5 November 2013 | by Paul Valentin
Tuesday’s theme is unity, which lies at the heart of the World Council of Churches (WCC) - a diverse group with differing traditions that strive to work together.
In Christ we are all equal
Today’s Bible study appropriately explored the story of Pentecost. We discussed the idea that labels and divisions acquired at birth, or that are invented and sustained by society, become irrelevant. In Christ we are all equal.
So how is it that the church still excludes some people who don’t conform to our idea of those ‘who belong’?
The work that remains to be done could be illustrated by the assembly having a VIP room. We are saddled with historical privileges that a minority of church leaders still see as their entitlement.
Making an effective contribution
As the assembly activities approach a crescendo, I am conscious of balancing my time between events.
For the past few days, I have skipped the formal business sessions for smaller group sessions where I feel my contributions can be more effective.
The church and the LGBT community
I attended a workshop about the relationship between the church and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. It is an issue that has caused serious divisions and a lot of hurt for many, but as one of the participants said: ‘if we can’t be safe in church, where do we go?’
A transgender Korean woman told the packed room about her extremely difficult journey from total rejection to hesitant acceptance. The personal pain was clear.
Other testimonies - three from Africa and one from east Europe argued for dialogue and exploring differences, while respecting other perspectives. How else can we expect to find common ground?
They also highlighted the reality of fear, even by those who do not consider themselves to belong to the LGBT community, but who want to understand and support. They also discussed how exclusion often leads to the condoning of violence.
Rev Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of INERELA+, who speaks as a religious woman living with HIV said: ‘The church needs to talk about sex and the church needs to be there for those who are cast out by society’.
A lot of food for thought, but probably not enough to influence the final outcome of the assembly where the divides within and between the churches are simply still too wide on the topic.
Our staff are in Busan, South Korea attending the World Council of Churches assembly. The theme of the assembly, 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace', provides a focus for theological reflection, worship and meditation, as well as for planning programmatic activities before, during and after the assembly.