A victory as Joburg gay marriage ministers cleared of misconduct

Reverend Martin Young

Reverend Martin Young (Pic: Facebook)

Two Johannesburg Presbyterian ministers have been allowed by the church to continue to conduct and bless same-sex unions.

Reverend Martin Young, from St Columba’s Presbyterian Church in Parkview, and Reverend Hansie Wolmarans were accused by a Cape Town minister of violating the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA).

The Court of the Presbytery of Egoli last week found that the men were in fact free to bless same-sex couples because under church policy there is no “express or implied prohibition against ministers conducting same-sex civil unions.”

It further found that the General Assembly had previously condemned “discrimination based on sexual orientation as sinful” and had exhorted “ministers of the UPCSA to help same-sex couples, in the same way as they would heterosexual couples, to submit their relationships to God.”

The clergymen welcomed the news. “I’m delighted for so many reasons; not purely for the vindication of Hansie and myself,” Young told Mambaonline.

“It also helps gay people to see that they don’t have to be marginalised and their sexual orientation does not exclude them from any of the ministries of the church.”

When asked if this means that the church now recognises both same-sex unions and marriages, he replied: “I think the church does see marriage and civil unions as a different thing, although I don’t.”

Young said he hopes the judgement will inspire other ministers “who have felt the need to do this, but have felt scared, to realise that they are quite in their right to do it.”

He noted that the subject would undoubtedly come up for debate at the church’s next General Assembly in July 2016.

Comments on a post announcing the judgement on the St Columba Facebook page were positive, with congregants and supporters calling it “brilliant news” and proclaiming that “love triumphs.”

John David Hare wrote: “Sanity prevails! How a minister dared lay these charges astounds me! What kind of leadership does he give his congregation? And what kind of congregation sets this kind of example to its community? Thank heavens St Columba’s can hold its head high, another example of doing the right thing beautifully!”

While same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa in 2006, it remains the prerogative of churches to recognise or bless these unions.

In November, the Constitutional Court refused to rule on the discrimination case of lesbian minister Ecclesia De Lange, who was fired by the Methodist Church when she married her same-sex partner. The court said the issue was best resolved through arbitration.

Also last month, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) or NG Kerk put its decision to recognise same-sex relationships and non-celibate gay ministers on hold until its next General Synod in 2018.

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