Durban - Christian denominations have lashed out at the “conservative” Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) after it announced that it had approved of same-sex unions and that would now allow homosexual ministers to be ordained without the need for them to be celibate.
The decision was, however, applauded by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who said this was a surprising, yet warmly welcomed decision that would drive many same-sex couples and individuals back to the church.
Last week a 64% majority of the church’s synod voted in favour of acknowledging same-sex marriages and having openly gay church members serve in the church, which had previously been forbidden.
Dutch Reformed Church moderator Nelis Janse van Rensburg said the issue of allowing same-sex unions had been discussed in the church since the 1980s.
He said the discussions were about how they understood the Bible.
Janse van Rensburg said there were few verses in the Bible which referred to homosexuality.
“Many people take those six or seven verses very literally. The Bible refers to homosexuality in the context of more than 2 000 years ago. The question is, are these verses applicable in today’s situation?
“In the New Testament, Jesus constantly expanded his mercy to people who had been marginalised and we are following on that line,” he said.
He said there would be no disciplinary action against local churches that wanted to remain conservative and not allow same-sex unions.
Catholic Church spokesman Archbishop William Slattery said what the church had done was not in line with the Dutch Reformed Church’s traditional teaching and, as Catholics, they had a different view of marriage.
“We would not accept active homosexuals as priests but no doubt there may be a priest who is an active homosexual in our church, but he is so without the bishop knowing it. As the Catholic Church, we do not accept that position of the Dutch Reformed Church,” he said.
Slattery said the Dutch Reformed Church’s acceptance of homosexual practice in the church was against human dignity, which it had highlighted as the key reason for its decision.
“We respect the Dutch Reformed Church but at the same time our position is different,” he said.
The Anglican Church’s spokesman in KwaZulu-Natal, Bishop Rubin Phillip, said: “When I heard about the decision of the Dutch Reformed Church, I was absolutely astonished. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that a church which is so conservative and supported even apartheid would make such a radical decision”.
Philip said other denominations had to study this decision “because it has a major implication for all Christians, given the source of this decision”.
“The world-wide Anglican communion holds to the position that marriage is between a man and a woman, so as priests and bishops we have an obligation to abide by that obligation of our church.
“We cannot escape the import of the decision of the DRC and it is going to force the other churches to re-examine their position.”
Christian Action Network International co-ordinator Taryn Hodgson said the organisation was deeply saddened by, but not surprised at the Dutch Reformed Church’s approval of homosexual civil unions.
“The denomination as a whole seems to have compromised the preaching of Gospel for a long time now. This recent decision is further evidence that the DRC have failed to fulfil the Great Commission – ‘to make disciples of all nations, teaching obedience to all things that the Lord has commanded’.
“Further pressure will now be brought to bear on pastors to perform same-sex union services and they may face litigation if they refuse.
“There will also be further pressure to hire openly homosexual staff at churches, including in children’s ministries,” she said.
Director of the LGBT community and health centre in Morningside, Durban, Nonhlanhla Mkhize, said this was an interesting step the “conservative church” has taken.
“It is a welcomed move forward. For a church like the DRC it is quite a surprising move. It is a church that in the past has been predominantly seen as a very backward, racist church. It is a huge denomination and one that remains traditional in who they are and what they hold on to,” she said.
Mkhize said they were happy that they would now redirect “traffic” to the Dutch Reformed Church, as it had announced its inclusiveness.
“There are lots of gay people who do not find themselves in welcoming spaces.
“Some had been kicked out of churches because of their sexuality and what the churches hold on to. Hopefully this move will bring everybody back that have found themselves on the street, not knowing where to go home – to church,” she said.
Mkhize said the Dutch Reformed Church’s move would push concerned stakeholders to call for another national conversation about same-sex marriage.
“If one church that is as conservative as this one can make this move, then why not the other ones? What is it exactly that is stopping them? That would be a topical subject,” she said.
History of the Dutch Reformed Church
* In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established the Dutch Reformed Church.
* The church was bound up with politics and supported the apartheid system.
* It segregated its churches for whites, blacks and coloured congregations.
* In the 1980s, the church was expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches over its support of apartheid.
* In 1986, the church changed and all racial groups were allowed to attend any service regardless of their race. But in spite of the end of apartheid, racial divides were said to still exist within the church.
* More recently, the church labelled apartheid as a sin in the hope of uniting its congregants, regardless of race.
* On Monday, the church announced it was allowing same-sex unions and the ordination of gay ministers. – South African History Online