The recent decision by the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) or NG Kerk to accept same-sex relationships has been met with a mix of praise and condemnation.
Last week, the church’s General Synod voted in favour of allowing individual church councils and local pastors to choose to recognise same-sex relationships and non-celibate gay ministers.
The decision, however, saw the church affirm that while gay unions could be acknowledged they would not be recognised as marriages, which, it insisted, are only possible between one man and one woman.
Reacting to the news, Catholic Church spokesman, Archbishop William Slattery, told The Mercury that, “We would not accept active homosexuals as priests… As the Catholic Church, we do not accept that position of the Dutch Reformed Church.”
KZN Anglican Church spokesman, Bishop Rubin Phillip, said he was “absolutely astonished” when he heard about the decision, noting that the DRC has been notoriously conservative in the past and had even supported apartheid.
He commented that while the global Anglican Communion remains officially opposed to same-sex marriage, “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.”
The radical anti-gay Christian Action Network slammed the DRC’s decision and said in a statement that, “Their approval of homosexual unions will further undermine their ability to reach people for Christ.”
The group’s Co-ordinator, Taryn Hodgson, complained that, “Further pressure will now be brought to bear on pastors to perform same-sex union services and they may face litigation if they refuse [and] there will also be further pressure to hire openly homosexual staff at churches, including in children’s ministries.”
There is also speculation that the move could lead to a schism within the DRC; with clergy and congregants who are unhappy with the decision choosing to leave the church or start a breakaway denomination. In a poll on the Jacaranda FM radio station website, 50% of those who voted said they would now “leave the church” as a result of the DRC’s revised stance.
In the LGBT community, the church’s move was generally welcomed as a step forward, but with some notable reservations.
Ecclesia de Lange
Ecclesia De Lange, who has taken the Methodist Church of South Africa to the Constitutional Court for firing her as a minister in 2010 for marrying her female partner, told Mambaonline that the DRC’s new stance is an “extraordinary decision.” She said that, “we celebrate with all of those who have worked relentlessly for this breakthrough.”
De Lange added, however, that “it is at a time like this that we also remember the pain the church has caused, for those who have lost their lives, left the church, families that have been torn apart and relationships that have been broken.”
Johan Meyer, Health Manager at Pretoria LGBT group OUT and himself a former DRC minister, commented that it is encouraging that a shift is taking place in the church.
“For gay and lesbian people it means that they are recognised as full human beings in the eyes of the church. For many, this was a very emotional decision, since their faith is important to them.
“However, a long road of healing and acceptance lies ahead. Gay people have suffered tremendous hurt in the past at the hands of the church, and only time and a process of forgiveness will bring about that healing,” he told Mambaonline.
Meyer acknowledged concerns that the church has still not fully acknowledged same-marriages but said the decision is nevertheless “a first step in the right direction.” He also noted that, “many church members are not on the same page yet. Some may never reach that point.”
Meyer went on to warn that, because “individual congregations are allowed to decide on the issue, it still leaves the door open to further discrimination and causing of pain to gay and lesbian people.”