Thinking Anglicans

Southern Africa province rejects blessing of same-sex unions

Here is the official provincial press release:

Anglican Church of Southern Africa rejects blessing of same-sex civil unions in South Africa

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa voted on Friday to reject a proposal to allow ‘prayers of blessing’  to be offered for people in same-sex civil unions under South African law.

The vote was taken by the church’s Provincial Synod, its top legislative body, on a proposal by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay, which stretches from the northern suburbs of Cape Town to the Namibian border.

The initial motion before the Synod also proposed that bishops could provide for clergy who identify as LGBTI and are in legal same-sex civil unions to be licensed to minister in parishes. But the proposers withdrew this section before debate began.

Opposition to the proposal was strongest among bishops, with 16 voting against and six in favour. Sixty-two percent of lay representatives to the synod voted against it (41 votes to 25), and 55 percent of clergy (42 to 34).

The church includes Anglicans in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and on the island of St Helena. Same-sex marriage is allowed only under South African civil law.

Before announcing the result, Archbishop Thabo spoke of the ‘palpable pain’ in the church over the vote:

‘I wish I was in Makgoba’s Kloof (his ancestral home) because if one (of you) is pained and hurt, it pains me too and I have learned as a priest that there are no losers or winners in the kingdom of God.

The pain on both sides is palpable and tangible, and the image of a double-edged sword pierces me…’

He added that ‘all is not lost.’ He said the issue might hopefully be taken up again at the next Provincial Synod in 2019, and the church could also consider raising it at the next worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops in 2020. (The meeting, the Lambeth Conference, is opposed to marriage between people of the same gender.)

He also said the issue could be discussed at the local level in parishes and dioceses ‘so that we can continue to discern together the mind of God…’

After announcing the vote, he called for silence ‘as we bring before God the pain that this outcome will cause to some members of this synod, some members of our parishes, some members of our church.’

The Archbishop has also released this statement:

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s debate on human sexuality

Statement by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

First, some introductory explanations:

The debate we held in Ekurhuleni yesterday was at our Provincial Synod. We call the synod ‘Provincial’ because we are a Province of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Our church Province covers Anglicans in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and on the island of St Helena.

Of course, it is only in South Africa that the State allows people of the same gender to marry under civil law.

When the Church refers to marriage, we mean marriage in Church, by the Church, which our Canons – the laws that govern us – call ‘Holy Matrimony’. So usually refer to marriage in the eyes of the State as ‘civil unions’. The two are quite distinct from one another.

Now to the substance of my statement:

The Church’s top legislative body, our Provincial Synod, yesterday held a debate on the issue of pastoral care to people of gay and lesbian orientation who are in committed same-sex relationships.

The two proposals before the Synod which drew most public attention were:

Firstly, that bishops should be allowed to license clergy who identify as LGBTI, and are in legal same-sex civil unions under South African law, to minister in parishes. The proposers of the motion before Synod withdrew this proposal before debate began.

Secondly, it was proposed that a Bishop may ‘provide for prayers of blessing to be offered for those in same sex civil unions.’ The motion before the Synod did not propose that clergy should be able actually to marry same-sex couples under Church law.

Under the Canons, I declared the issue a controversial motion. This meant that to be approved, it needed a simple majority vote in the three separate ‘houses’ of the Synod: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity, the latter representing the people in the pews. In addition, if it had been approved in each of those houses, voting separately, it needed a two-thirds majority overall to pass.

The motion failed to achieve a simple majority in any House. The bishops voted 16 to six against the motion, the laity 41 to 25 against and the clergy 42 to 34 against.

We live in a democracy, our Church has strongly advocated democracy, and people on all sides of the debate have to accept the result.

At the same time, the debate is not over. Without trying to predict its ultimate outcome, or to suggest what that should be, it was notable that a number of opponents of the motion did not reject it out of hand, but suggested instead that opinion in our Church was not yet ready for such a move.

As it was, the degree of support for the motion was quite substantial if you compare us to other African provinces of the Anglican Church, most of which are vigorously opposed to same-sex unions in any form. This was the first time this issue has been seriously debated by our Church, and representatives are free to raise it again at future synods.

Our Church, like South Africa as a nation, has previously provided an example to the world over how we can overcome differences over issues that people feel strongly about, such as sanctions against apartheid and the ordination of women as priests. It remains my hope that those on both sides of this debate can overcome their differences in a way that will be an example to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which is as divided over the issue as we are.

Finally, a word to our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers:

I was deeply pained by the outcome of the debate. I was glad I wear glasses or the Synod would have seen the tears. I wanted to be anywhere but in the Synod hall “ I wished I was at home quietly in Makgoba’s Kloof.

If one of you, my church members, is in pain, then I am in pain too. The pain on both sides of the debate in Synod was palpable and no one celebrated or applauded the outcome. There are no winners or losers in the Kingdom of God, and we recognised that whichever way the vote went, there was going to be pain.

Nothing that I heard in the last two days takes away from what the bishops have already said to people of LGBTI orientation:

You are loved by God and all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. We recognise that many of you are baptised and confirmed members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and Gods transforming power for the living of your lives and the ordering of your relationships. We urge you to stick with us to play your full part in the deliberations to come.

May God bless you, and God bless us all.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

A sincere and heartfelt message from Bishop Thabo.

Father Ron Smith
7 years ago

“The initial motion before the Synod also proposed that bishops could provide for clergy who identify as LGBTI and are in legal same-sex civil unions to be licensed to minister in parishes. But the proposers withdrew this section before debate began.” Sounds like a classic ‘Failure of Nerve’ – even before Synod assembled. however, no different from our province in Aotearoa/New Zealand and Polynesia. which recently shelved the process of ‘A Way Forward’ until G.S.2018. I wonder if the stance of the S.A. Bishops was the cause of the Archbishop of Kenya (GAFCON’s) recent criticism of “Bishops being the problem”.… Read more »

Leonard Clark
7 years ago

It’s slight more comforting, finally, to be welcomed at Church (before they slam the door in your face)…surely there will be no hugging by LGBTI allowed when exchanging “la paz”…of well…nothing new here. Will there be pew monitors?

7 years ago

Obviously, the vote should have been by/for ONLY the Anglican churches in *South Africa* (which have civil unions). Waters were entirely muddied by having this multi-national vote.

Kyrie eleison. How long, Lord, how long will your LGBT children—their sexuality Made in Your Image & Likeness—be compelled to bear the cross of hate?

John-Julian, OJN
John-Julian, OJN
7 years ago

The whole idea of grand, wide, broad referenda is showing its nasty side:

(1) Brexit
(2) Colombia v. FARC
(3) Southern Africa v. LGBT

There are limits to the democratic ideal when the majority of the voters are morally lax.

It seems to me that South Africa has a moral obligation to recognize the now-legal LGBT acceptance, marriage, ordination, whatever.

It is not a case of doing what is morally wrong, just a case of NOT doing what is morally right, and I don’t know how South Africa faces that.

Ask Desmond Tutu—he’ll tell you what to do!

robert ian williams
robert ian williams
7 years ago

Very interesting to see how a black majority episcopate has voted….or how the vote was reflective on racial lines.

In the old apartheid days a predominately white episcopate brought in liberal divorce and remarriage canons.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x