human rights consultation in 1998 to reject any reference to sexual orientation in a document for Harare. On the other hand, the WCC received correspondence from some member churches emphasizing the human rights aspect, particularly the United Church of Christ in USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of The Netherlands; the latter church subsequently withdrew from participation in the Harare Assembly. 

A small consultation in 1997 in Geneva underlined that issues of human sexuality were already on the agenda of many of the member churches and that the different approaches and positions taken posed serious new challenges to the quest for the visible unity of the church. Contributions to this consultation were published by The Ecumenical Review in 1998. This constructive ecumenical approach to the issue was strengthened by the idea to prepare Padare1 sessions on sexual orientation that would allow for mutual encounter and discussion in a safe environment. 

The workshops in Harare, on sexual orientation were experienced by most of the participants as a helpful contribution by the WCC to create a space for dialogue. This became even more important after the very difficult experience of the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican communion, which rather deepened the differences and divisions within the Anglican Communion on sexual orientation. As in other churches, the focus on a decision by a decision-making body or an authoritative statement on the issues at stake proved to be mostly counterproductive. The approach of creating an enabling ecumenical space for mutual encounter, analysis and dialogue seems to be more promising. 

Based on the Padare sessions at Harare the Programme Guidelines recommended to the assembly a shift of focus from sexual orientation to human sexuality. The Programme Guidelines Committee report emphasized the need for the WCC to address issues of personal and interpersonal ethics. It noted:

As we stand at the dawn of a new millennium, one of the most significant tasks for the churches will be to address the contemporary ethical issues growing out of the enormous advances in fields such as genetic engineering and electronic communication. Issues of personal and interpersonal ethics must also be addressed. The WCC should offer space and direction for conversation and consultation enabling member churches to discuss these difficult issues -- including human sexuality -- which cause division within and among its member churches. This conversation must build on the shared theological and hermeneutical reflection that has informed earlier ecumenical ethical discussions on issues such as racism.

With the ecumenical map changing rapidly, the WCC must continue to encourage and support bilateral and multilateral discussion on local and regional levels, offering space for reflection, conversation and evaluation of progress and process for those actively on the road to unity." (Excerpts from the programme guidelines report, Harare Assembly) 

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."  


Further reflections on the recommendations by the Programme Committee convinced the Council that the process should move beyond stating the issue as merely a difficult one to be avoided because of potential conflict or divisions, to a situation in which spaces are opened up for discussion, debate, analysis and action. It is apparent that, because of the openness that has developed in some churches, there is less denial of the importance of the issues and their impact on members of the community and churches. There is more clarity on methods of how to talk about human sexuality. Many member churches are involved in discussions of different aspects of human sexuality although it has to be noted that few have yet moved to specific programme or educational work. 

At the Harare Assembly it was clear that the churches did not feel it appropriate to establish a specific programme on human sexuality. 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. For this reason the general secretary, with the support of the WCC Officers, decided to approach the issue in the following way.

A. Reference Group on Human Sexuality 

The General Secretary invited a number of representatives from member churches to form a WCC Reference Group on Human Sexuality. The terms of reference of the group are:

  • To advise the general secretary on the development and content of the WCC work related to human sexuality, taking into account the link with all other areas of WCC work that have bearing on the implementation of the governing bodies' recommendations.
  • To advise and accompany the WCC ‘s Human Sexuality Staff Group in carrying out the recommendations of the WCC governing bodies, helping to evaluate its work and offering advice on further development of the work.
  • To ensure the participation of representatives from WCC member churches in their confessional, cultural and religious diversity. 

The group met on several occasions - November 2000, July 2001 and April 2003 in Geneva.  

