Gays and lesbians can be leaders within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa as long as they remain celibate, its synod of bishops has declared.
The statement marks the first time homosexual clergy have been publicly recognized by an Anglican province in the African continent; the leadership of a majority of provinces in Africa regard homosexuality as a sin, and some primates (national archbishops) have gone as far saying that there are no homosexuals in Africa.
The bishops also announced that it has created a committee to respond to a request made by the diocese of Cape Town for pastoral guidelines to deal with homosexual members of the church living in “covenanted partnerships.”
In a statement issued at the end of their meeting Sept. 7 to 9 in Midrand, Gauteng, a municipality in Johannesburg, the bishops said: “We believe that we are called to love others with God’s unconditional, sacrificial love and do not believe sexual orientation a barrier to leadership within the church.”
However, it added, “holding as we do, that Christian marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, we hold that clergy unable to commit to another in Christian partnership are called to a life of celibacy.”
The bishops dismissed reports that their church and the entire Anglican Communion are on the brink of schism because of the issue of human sexuality. “We want to assure the faithful that these reports are grossly exaggerated and in some cases, misrepresented.”
The bishops said that they recognize the Cape Town diocese’s request for guidelines “to be pastoral in nature” and not in conflict with Lambeth 1998’s Resolution 110, which stated that homosexuality is “incompatible with scripture.” They also disputed some media reports that the diocese intended to bless same-sex unions.
In his address at the start of the synod meeting, the primate of the Church of Southern Africa and Archbishop of Capetown, Thabo Makgoba, said “the reality we face in South Africa is that the government has passed legislation providing for civil unions for same-sex couples.” He added that “some of those who have entered into such unions come, sometimes with their children, to our churches, and are found within our parishes.” He said that the synod “must face this new reality with honesty.” Same-sex civil unions have been legal in South Africa since 2006.
Archbishop Makgoba said that during its synod last August, Cape Town clergy “across a broad spectrum of views” supported a motion to “seek guidance from the bishops, out of concern to make an appropriate pastoral response to those in their care.”
He said that during the debate and in the resolution passed “there was a clear commitment to affirm the stance of the wider Anglican Communion on matters of human sexuality.” The approved resolution had requested pastoral guidelines “with due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and various bodies of the Anglican Communion have called for a moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the election of homosexuals to the episcopate and cross-border interventions.
In their statement, the bishops also said that they remain “committed to holding together the bonds of unity when we journey together through the difficult questions that confront the worldwide Anglican Communion.” They underscored that while “differences of opinion are inevitable, schism is not.”
The 77-million strong Anglican Communion is composed of 44 regional and national member churches in over 160 countries.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, situated on the southern tip of Africa, was established in 1870, and has about three to four million members. It has 25 dioceses found in the countries of Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and the island of Helena.