South African church latest to fold on same-sex marriage

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Participants from South Africa dance with the rainbow flag during a Gay Pride march, June 30, 2012. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa has voted to allow homosexual marriage and to allow gay priests to marry their partners. | REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

CAPE TOWN (Christian Examiner) – The Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) in South Africa has voted to recognize same-sex marriages and open the way for homosexual ministers to marry their partners.

Previously, the church had acknowledged that some ministers were, in fact, homosexuals, but it demanded that they remain celibate. In 2006, South Africa became the fifth nation – and the only nation in Africa – to allow same-sex marriage.

According to eNCA (E News Channel Africa), the measure allowing same-sex marriage in the church and the marriage of homosexual ministers passed by a significant majority – 64 percent.

The church's moderator, Nelis Janse van Rensburg, said the move is historic "because with this decision we actually are at a point where there can be no doubt that the Dutch Reformed Church is serious about human dignity."

"And you know that we are living in this country where we have so many problems with the dignity of people," Janse said.

The move to allow same-sex marriage in the church should not come as a surprise to observers. In July, the church decided it was time to pursue equal rights for homosexual pastors. The church had been contemplating the change since 2007, when it opened its doors to openly homosexual members and refused to exercise church discipline against them.

Even though the church's lead offices are adopting the policy, it has said it will not force individual congregations and ministers to follow it.

"Church councils and congregations are like families," Janse said. "They will eventually decide that how they will go about it. They know the context, they know the situation, they know about the faith of these people, so they can decide on that."

The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has its roots in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, which originated in the 17th century. Settlers later brought the faith to the southern tip of Africa. It also has congregations in Namibia, but those congregations will not recognize same-sex marriages since the country has no law allowing for same-sex marriage. It was the church's largest and most liberal branch that voted to accept same-sex marriage.

One Christian organization in South Africa, the Christian Action Network, said in a statement that the church has abandoned the teaching of Jesus Christ.

"This recent decision is further evidence the DRC [has] failed to fulfil the Great Commission – 'to make disciples of all nations, teaching obedience to all things that the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20)'," Christian Action Network coordinator Taryn Hodgson said. "Their approval of homosexual unions will further undermine their ability to reach people for Christ."