By Karen Breytenbach
More than 500 prominent Christians - including academics, theologians, members of parliament, artists and activists - have signed a petition to the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church to plead for the church's condemnation of discrimination against homosexuality and the full acceptance of homosexuals in the church "as members and human beings".
"We request of you to set in motion a structured process of reconciliation between heterosexual and gay members of the church," the letter reads.
The petitioners asked the church to "open the door" for church councils to openly elect gay clerics as office-bearers "without setting conditions that are not applicable to other people". This refers to celibacy as a prerequisite only for gay ministers.
"We want to state with conviction that most people are born heterosexual and some are born gay.
"Just as a heterosexual orientation is not sin, a homosexual orientation is not sin either. And just as a moral heterosexual lifestyle is not sin, so too a moral homosexual lifestyle is not a sin," it reads.
The letter was forwarded to Kobus Gerber, General Secretary, in anticipation of the church's annual general synod meeting in Boksburg between June 4 and June 8.
Gerber said that: "The executive church council will convene to discuss the contents of the letter. I cannot comment until we have discussed it."
Homosexuality and the church's views on satan are among the central issues to be discussed.
The church first decided on more tolerance towards gay members at its synod meeting in 2004.
The church has in the meantime appointed a task team on homosexuality, led jointly by gay-tolerant minister Andre Bartlett of Aasvo?lkop and anti-gay minister Jorrie Potgieter of Lynnwoodrif.
Ben du Toit was appointed as the convener and Herman Carelse was appointed as facilitator of the task team, which will present a joint report on the issue of homosexuality at the June meeting.
The letter pleading for tolerance was first circulated by retired Cape Town minister Frits Gaum, the father of sacked gay minister Laurie Gaum, and fellow theologian, Carel Anthonissen.
About 20 parents of gay Christians from across South Africa signed the petition and within a few weeks about 500 prominent people had joined their petition.
The list of supporters includes Allan Boesak, singer Steve Hofmeyr, artist Willie Bester, Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange, composer Hubert du Plessis, human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie, Stellenbosch University Chancellor Elise Botha and Stellenbosch theology faculty dean Elna Mouton.
The majority of lecturers at the Stellenbosch and Pretoria theology faculties signed the letter, strictly in their personal capacities, while individual lecturers from the theology faculties of UCT, UWC and Unisa also pledged support.
"This decision was arrived at after long and thoughtful deliberation and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about - inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity," said SAUPJ Chairperson Steve Lurie.
The union agreed that there should be no distinction in the status of religious marriages of same-sex or heterosexual couples, he said.