The issue of equality for all people was raised at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly by a group of LGBT activists who are asking the gathering to be more inclusive. The group is pushing the global assembly to recognize that LGBT equality will become a key issue for churches going forward, and the WCC and its churches should be discussing the issue, not brushing the issue aside.
The group of LGBT activists, the Create Safe Space Caucus, includes the Rev. Mike Scheunemeyer, UCC executive for LGBT concerns. He believes that although the values of faith and human dignity were echoed throughout worship and business session, organizers from the WCC didn’t do enough to acknowledge sexual orientation or gender identity issues.
The caucus, in an effort to make sure the WCC hears their message, distributed a statement that addressed the absence of LGBT issues on Thursday, Oct. 31, a day after the WCC 10th assembly kicked off in Busan, South Korea.
"When we learn to speak about these things, we learn to build more communities that are whole, and just," Scheunemeyer told a group of representatives of North American churches at a meeting that night. Schuenemeyer is one of two dozen people from the UCC attending the WCC gathering.
The CSCC, an international group of LGBT activists committed to making spaces at the WCC General Assembly that bring to light issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, is hosting a pair of conversations on Nov. 1 and Nov. 6 on ways for faith communities can create safe spaces for conversations around LGBT issues.
"How is it that in the Secretary General’s report, the Moderator’s report and in every other word, spoken or sung, that such silence should exist on such a critical issue facing the churches throughout the world?" the caucus asked in its statement. "A simple acknowledgment that this is an issue facing the church would have been a step in the right direction.
"Silence on sexual orientation and gender identity perpetuates the stigma and discrimination faced by marginalized people and increases vulnerabilities," the statement continues.
The full statement by the CSCC reads as follows:
The Create Safe Space Caucus offers a mixed response to the opening day of the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Busan.
The opening worship, plenary and business session were well grounded in the gospel values of love, justice and peace. His Holiness Karenkin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians reminded participants, "Each of us is different… Our mutual faith in Christ — truly our love for the Lord — is what unites us." He proclaimed that Christ encourages us "to regard our fellow human beings, without exception, in the full dignity and holiness of their personhood."
These values emanated from the liturgies, presentations and reports on this first day. However, for the Create Safe Space Caucus the absence of any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity created the sense of invisibility. How is it that in the Secretary General’s report, the Moderator’s report and in every other word, spoken or sung, that such silence should exist on such a critical issue facing the churches throughout the world? A simple acknowledgment that this is an issue facing the church would have been a step in the right direction.
Silence on sexual orientation and gender identity perpetuates the stigma and discrimination faced by marginalized people and increases vulnerabilities. This is particularly poignant today, as many will observe Thursdays in Black, a movement towards a world without rape and violence. Sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity are part of what it means to be human. Thus, these are concerns which are part of life in every community throughout the world, including other marginalized communities [that] may also feel invisible.
Any serious effort toward justice and peace must address stigma and discrimination in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. At the very least, the concern must be named along with a commitment to creating safe spaces for constructive dialogue.
The UCC is one of the 345 members of the WCC, with a team of almost two dozen representatives from across the life of the church at this gathering. The WCC assembly, which occurs once every seven years, takes place from Oct. 30 through Nov. 8 in Busan. The assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC, and is a moment when member churches come together for prayer, celebration and to set the future agenda for the council. There are more than 4,000 delegates, visitors, and event staff and media members from more than 100 countries in South Korea for the assembly.