Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sermon at the 150th Anniversary Service of the Cathedral of St Andrew and St Michael, Bloemfontein

Theme: Standing in the watchpost and stationed at the ramparts
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 Psalm 119:137-144 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Luke 19:1-10
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who calls us to be faithful. Amen
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people of God in the Cathedral of St Andrew and St Michael:

It is a great joy to be here for this great milestone as you celebrate your 150th anniversary. It is an honour and a privilege to have been asked to share the Word of God with you in this historic place. And what a history you have! I learn that your first foundation stone was laid during the earliest days of the Free State, when you were part of the Orange River Sovereignty, and that the Cathedral was built during the time of the Orange Free State Republic. Your forebears then lived through the years of the Orange River Colony, then in one of the four provinces within the united South Africa, and finally now you are one of nine provinces of the new South Africa.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa's debate on human sexuality - Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Interview at Christ the King, Sophiatown
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 God’s 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.

This post has been corrected since first added.