Bishops of South Africa wrestle with the issue of marriage equality

by Margaret Wessel Walker

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) continues to struggle with the issue of marriage equality. This weekend, at the synod meeting of the Diocese of Cape Town, a motion on the issue was tabled. Same sex marriage is legal in South Africa, but the Anglican Church there does not bless or recognize such unions. While policy recognises LGBTQIA+ people as full baptized members, ACSA will not ordain clergy who are or intend on entering into Same-Sex civil unions. The Province includes South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and St Helena with very different stances on the legality of same-sex relationships – South Africa in ACSA is the only country that has legalized same-sex civil unions.

Last year, as it did in 2011, Provincial Synod considered a motion asking for the blessing of same sex unions. It was defeated resoundingly in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, but the House of Laity were more divided. As a result of this, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba began establishing a commission on human sexuality. The Synod bishops were asked to prepare a report on the issue, to provide guidance for pastoral care of LGBTQIA+ people.

The leaders of the diocese of Cape Town were overwhelmingly supportive of the motion, urging the bishops to “fully embrace divinity in others”. The dean of St George’s Cathedral, The Very Reverend Michael Weeder continued, “we want to celebrate the presence of those not affirmed sacramentally.”

In response to this most recent tabled motion, one South African priest, Canon Vernon Foster, said “I fear that LGBTIQA+ members will be asked to continue waiting for the proclamation of the Year of the Lord’s Favour while the holders of ecclesiastical power consider whether the dogs deserve to eat of the crumbs that fall from the masters table, whether the marginalised should receive good news, whether the eyes of the blind should be opened or the oppressed set free. A plea from those who don’t want to destroy the institute of marriage but rather seek to order their lives and relationships using the same principles contained in the Marriage Rite – please exercise the radical hospitality and inclusivity of Christ. Affirm those who are loved unconditionally by God and who seek to live their lives authentically before the God who loves us so.”

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Mark Van Koevering
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Mark Van Koevering

A point of clarification. The title should read the Bishops of Southern Africa, not South Africa. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa contains 6 nations: Angola, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa. Its diversity is a great strength, but may also lengthen the time needed to reach consensus.

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Marshall Scott
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Just a request for clarification: was the motion "tabled" in the American sense (set aside for consideration at another time - if ever) or in the British sense (moved and open for discussion)?

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