The work done includes: 

  • Followed up on WCC programmatic work linked to the issue of human sexuality
  • Set up a list server (e-mail group) for sharing ideas and information within the Reference and Staff Groups
  • Developed a timeline of work up to the 2006 Ninth General Assembly
  • Provided a detailed analysis of the church statements received and preparation of the 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. (see below for further details).
  • Reviewed a congregational study guide prepared by the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Gathered substantive theological, pastoral and ethical reflections for publication in a Study Guide to be completed by June 2004.
  • Gathered stories from the regions for a Risk Book to be published in 2006
  • Regional seminars were organised (2003-2004) on biblical texts, similar to the third Bossey seminar, in Asia (Bangalore, India), Lebanon, Fiji, Nairobi, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Europe in preparation for the plenary presentation to the WCC CC in August 2005. One member of the reference group organized the meeting and another one from outside the region participated. 

B. Staff group on human sexuality 

The General Secretary appointed a Human Sexuality Staff Group within WCC. The terms of reference for the group requires that it "develop a process that responds to the mandate from the Assembly (which shall be facilitated) in ways which will enable the member churches to engage in dialogue with one another as well as with congregations." 

Both groups have been engaged in exploring questions of human sexuality so as to offer advice to him on these issues. The staff group has worked on

  • Publishing two articles in the July 2002 issue (Volume 54, Number 3) of The Ecumenical Review:
  • "Reclaiming the Sacredness and the Beauty of the Body: The Sexual Abuse of Women and children from a church Leader's Perspective" by David Coles
  • "The Body as Hermeneutical Category: Guidelines for a Feminist Hermeneutics of Liberation" by Nancy Cardoso Pereira
  • Publishing of a theme issue on "Human Sexuality": The Ecumenical Review October 2004 (Volume 56, Number 4)
  • Compilation of a bibliography on human sexuality issues.
  • Linking the issue of human sexuality to WCC programmatic work (see following section).
  • Review of a study guide on Human Sexuality, prepared by the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg.
  • Preparation of an informal hearing session on Human Sexuality at the August 2002 Central Committee and for a Plenary Hearing at the Central Committee of 2005.
  • Preparing and acting as an advisory body for planning the Bossey Seminars on human sexuality (see section on Bossey below).
  • Facilitated archiving of materials - in Spring 2002 materials and correspondence relating to these issues, especially leading up to the General Assembly in Harare, were properly archived and lodged in the WCC library. This represents nearly nine years of exploring appropriate and effective ways and methods of discussing and addressing the issues involved.

C. Review of Church Statements on Human Sexuality:

Recognising that several churches around the world were wrestling with different dimensions of the issues surrounding human sexuality, the Reference Group decided to analyse what the churches have said on the issue.

Therefore in 2001, the General Secretary of the WCC sent a letter to the churches calling on them to share with the WCC their statements and actions on the issue. Over 60 documents were received and range from reports to resolutions to recommendations. These were collated and summarized by the Reference Group members. It was acknowledged that there are serious gaps in the information received from the churches - there are very few received from churches in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific or Latin America, or from the family of the Orthodox churches. 

What is significant is that almost every document that was received from the churches is meant for study and further reflection and dialogue within the church and therefore does not claim to possess the status of official church positions. While the reviewed documents clearly reflect a plurality of approaches vis a vis their theological, ethical and heremeutical methodology - they do share certain features. "For instance, almost all statements acknowledge the existence of some real discontinuity between "traditional" church positions on human sexuality and the actual reality "out there". Most statements consider the Bible as the main foundation for ethical decision- making, albeit in different ways and with various emphases. Except for a few statements, the vast majority of the church documents tend to adopt a humble approach by recognizing the need for further study and reflection on this highly sensitive issue of human sexuality. Yet the most glaring aspect of these documents is their diversity." (Fr. George Mathew Nalunakkal from the Reference Group who helped review the statements.) 

The documents received from the churches can be found in the WCC Library in the archives.

D. The Bossey Seminars 

By providing a laboratory for testing and further developing the approach chosen by the Programme Guidelines Committee and the Reference Group, the three Bossey Seminars became the most comprehensive contribution to the process in the period between the WCC Assemblies in Harare and Porto Alegre. All three seminars were introduced by a meditation on the theme of pilgrimage. In terms of methodology, the seminars were also facilitated by a professional from outside WCC who tested the consensus of the group all the way through each meeting in order to allow for development to take place. At the beginning all the participants were invited to make a contract of confidentiality, attentiveness to the process and honoring of the others' convictions. 

