Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Liberal SA clergy promise to defy synod after it rejects gay blessings

Some clergy to go ahead with gay blessings, though synod leaders see homosexuality as “unnatural”

Liberal clergy have vowed to ignore last month’s vote by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) repudiating same-sex marriage. 

Meeting in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng Province on 30 Sept 2016 the ACSA provincial synod voted to reject a motion put forward by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions.  A second clause to the motion, that would permit dioceses to license clergy who had entered same-sex civil unions or marriages, was removed by the proposers before the start of debate.

On 29 Sept 2016 the synod broke into small groups to discuss the resolution after hearing presentations from a panel of four representing different theological and pastoral viewpoints on the issue. Before voting began, the Primate of the ACSA, the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, stated synod rules required the measure to be approved by a two thirds margin in each order. However the motion fell short and was defeated among the bishops 16 to 6, by the clergy 42 to 34, and the laity 41 to 25.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian the Bishop of Mthatha the Rt. Rev. Sitembele Mzamane (pictured) said the church was unlikely to change its views. “If they want to marry, that’s fine. But they should not come to the church and make us try and change our approach. Because this kind of life is very unnatural.”

After the vote was announced Archbishop Makgoba voiced his disappointment with the outcome. He noted the South African church was organized along democratic lines 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.”

He noted 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.”

He added he 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.”

Evangelical leaders within the South African church had told AI they expected the measure to be defeated. However, their concern was that there would be no consequences for clergy and dioceses that went forward with gay clergy and blessings against the will of synod.

The Rev. Mpho Tutu-van Furth — the daughter of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu who earlier this year was forced to surrender her license as a priest in the ACSA after she married another woman — said she did not believe the battle was lost.  “I am of course disappointed by the decisions but I don’t despair. I know that love and justice will prevail, maybe not at this moment but certainly in the future. Especially the Archbishop has said the conversation continues.”

The day after the vote the Rev Canon Chris Ahrends, rector of the parish of St Margaret in Parow in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay, said he was disappointed “the church has let Cape Town and the world down” and would not abide by the decision. “If a married couple, who happen to be the same sex, come to me and ask me to bless their marriage, I will do so,” Canon Ahrends told the Independent.  

“So if that means going against the church’s rules, then that is exactly what I am prepared to do because this is a matter of justice.”


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