Statement by the Archbishop of Cape Town on the synod vote rejecting gay marriage

 

Statement by the Archbishop of Cape Town on the synod vote rejecting gay marriage

Author: 

Thabo Makgoba

First, some introductory explanations:

The debate we held in Ekurhuleni yesterday was at our Provincial Synod. We call the synod “Provincial” because we are a Province of the world-wide Anglican Communion – our church Province covers Anglicans in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and on the island of St Helena.

Of course, it is only in South Africa that the State allows people of the same gender to marry under civil law.

When the Church refers to marriage, we mean marriage in Church, by the Church, which our Canons – the laws that govern us – call “Holy Matrimony”. So usually refer to marriage in the eyes of the State as “civil unions”. The two are quite distinct from one another.

Now to the substance of my statement:

The Church's top legislative body, our Provincial Synod, yesterday held a debate on the issue of pastoral care to people of gay and lesbian orientation who are in committed same-sex relationships.

The two proposals before the Synod which drew most public attention were:

Firstly, that bishops should be allowed to license clergy who identify as LGBTI, and are in legal same-sex civil unions under South African law, to minister in parishes. The proposers of the motion before Synod withdrew this proposal before debate began.

Secondly, it was proposed that a Bishop may “provide for prayers of blessing to be offered for those in same sex civil unions.” The motion before the Synod did not propose that clergy should be able actually to marry same-sex couples under Church law.

Under the Canons, I declared the issue a controversial motion. This meant that to be approved, it needed a simple majority vote in the three separate “houses” of the Synod: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity, the latter representing the people in the pews. In addition, if it had been approved in each of those houses, voting separately, it needed a two-thirds majority overall to pass.

The motion failed to achieve a simple majority in any House. The bishops voted 16 to six against the motion, the laity 41 to 25 against and the clergy 42 to 34 against. 

We live in a democracy, our Church has strongly advocated democracy, and people on all sides of the debate have to accept the result.

At the same time, the debate is not over. Without trying to predict its ultimate outcome, or to suggest what that should be, it was notable that a number of opponents of the motion did not reject it out of hand, but suggested instead that opinion in our Church was not yet ready for such a move.

As it was, the degree of support for the motion was quite substantial if you compare us to other African provinces of the Anglican Church, most of which are vigorously opposed to same-sex unions in any form. This was the first time this issue has been seriously debated by our Church, and representatives are free to raise it again at future synods.

Our Church, like South Africa as a nation, has previously provided an example to the world over how we can overcome differences over issues that people feel strongly about, such as sanctions against apartheid and the ordination of women as priests. It remains my hope that those on both sides of this debate can overcome their differences in a way that will be an example to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which is as divided over the issue as we are.

Finally, a word to our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers:

I was deeply pained by the outcome of the debate. I was glad I wear glasses or the Synod would have seen the tears. I wanted to be anywhere but in the Synod hall – I wished I was at home quietly in Makgoba's Kloof.

If one of you, my church members, is in pain, then I am in pain too. The pain on both sides of the debate in Synod was palpable and no one celebrated or applauded the outcome. There are no winners or losers in the Kingdom of God, and we recognised that whichever way the vote went, there was going to be pain.

Nothing that I heard in the last two days takes away from what the bishops have already said to people of LGBTI orientation:

You are loved by God and all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. We recognise that many of you are baptised and confirmed members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of your lives and the ordering of your relationships. We urge you to stick with us to play your full part in the deliberations to come.

May God bless you, and God bless us all.

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