Bishops welcome same-sex couples
Same-sex advocacy groups have applauded a decision by Anglican bishops from across Southern Africa to welcome gay and lesbian couples into congregations as full church members.
It follows Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa issuing a letter yesterday saying the church welcomes members of the gay and lesbian community to the "body as sisters and brothers in Christ".
The letter said a document giving guidelines on members living in same-sex unions would be sent to the church's provincial synod - its ruling body - later this year.
"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."
The letter went further: "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," Makgoba said.
The Triangle Project, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people rights (LGBTI) organisation, welcomed the decision.
"While this is a first step, any step which moves towards inclusion and tackling the stigma against LGBTI people should be welcomed, and seen as a message about the role of people of faith throughout the country in opening their hearts and minds," said Matthew Clayton, the organisation's research, advocacy and policy manager.
Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, which works towards LGBTI inclusion in Christian churches in South Africa, also saw it as a positive move.
"This is a beacon of hope for the rest of Africa," said the Rev Judith Kotze, the ministry's director of operations. "We still have a way to go, but one step at a time is better than standing still."
The new guidelines from the bishops, however, do not extend to marrying same-sex couples.
Makgoba said Southern Africa's bishops were divided over whether to marry same-sex couples in the church or allow their clergy to enter same-sex civil unions.
Therefore, they would still be bound by the broad consensus of the church, and not allow same-sex unions or permit their clergy to enter them.
Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, chairman of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, said every church had its own freedom of association and therefore there was nothing wrong with allowing the gay-lesbian community into Anglican churches. "Constitutionally, sexual orientation is a right so we really welcome their position that they can marry people (of the same sex)," said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
Makgoba said: "I believe that its adoption by provincial synod would be an important first step in signalling to the LGBTI community that we in the Anglican Church, through our top deliberative and legislative body, see them as welcome members of our body as sisters and brothers in Christ."
The African Christian Democratic Party said Anglican bishops could make whatever resolutions they wished.
"The ACDP believes that churches should be encouraged to welcome anybody who seeks to make right with God, but we caution them not to violate scripture when they make resolutions," said ACDP president Kenneth Meshoe.
"Liberals will accept anything that is politically correct."