The first seminar (July 2001) invited a broad range of participants from various regions to share their cultural, local and global perspectives on human sexuality. The participants expressed that the best kind of theology emerges from real life experience in relation to sacred traditional theology. The degree to which the individual participants were able to reach openness and vulnerability determined the quality of shared reflection and theologizing. Many participants experienced the pressure of their local culture very strongly. The interaction of culture with practice, faith and scripture was an enduring concern. Human sexuality is not just about matters of same-sex sexuality as it has often arisen in ecumenical discussions. Rather, human sexuality is very basic to all human beings and affects them often at points of extreme vulnerability.  

Personal stories of pain, guilt, celebration were shared within a confidential sharing space in the Bossey seminar where people spoke voluntarily of their lives of engagement with infidelity, failures of sex lives in marriages and relationships, identity questions, and a panoply of other experiences. These experiences could not be categorized along the lines of gender, orientation, and culture. instead, they were marked by openness and became encounters with sacred humanness. Traditional sexual ethics are inadequate because a) they themselves are flawed, and b) they are inadequate to deal with the new world that the people of God find themselves in. A new practice and theology of sexuality need to be forged. This theology needs to reclaim the theology of the body and to practice pastoral care and approaches that are more appropriate for the varied human sexual experiences. 

Regional experiences were shared. In Sub-Saharan Africa, widespread concern was expressed concerning patriarchal gender differentiation and human rights violation of women particularly on cultural/ritual control of women's sexualities and violence against women. For many African women, "the marriage certificate is a death certificate." Sexual networking, polygamy, and other sexual practices spread HIV/AIDS like wildfire in the continent. The use of condom continues to be a church issue that is hotly debated. In Asia, colonization brought massive repression of traditional expressions of sacred sexualities. Globalization promotes commodification of the body, particularly of women and children and gives rise to issues of injustice. In North America and Western Europe, post-modernity has a huge impact on sexual practices. Debates on homosexuality are dominant in church discussions. There is a deep sense of the pain of family rejection. Violence against women, abuse of children and rising divorce rates are still major problems. In all regions, churches are in a position of silence and shame about sexuality, and sexuality exclusive to marriage is fundamentally challenged. 

The second Bossey seminar (April 2002) dealt with the summary and analysis of church statements collated by the international Reference Group. The statements identified the issues and approaches the churches were struggling with. The participants discovered the gaps between church statements and lived realities and that most of the responses are from the north. Two inputs on confessional perspectives were given by the Finnish Orthodox Church and United Methodist Church, USA. While various forms of life in communities were celebrated, the dimensions of challenges in human sexuality varied in different communities - monastic communities, mixed marriages, marriages within the traditional faith communities, gay and lesbian communities. There were painful moments created by hardening of church positions on human sexuality. Other issues and responses presented during the seminar were HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and responses of non-governmental organizations, and sexual abuse among clergy or church leaders and a church response from Aotearoa-New Zealand. 

The third Bossey seminar (April 2003) focused on Bible studies. Three approaches were used in the study of the Bible - body of Christ, pilgrimage and Trinity. The study of the Bible and the sharing from confessional perspectives provided a lively entry point in identifying issues on human sexuality that had not been explored in the past. These situations have arisen from the realization that family structures or patterns are changing. There is an increasing number of mother-headed families where the male role has become irrelevant, causing fathers to be thrown out of the homes; more people would like to remain single or get married but not raise children. In Africa, because of AIDS, families are beginning to be left to the care of grandmothers and even children as parents die of AIDS. In Europe and North America gay and lesbian communities would like to raise their own children through adoptions or through children they brought from previous relationships, or through in-vitro fertilization. Other issues identified were disabilities and sexuality, polygamy, fidelity, extra marital and pre-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion and contraception. The participants affirmed the sharing of stories and challenged the prescriptive and normative model of engaging in the issues of human sexuality. The participants affirmed an enabling and facilitating approach to theology, ethics, and Bible studies in dealing with the varied dimensions of human sexuality. They affirmed the nature of theology that is provisional, that shows signposts along the life journey, that is not prescriptive. There is a need to explore eschatological reversal and counter-culture as another lens in reading the Bible.

