Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Gay vote highlights split within the South African church

Sources tell Anglican Ink that though the motion is unlikley to be approved, the debate will make public the sharp divide existing within the church.

The motion to amend the Anglican Church in Southern Africa’s canons to permit gay blessings and non-celibate gay clergy has drawn mixed reactions. Sources tell Anglican Ink that though the motion is unlikley to be approved, the debate will make public the sharp divide existing within the church.

On 17 Aug 2016 the Primate of the ACSA, the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town (pictured) announced the Diocese of Saldanha Bay had put forward a resolution asking the church to permit rites for the blessing of same sex couples and to license non-celibate gay clergy. The motions comes after several years of debate within the ACSA House of Bishops. Liberals — primarily centered in the Dioceses of Cape Town, False Bay and Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape — have sought church approval for gay clergy and blessings — practices already unofficially permitted in these dioceses.

Following the Spring meeting of the House of Bishops Archbishop Makgoba said “we also tried at the Synod of Bishops to draw up guidelines for clergy wanting to bless couples in same-sex unions, or who want to enter same-sex unions themselves…On this issue, I had to report back to the Synod, the only agreement we reached is that we were not of one mind”.

The former Bishop of False Bay and Suffragan Bishop of Cape Town, the Rt. Rev. Mervyn Castle, was an openly gay man, who stated that while he was bishop he was celibate, and in 2003 the former Dean of St. George’ Cathedral in Cape Town, the Very Rev. Rowan Smith, told his congregation he was gay. In 2009 the Cape Town diocesan synod voted to give pastoral support to same-sex relations, while earlier this year the Bishop of Saldanha Bay, the Rt. Rev. Raphael Hess, authorized a Church of England priest from the Diocese of Oxford to perform a rite of celebration of the same-sex marriage of the Rev. Mpho Tutu.

Canon Tutu was forced to surrender her license after she married Dr. Marceline van Furth, but Bishop Hess said it was his desire to change the rules to permit partnered or married same-sex clergy.

Speaking to News24, Ms. Tutu said: “When I married my wife prejudice slammed a door of opportunity in my face. With this proposal we are ‘rattling the hinges’,” of the church.

In July, she told News24 that she thought the Anglican Church had come “too far” to turn back on the issue of homosexuality. “There’s a point at which we can’t turn around. That closet door has slammed so we can’t go back into that closet.”

A spokesman for GAFCON told Anglican Ink permitting gay blessings and clergy as a pastoral response to a perceived need was a mistake.

“Gafcon has always supported the pastoral care of those who experience same-sex attraction, and we commend the proposal for addressing this important priority. However, the proposal goes on to advocate for changes that are clearly contrary to the revealed Word of God and Anglican teaching, and therefore to follow the course of action suggested by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay would be pastorally disastrous. It is never pastoral for Christians to bless or support behavior that the Bible identifies as sinful. Gafcon is committed to returning the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion. Churches that truly love and care for those who experience same-sex attraction cannot be silent on this matter.”

Sources within the ACSA tell Anglican Ink the motion “is not very likely to pass, in which case these bishops in the Cape Town area will probably just proceed anyway. That is where the rubber hits the road, because the rest of the church will keep quiet.”

He noted that “blessings and other unbiblical activities have been happening under the radar for some years now in several dioceses without anyone raising objections. When objections are raised it all gets swept under the carpet.”

It has been alleged by critics that Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has been slow to discipline bishops accused of financial misconduct and corruption, and has not responded to complaints of clergy sexual abuse brought to his notice. The prospects for reform in the current environment are not high, the source said.

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