AIDS in Africa has reached epidemic proportions, and an American clergyman told a gathering in Zimbabwe this winter that he knows one of the main reasons why: male sexual permissiveness. In his address to a session of the eighth World Council of Churches assembly in Zimbabwe last December, Rev. Eugene Rivers, a founder of the Boston-based National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, decried the "political and spiritual violence" of male sexual permissiveness in Africa, linking it with the explosion of AIDS on the continent.
"We must expand the parameters of our notion of violence," Rivers said in a speech that stirred up considerable controversy among delegates, "because unless someone can tell me something different, sexual promiscuity—and there is no other way to say it straight—now functions as a form of political and spiritual violence against women and children."
During its assembly in Harare, the WCC challenged the churches of the world to work with Africa "to accompany those among us with burdens too heavy to carry alone," including the explosion of HIV infections in Southern Africa and crushing international debt.
The assembly also supported the creation of a "Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations," which could extend the organization's ecumenical outreach beyond its 339 member churches. The proposed forum would bring together nearly all of the mainline Christian churches, including many non-WCC members such as the Roman Catholic Church and major pentecostal and evangelical bodies. Rev. Kathryn Bannister, 29, a United Methodist pastor from Kansas, was elected as one of eight WCC presidents—the first female North American WCC president under age 30.