By Karen Breytenbach
Laurie Gaum, the gay Dutch Reformed minister in Cape Town who was dismissed by his congregation because he had a sexual relationship with a man, plans to fight for his status as minister "on behalf of those who would like to see the church approach diversity in love and fairness".
The church council of St Stephens on Riebeeck Square last week decided to dismiss Gaum on recommendation of the Cape Town circuit of the Dutch Reformed Church, who investigated alleged promiscuity during Gaum's relationship with his former partner of four years, Douw Wessels.
He will see his lawyer on Tuesday to discuss his planned appeal against the church's decision, although he would not necessarily push for readmission to St Stephens.
He joined the congregation four years ago, but kept his sexuality a secret because he was afraid of losing his job.
"At this point all I want is to keep my status as dominee. We all have to be calm about this. I am concerned for the wellbeing of St Stephens and would not want them destroyed by this debate."
Gaum said he wanted to appeal as a matter of principle, because he felt the procedure followed by the circuit's commission of inquiry, consisting of five members, of whom only three are practising ministers, was biased and inadequate.
The commission was chaired by Hannes Steenkamp, chaplain at the Ysterplaat military base. Its members are Francois Wessels of Cape Peninsula Reformed Church, Thys du Toit of Tafelberg, and Nick Snyman, a retired magistrate, and Mariëtta Marx, both members of the Groote Kerk council.
"Since the beginning of the investigation four months ago, I asked that the commission be expanded to include more theological experts. The commission included voices only from one camp and was not representative of the wider church community," he said.
Gaum also said he found it "astonishing" that the commission recommended his dismissal on the basis of a resolution made in 1986, barring practising gays from the ministry, while it "ignored" a new resolution, drawn up in 2004 to replace the previous one, which was more tolerant of gays and other minorities.
The executive council of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Western and South Cape issued a statement saying this was not intended to be a witch hunt, and Gaum was welcome to appeal against the decision.
"We will continue to support Dominee Gaum as a colleague and a brother, as we have done personally and from within our synodal structures over the past months," the statement read.
But Gaum said he needed support in action rather than in words.
"The only thing that can prevent a schism in the church is dialogue. But the dialogue should have started years ago."
Gaum said he received the greatest support from his former colleagues at Gugulethu Presbyterian Church, with whom he spent his first six years as a minister.
"I have struggled with my sexuality and faith for years, but I found peace before God. He is the one who is getting me through all of this. Everything that has happened in the last few months has brought me closer to God - He protects me," said Gaum.