E. Work on HIV/AIDS 

Churches engaged early with HIV/AIDS, and many have excellent care, education and counseling programs. But the challenge to the churches is felt at a deeper level than this. As the pandemic has unfolded, it has exposed fault lines that reach to the heart of our theology, our ethics, our liturgy and our practice of ministry. Today, churches are being obliged to acknowledge that they have - however unwittingly - contributed both actively and passively to the spread of the virus. The difficulty in addressing issues of sex and sexuality has often made it painful to engage, in any honest and realistic way, with issues of sex education and HIV prevention. The tendency to exclude others and certain interpretations of the scriptures have combined to promote the stigmatization, exclusion and suffering of people with HIV or AIDS. This has undermined the effectiveness of care, education and prevention efforts and inflicted additional suffering on those already affected by the HIV. Given the extreme urgency of the situation, and the conviction that the churches do have a distinctive role to play in the response to the epidemic, what is needed is a rethinking of the mission, and the transformation of structures and ways of working. 

The work on curricula for theological education that has begun has identified the need for more positive affirmation of the human body and of sexual relationships. The issue of Human Sexuality has been substantively incorporated into the Ecumenical HIV & AIDS training programmes for Theological Institutions and also the programmes of Theological Education by extension, especially in Africa. More resources material have been prepared and more training opportunities have been made available trough the various regional HIV & AIDS Initiatives- in the different regions of the world. HIV/AIDS provides an opportunity for the churches to engage more openly and in a pastoral way with issues of human sexuality.

F. Violence against women 

The issue of violence against women has been on the agenda of the WCC for over a decade now. In their analysis of this violence, women today increasingly make a link with issues related to human sexuality and violence. Whenever there is war or conflict, there is reference to rape and other acts of sexual violence against women. What makes this even more difficult to bear is the evidences of sexual violence against women and children even in refugees centers in the hands of humanitarian aid workers. But sexual violence against women is a reality in times of peace, too. 

Regrettably, sexual violence takes place even in the so-called safe environment of the church. Recent revelations of sexual abuse by clergy show it to be a closely guarded secret that happens in many churches in all parts of the world. Women in the WCC constituency also point to the violence that lesbian women experience in most societies. All this has made women identify more clearly the link between the violence they experience and their sexuality. The 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.

G. Other important contributions 

Links continue to be made between the Reference Group and current WCC programmes through the work of the staff group on

  • theological anthropology
  • ETE (Ecumenical Theological Education) curricula
  • EDAN (Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network)
  • Biotechnology 

In the process of this work WCC has established contact with church related organizations addressing issues of human sexuality in their own contexts (e.g., the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups Assembly in Spring 2003). One way of linking such organizations within and between regions is to facilitate participation of individuals from other contexts. Reports and experiences of the participants at these events will contribute to the data that the WCC is collecting and will be shared with the churches and others who express interest. 

The Programme Committee report to the 1999 meeting of the Central Committee stated that "new attention is needed to the spiritual dimensions of caring for life, particularly as they relate to ethical questions arising from bio-technology, birth control, abortion and human sexuality." 

The Reference Group hopes that from the work done, the churches will be helped to realize that the issues of human sexuality that members are wrestling with are not only about homosexuality. There are diversities in human sexual experience that should be celebrated and addressed through open spaces for discussion.

H. Central Committee, February 2005

The Reference Group on Human Sexuality reported to the Central Committee (Feb. 2005) on the steps that have been taken in response to the Eighth Assembly mandate to create the climate for a discussion on human sexuality. It affirmed both the complexity of the discussions and the variety of church positions and discussions.

