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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Anglican Province Moves to Support Homosexual Couples

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Anglican Province Moves to Support Homosexual Couples

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
August 27, 2009

In a move that will be viewed by orthodox Anglican leaders on the continent of Africa as both divisive and dangerous, The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, which includes Anglican bishops from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Angola, passed a resolution this past week asking the church's bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay parishioners living in "covenanted partnerships".

The push for recognition of gay and lesbian couples came from delegates from St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, whose dean, the Rev. Rowan Smith, is an openly gay priest. The Cathedral clergy said the parish has come to be seen as a "safe space" for gay Christians in Cape Town. The Cathedral also said it needed guidelines to help it provide pastoral care to gay parishioners in same-sex relationships. The resolutions were passed in a session of the Synod, which was held at St. Cyprian's Church, Retreat in Cape Town from August 20 to 22.

The move will deepen the fissures between the evangelical African Anglican provinces and the liberal Anglican province in Southern Africa, viewed by orthodox African Anglicans as having close ties with the heavily funded Episcopal Church USA.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said the synod's resolution was "an important first step to saying: 'Lord, how do we do ministry in this context?' I'm a developmental person. I don't believe in big bangs. If you throw a little pebble into water, it sends out concentric circles and hopefully that way change comes from that."

He acknowledged that the issue of same-sex partnerships has led to a schism in the Anglican Church in the United States. He wanted to avoid the issue of becoming a source of division in the Anglican Church in southern Africa.

The synod says the request will now go forward to the House of Bishops for ratification.

Globally, the Anglican Communion has not given its approval to same-sex unions or marriages. The actions of two North American provinces - The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada - have resulted in at least 22 provinces declaring they are in "broken communion" with the North American branches of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Consultative Council has declared a moratorium on the "authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions", but it has been widely flaunted with no disciplinary action from the fourth instrument of unity.

"South Africa has laws that approve a civil union in this context, but not in the other countries within our province. In central Africa and north Africa, both the Anglican Church and the state say 'no'," said Makgoba.

"The reason for this resolution was because we have these parishioners, and the law provides for them to be in that state, so how do we pastorally respond to that?"

The Rev. Sarah Rowland Jones successfully proposed an amendment to the resolution which provided that the pastoral guidelines the Synod requested take "due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion."

In 2006, then Archbishop of Cape Town, Njogonkulu Ndungane, welcomed the expansion of civil rights for gay couples, but stated the Anglican Church's position is clear. "We have repeatedly affirmed that we do not regard partnership between two persons of the same sex as a marriage in the eyes of God." But on Nov 14, 2006, the South African Parliament voted 230-41 to allow same-sex couples to "solemnize and register a voluntary union by way of either a marriage or a civil partnership."

Following the 2006 vote, Archbishop Makgoba - then the Bishop of Grahamstown - urged all sides to continue talking. "We agree that we have to dialogue, and listen to the experiences of all people around this issue, so that when the conclusion is arrived at, all of us understand and appreciate the challenges that all people feel."

Mark Bechard, lives in Cape Town and has done a critique of the theology of Archbishop Makgoba. It can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/nxxpn4


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