Southern Africa Anglican Church welcomes gays but won’t bless our unions

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Bishops attending the Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa have failed to agree on blessing same-sex couples, but will otherwise not discriminate against LGBT people or their families.

In a statement from the synod, which has been meeting outside of East London in South Africa, the bishops said they had addressed the issues of civil unions and LGBT people in their deliberations and in new pastoral guidelines.

They confirmed that while “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ,” the church had not changed its policy on same-sex unions.

The bishops went on to state that marriage is an “exclusive union partnership between one man and one woman” and thus a “partnership between two persons of the same sex cannot be regarded as a marriage…”

Accordingly, “our clergy are not permitted to bless such unions… nor are they permitted to enter into such unions while they remain in licensed ministry,” they said.

Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, released a letter attempting to offer a positive spin on the synod’s position.

He said that the bishops’ agreement that “gay, lesbian and transgendered members of our church share in full membership as baptised members of the Body of Christ” was a step forward for the church.

“This has important implications in parishes where, for example, same-sex couples who are living in civil unions under South African law bring their children for baptism and confirmation,” he wrote. “No child brought for baptism should be refused merely because of the sexual orientation of the parents, and particular care should be taken against stigmatising not only parents but their children too.”

He admitted that an attempt to draw up guidelines at the meeting for clergy wanting to bless couples in same-sex unions, or who want to enter same-sex unions themselves, had failed and the only “agreement we reached is that we were not of one mind.”

Archbishop Makgoba insisted that he was nevertheless still hopeful that the church will be able to overcome its differences on matters of human sexuality.

He quoted the synod’s new, agreed-upon pastoral guidelines, which read: “Given that we share such broad and deep foundations of faith, when, as Bishops in Synod, we consider questions of human sexuality, we feel sharp pain and great distress at our own differences and at the breaches and divisions within the wider Anglican Communion. Yet we strongly affirm that we are united in this: that none of us feels called to turn to another and say ‘I no longer consider you a Christian, a brother in Christ, a member of the body of Christ’.

“None of us says ‘I am no longer in communion with you.’ We find that our differing views on human sexuality take second place alongside the strength of our overpowering conviction of Christ among us. As long as we, the Bishops of this Province, know unity in Christ in this way, human sexuality is not, and cannot be allowed to be, for us a church-dividing issue.”

These guidelines will be put to the Provincial Synod for adoption in September.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which represents Anglicans in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and the island of Saint Helena, is among the more progressive provinces of the church in Africa. Archbishop Makgoba, who heads up the province, has previously spoken out against discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, regardless of cultural beliefs.

Other African Anglican churches have often vocally supported laws that criminalise and persecute LGBT people and have threatened to break away from the global Anglican Communion over differences on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.

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