By George Conger — Originally published in Anglican.ink
Gay marriage would be a fundamental change to church doctrine and cannot be permitted, a statement released by the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has held.
In a statement released after their February 13 to 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.”
The bishops offered their assurance that all baptised Christians “regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”
At their February 2015 meeting the bishops could not come to an agreement on the doctrinal issues around gay marriage, but agreed to hold together.
At last week’s meeting however, the bishops agreed they would would not be changing their “current policy, which is that the Province ‘cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions’ (Resolution 1:10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998).”
One man and one woman
The bishops’ statement noted “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’.”
The guidelines will be submitted for approval to the church’s general synod later this year.
Commenting on the bishops’ decisions, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, says in a pastoral letter to Anglicans this week, that the decision to welcome couples who enter same-sex civil unions under South African law into congregations as full members of the church is “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”, reports Anglican Communion News Service.
Explaining the practical implications of the guidelines, he said congregations would not be able to refuse to baptise children of same-sex couples, nor should either they or their parents be stigmatised. Quoting from the bishops’ guidelines, he said, “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. . .”
However, Archbishop Makgoba acknowledged that southern Africa’s bishops were divided over whether to marry same-sex couples in church, or to allow clergy to enter same-sex civil unions. As a consequence they would continue to be bound by the broad consensus in the Anglican Communion, which is that the church can neither bless same-sex unions nor permit its clergy to enter them.
Basis of differences
He said the differences among the bishops were both over the theology of marriage and a result of realities on the ground 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, health care 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.”
Makgoba expressed his determination to avoid splits in the church in Southern Africa over the issue. He said the bishops were agreed that their differences did not constitute a “church-dividing issue.”
He added: “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.”
Anglican churches in North America have experienced internal splits over the issue, and leaders of the Communion have taken steps to reduce the role of The Episcopal Church in the United States in the wider Anglican Communion as a result of its decision to approve the marriages of same-sex couples.