Discord over Planned WCC Meeting Site

Article excerpt

The World Council of Churches has settled on Harare, Zimbabwe, as the site of its 50th-anniversary assembly in-1998, but a swirling controversy about homosexuality may undermine the site's potential as avenue for reconciliation. The controversy began just hours after the Zimbabwe capital was selected January 29 during the council's Central Committee meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. Debate was sparked by reports of harassment of gays and lesbians by Zimbabwe police and comments by Zimbabwe church officials supporting such a crackdown.

A January 24 article in the Daily Gazette, a Harare independent newspaper, reported that police had moved to suppress homosexuality and that the country's interior minister, Dumiso Dabengwa, considers homosexuality a crime. The report quoted a woman from the Association of Gays and Lesbians in Zimbabwe as saying that police had broken into the homes of several association members and confiscated safe sex/AIDS prevention videos. Police, the report said, found the videos pornographic.

Journalists covering the World Council's Central Committee meeting in Johannesburg asked officials how the local church felt about the reported repression of gays and lesbians. Johath Siyachitema, president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, responded, "The church in Zimbabwe is very clear on this. Homosexuality is a sin, and the government is acting in accord with the law. The church won't change its mind on this. We don't think homosexuality is a right way of life." Some Central Committee members from Europe and the United States expressed concern about the reports, as did observers from a U.S.based gay and lesbian congregation attending a WCC meeting for the first time. …