Minister's allies talk of court action

06 February 2011 - 01:43 By SHANAAZ EGGINGTON

Arbitration began yesterday in a dispute that has caused international ructions in the Methodist church: the firing of a gay priest who married her partner in defiance of church rules.

The Rev Ecclesia de Lange, 41, attended a three-hour hearing at the district office of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in Rondebosch, Cape Town, in a bid to resolve the row over her marriage in December 2009.

The church, which does not condone same-sex marriage, suspended De Lange in January 2010 from her post at a Cape Town congregation after she tied the knot with Amanda van Aswegen.

De Lange is fighting to get her job back through internal church arbitration channels.

The hearing yesterday, the first in the process, was held behind closed doors.

A frustrated De Lange said afterwards that little was resolved and she would discuss further action with her lawyer.

About 20 of De Lange's supporters, holding placards saying "Stop the exile of gay believers, Jesus died for all" and "Ecclesia on trial for all", gathered outside the hearing.

Mike Luppnow, a spokesman for the Ecclesia de Lange Support Group, said they were there "in peaceful protest against the church's delaying tactics in getting Ecclesia's case resolved".

A church disciplinary committee recommended that De Lange "continue under suspension until such time as the Methodist Church of Southern Africa makes a binding decision on ministers in same-sex unions".

In a statement on Facebook and other websites, De Lange, who has won support from Methodists in Europe and the US, wrote: "I desire to serve Jesus. I desire to be true to myself. I desire to minister within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa with integrity and be faithful to God's call on my life.

"I have reached the point where I can no longer be silent. I have come to see that it is better to be rejected for who I am than to be accepted for who I am not."

Luppnow said: "This matter goes to the heart of the constitution. It has been 311 days since her case has been referred for arbitration. The trauma, stress and mental suffering imposed ... by continuous delays has proved to be nothing less than cruel."

The support group say they will take the issue to the Constitutional Court if necessary.

Church spokesman Bishop Ivan Abrahams could not be reached for comment yesterday.