Anglican bishops declare gay‚ lesbian couples 'full members' of the church
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said new guidelines from bishops which oppose gay congregants being stigmatised are "an important first step" towards acceptance of the lesbian‚ gay and transsexual community in Southern Africa.
This comes as Anglican bishops from across southern Africa have resolved that gay and lesbian partners who enter same-sex civil unions under South African law should be welcomed into congregations as full members of the church. However‚ they stopped short of agreeing to conduct same-sex weddings in church.
In a pastoral letter issued to Anglicans today‚ Archbishop Makgoba said a document outlining guidelines on members living in same-sex unions would be sent to the church's Provincial Synod‚ its ruling body‚ which meets later this year.
He wrote: "I believe that its adoption by Provincial Synod would be an important first step in signalling to the LGBT community that we in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa‚ through our top deliberative and legislative body‚ see them as welcome members of our body as sisters and brothers in Christ."
Explaining the practical implications of the guidelines‚ he said congregations would not be able to refuse to baptise children of same-sex couples‚ nor should either they or their parents be stigmatised.
Quoting from the bishops' guidelines‚ he said‚ "We are of one mind that gay‚ lesbian and transgendered members of our church share in full membership as baptised members of the Body of Christ..."
However‚ Archbishop Makgoba acknowledged that southern Africa's bishops were divided over whether to marry same-sex couples in church‚ or to allow clergy to enter same-sex civil unions. As a consequence they would continue to be bound by the broad consensus in the Anglican Communion‚ which is that the church can neither bless same-sex unions nor permit its clergy to enter them.
He said the differences among the bishops were both over the theology of marriage and a result of realities on the ground in different dioceses.
"For example‚ most of our dioceses across Southern Africa are predominantly rural‚ and for many the urgent priorities of food security‚ shelter‚ health care and education crowd out debate on the issue of human sexuality. In some rural dioceses‚ responding to challenges to the Church's restrictions on polygamous marriages is a much higher pastoral priority."
Archbishop Makgoba expressed his determination to avoid splits in the church in Southern Africa over the issue. He said the bishops were agreed that their differences did not constitute a "church-dividing issue".
He said: "We overcame deep differences over the imposition of sanctions against apartheid and over the ordination of women‚ and we can do the same over human sexuality."
Anglican churches in North America have experienced internal splits over the issue‚ and leaders of the Communion have taken steps to reduce the role of The Episcopal Church in the United States in the wider Anglican Communion as a result of its decision to approve the marriages of same-sex couples.