"The reference group has reflected on a broad spectrum of issues on human sexuality and brings it now to the attention of the Central Committee. The issues raised are questions of justice in human relationship and call for a redemptive approach of healing and reconciliation." (Dr. Erlinda Senturias, Moderator, Reference Group.)

It was acknowledged that the two important contributions made by the WCC in this process are:

i.) The review of Church Statements which affirm the diversity of positions among the churches and the series of three seminars held at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey described earlier which provided a methodology of respect for diversity, sensitivity and an atmosphere of dialogue.

ii.) The Bossey seminars offered a safe space and encouraged the sharing of experiences. "The interaction of culture with practice, faith and scripture was an enduring concern. The Church, among other institutions, is faced with sensitive issues such as HIV and AIDS, marriage instability, sexual abuse and questions concerning sexual orientation. In all regions, churches seem to struggle with a position of silence and shame about sexuality and with the fact that sexuality exclusive to marriage is fundamentally challenged. The degree to which the individual participants were able to open themselves up to the others in accepting their own vulnerability and respecting the vulnerability of the others determined the quality of shared reflection and theologizing. The participants underlined that the best kind of theology emerges from real life experience in relation to sacred traditional theology." (Valburga Striek)

The Central Committee called for pastoral wisdom in dealing with the difficult and even divisive ethical questions posed to the churches by issues of human sexuality. In table discussions CC members shared some of the challenges faced in their own church contexts. This hearing plenary of the Central Committee, within a mode of consensus, paved the way for a continuing discussion among the churches.

Some Conclusions 

There have been many contacts and inquiries from member churches and groups in churches asking for more information on human sexuality to enrich their own discussions. Some of these discussions have been provoked partly through discussions on HIV/AIDS, partly through educational curricula and, not least, because it is one of the human rights issues currently on the agenda in many communities and churches. 

Three insights seem to be central throughout the journey of the WCC's response to issues of human sexuality:

  • to concentrate on the mainstreaming of positions and the production of authoritative statements is obviously counterproductive and deepens the rifts within and among churches; there is a need for ecumenical spaces for encounter, analysis, dialogue and education following an enabling and pastoral approach to the issues at stake;
  • to neglect the diversity of contexts and the different issues that are of concern for the churches in different regions is not helpful; the recommendation of the Harare Programme Guidelines Committee to move from sexual orientation to human sexuality in its rich diversity provided useful guidance;
  • the entry point should always be the celebration of the gift of life and human bodies instead of a narrow focus on normative and prescriptive guidelines. 

As a global fellowship of churches the WCC is in a unique situation to engage member churches holding different views and positions on human sexuality. By not being part of the local and national church scene the WCC is privileged to offer a space for fruitful encounter rather than being directly involved in the immediate debates. The churches' response to the request of the WCC general secretary has made the Council a trusted custodian of the diverse church perspectives on the issue. This challenges the WCC to develop the capacity for listening and hearing different church voices telling different but authentic stories and experiences. 

One of the fruits of this capacity to listen and discern is the Council's growing ability to challenge and help the churches to overcome the syndrome of denial - at least as is evidenced by the outcome of the three Bossey seminars that were organized to follow up the recommendations by the Programme Guideline Committee. This may be a huge step forward towards a better understanding and higher level of mutual acceptability. 

The WCC also plays an important role in communicating to the wider fellowship what the churches are saying and doing about the issue of human sexuality. In this way the Council brings churches into living contacts with each other on this otherwise potentially dividing issue and offers the global ecumenical platform to deal with it responsibly. 

Through involvement in this issue the WCC is becoming a fellowship of churches in a deeper sense - it is being seen as a brother and sister ("fellow") to those who are otherwise feeling alienated and excluded from their fellowship and ecclesial community.  

The Ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre in February 2006, will have an ecumenical conversation on the issue and workshops in the mutirão so that the dialogue can continue. 

Geneva, February 2006

1 PADARE refers to the informal discussions/workshops organised by the churches and ecumenical groups held during the VIII Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 1998.