The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) synod has decided to abide by a controversial Pretoria High Court ruling ordering the church to allow ministers in same-sex relationships and the solemnisation of same-sex civil unions.
The decision followed a vote in which a “significant majority” of 48 synod members supported a proposal not to take any further legal action, said Dr Gustav Claasen general secretary of the DRC, in a report in kerkbode today.
The High Court ruling on March 8, which overturned a 2016 synod resolution to reverse a 2015 resolution on gender issues, has raised religious freedom concerns, and last Friday the ACDP urged the DRC to “appeal until the matter reaches the highest court” and pledged to join any application as a friend of the court.
Laurie Gaum, a DRC minister who led a group of church members who launched the successful appeal against the 2016 synod resolution, reportedly warned on Friday that they would fight the church if it appealed the High Court ruling.
Calling the DRC’s decision to accept the High Court judgment “disappointing but not surprising”, Philip Rosenthal of ChristianView Network said today that the root problem in the church was not a debate about homosexuality but about the authority of the Bible.
Commenting on the ruling last week, Michael Swain executive director of Freedom of Religion SA (FOR SA), said the court’s findings on the constitutional aspects were concerning from a religious freedom point of view and posed a severe threat to the institutional autonomy of churches and religious groupings.
He said the judgment does not go so far as to force all churches and religious groupings to marry same-sex couples but it sets a dangerous precedent.
“When the state starts telling society (including the Church) how they should think and believe, we may find ourselves on a dangerous path towards totalitarianism,” he said.
The ACDP, in a media statement released on Friday, also expressed concern about the constitutional aspects of the ruling.
“Effectively, ruling in favour of same-sex marriages in the Church amounts to regulation by an arm of the State — in this case, the court — on sacred affairs of the Church that cannot be compromised,” it said.