The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) or NG Kerk has been given until 9 September to implement its suspended decision to recognise same-sex unions – or face legal action.
In October 2015, the General Synod of the DRC voted to allow individual church councils to recognise and bless same-sex relationships, and to drop the prohibition on non-celibate gay clergy.
The groundbreaking move was met with outrage by conservative members of the church who submitted 21 appeals against the decision. The church responded by suspending the decision until it could be addressed again at the next General Synod in 2017.
The turnaround came as a bitter blow to LGBT members of the DRC, some of whom have since decided to take action. Earlier this month, 10 LGBT or LGBT-affirming theologians and a former human rights commissioner hit back in a letter to the church, demanding that the suspension be immediately withdrawn.
Represented by Advocate Wim Trengove, they insist that under the church’s own constitution (the Church Order) a decision taken by the majority of the General Synod is binding. This, they say, cannot be suspended on appeal as the synod is already the highest authority in the church.
Trengove wrote that allowing “a small minority or even a single grievant to frustrate the decision of the General Synod for years on end is wholly incompatible with the Church Order”.
Trengove further said that even if an appeal was allowed, a stipulated process would have to be followed to suspend the decision, which was not done.
The 11 complainants gave the church until 26 August to lift the suspension of the General Synod’s decision and to declare it valid and enforceable. If not, they warned that “costly and acrimonious litigation” would follow.
The DRC responded with a request for an extension to the deadline, which the complainants agreed to. The church now has until the close of business on 9 September.
“This has been dragging on for ten months now,” Laurie Gaum, one of the complainants, told Mambaonline. “The decision was taken by the church’s highest decision making body and was embraced by many people as a landmark decision. It’s sad that it’s been stalled by a few individuals.”
He explained that the suspension of the decision has been a major disappointment for LGBT members of the DRC. “It’s like if you give someone a gift and then you take it away again. That is highly problematic. It’s not only psychologically damaging to people who are already vulnerable but is also unlawful in a sense. By [the church] dragging its feet, a lot more hurt has been caused,” Gaum said. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he added.