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Anglican Church in Southern Africa Rejects Same-Sex Marriage

Anglican Church in Southern Africa Rejects Same-Sex Marriage

By David W. Virtue DD
February 22, 2016

In a move that will no doubt cause deep consternation in the Episcopal Church which over the years has poured millions of dollars into Southern Africa, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa said that they "cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions" (Resolution 1:10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998)."

The bishops released their statement at their February 13-18 2016 meeting at a hotel outside of East London in the Diocese of Grahamstown. The bishops said they "discussed and worked over their draft Pastoral Guidelines in response to Civil Unions within the wider contexts of Marriage and Human Sexuality in readiness for decision at Provincial Synod."

While the bishops offered their assurance that all baptized Christians "regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ" they refused to change their current policy on allowing the blessing of same sex unions or ordaining those involved in same gender unions.

The Prayer Book affirms 'that marriage by divine institution is a lifelong and exclusive union partnership between one man and one woman'; therefore the draft guidelines affirm for now that 'partnership between two persons of the same sex cannot be regarded as a marriage... accordingly our clergy are not permitted to bless such unions... nor are they permitted to enter into such unions while they remain in licensed ministry'.

Gay marriage would be a fundamental change to church doctrine and cannot be permitted, said a statement released by the House of Bishops.

Their decision is a direct slap in the face at The Episcopal Church which has worked assiduously over the years to penetrate Africa with its pansexual agenda. Some remaining conservatives in that province believe this is not the final word from this liberal province. The Episcopal Church's new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry noted at the meeting of the Primates in Canterbury recently where TEC got slapped down for changing its canons to allow gay marriage, "that it is part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God's children are fully welcomed..."

Clearly Curry believes that history and culture are on his side, but for the moment the Global South stands united in defense of traditional marriage.


Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba's pastoral letter on same-sex unions

February 22, 2016

To the Laos - To the People of God - Lent 2016

Dear People of God,

I am writing to you just as we complete the February meeting of the Synod of Bishops‚ where we continued to travel together as we wrestled with our episcopal leadership of the Church. When we meet‚ we do so conscious that our vocation is not simply to serve you‚ the people of our Church‚ but to serve God through you -- a tiny distinction perhaps‚ but an important one.

We met in a spirit and rhythm of prayer‚ beginning with Eucharist each day‚ followed by midday prayers and Evening Prayer together‚ on the edge of the Wild Coast‚ north of East London‚ where we were surrounded by the rhythm of God seen in the beauty of nature. The matters we discussed were firmly rooted in mission‚ issues that affect how we serve God through and with his people. So we heard reports on the COP21 climate talks and on the encouraging development of our educational initiatives‚ which involve establishing new schools and strengthening existing ones. We also reflected on theological education and on work to ensure that clergy and full-time lay workers are adequately taken care of in retirement. In our most vivid act of solidarity and identification with a God who knows pain and marginalisation‚ we undertook a walk of witness to the site of the 1992 Bhisho Massacre and then worshipped with the people of the dioceses of the Eastern Cape at Bhisho Stadium.

We have issued a joint statement from the Synod‚ but I want to report to you in more detail to give you the full context of one of the more challenging matters we discussed. One of the key tasks before us was to fulfil the mandate given to us by Provincial Standing Committee and to finalise pastoral guidelines for couples in South Africa who are in same-sex civil unions. Against the backdrop of the international debate on this issue in the worldwide Anglican Communion‚ our discussions were frank‚ open and robust. We sensitively considered our role as the Anglican Church in Southern Africa within the broader family of the Communion‚ cognisant of the divergent strands of theological thinking within the Province of Southern Africa and of the different pastoral challenges that the different dioceses and the different countries of our Province are facing.

The document we have agreed upon will go to Provincial Synod for adoption in September‚ and will be published a few months ahead of Synod in the First Agenda Book. I believe that its adoption by Provincial Synod would be an important first step in signalling to the LGBT community that we in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa‚ through our top deliberative and legislative body‚ see them as welcome members of our body as sisters and brothers in Christ. In the words of the guidelines:

"We reaffirm our assurance to them that they are loved by God and that all baptised‚ believing and faithful persons‚ regardless of sexual orientation‚ are full members of the Body of Christ. Many of these 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 their lives and the ordering of relationships."

In another section‚ the bishops declared that: "We are of one mind that gay‚ lesbian and transgendered members of our church share in full membership as baptised members of the Body of Christ..."

This has important implications in parishes where‚ for example‚ same-sex couples who are living in civil unions under South African law bring their children for baptism and confirmation. No child brought for baptism should be refused merely because of the sexual orientation of the parents‚ and particular care should be taken against stigmatising not only parents but their children too.

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. We constituted a group of bishops reflecting a cross-section of our views to discuss such guidelines. On this issue‚ I had to report back to the Synod‚ the only agreement we reached is that we were not of one mind.

Our differences do not only revolve around the theology of marriage‚ but are also a result of different pastoral realities in different dioceses. For example‚ most of our dioceses across Southern Africa are predominantly rural‚ and for many the urgent priorities of food security‚ shelter‚ healthcare and education crowd out debate on the issue of human sexuality. In some rural dioceses‚ responding to challenges to the Church's restrictions on polygamous marriages is a much higher pastoral priority.

As a consequence‚ the Synod of Bishops has agreed that we will continue to regard ourselves bound by the broad consensus in the Anglican Communion‚ expressed by the Lambeth Conference in 1998‚ which is that we "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions". Having said that‚ we did address the questions of whether that decision is immutable‚ whether it has replaced scripture‚ and when a Province of the Communion‚ or a diocese within a Province may deviate from it.

Of one thing I am absolutely determined‚ and that is that the Church in Southern Africa should build on our history of refusing to allow our differences to separate us‚ and that we should continue to work patiently through them together. We overcame deep differences over the imposition of sanctions against apartheid and over the ordination of women‚ and we can do the same over human sexuality. As the bishops say in the pastoral guidelines:

"Given that we share such broad and deep foundations of faith‚ when‚ as Bishops in Synod‚ we consider questions of human sexuality‚ we feel sharp pain and great distress at our own differences and at the breaches and divisions within the wider Anglican Communion. Yet we strongly affirm that we are united in this: that none of us feels called to turn to another and say 'I no longer consider you a Christian‚ a brother in Christ‚ a member of the body of Christ'. None of us says 'I am no longer in communion with you.' We find that our differing views on human sexuality take second place alongside the strength of our overpowering conviction of Christ among us. As long as we‚ the Bishops of this Province‚ know unity in Christ in this way‚ human sexuality is not‚ and cannot be allowed to be‚ for us a church-dividing issue."

So on a personal level I came home from the Synod tired but full of hope. I am encouraging our Province in dealing not only with the issue of human sexuality‚ but also on those such as climate justice and inequality‚ never to abandon the hope that comes from knowing the grace with which we are held in the palm of God's hand.

God bless you.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba


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