When the Episcopal Church of the USA agreed to provide for same – sex church weddings, few would have been surprised. This was the United States, where the modern gay liberation movement began, and the Episcopal Church, long known for its progressive stance on so many issues. But the Dutch Reformed Church, South Africa?
For the first 50 years of my life, I knew the DRC as a bastion of conservatism in (White) South African politics. Not only was it the National Party at prayer, providing spurious theological justification for apartheid and racial discrimination, it was also responsible for a wide range of other forms of socially conservative policies, forcing their puritanical view of Christianity on all others in the country. Not only was there no Sunday shopping, when I was growing up, there was also no Sunday entertainment of any kind (no cinemas, no paying spectator sports), and a harshly enforced system of censorship, to stamp out anything offensive to the moralists, or the governing politicians. We did not even get television until 1976 – well after the rest of the Western world.
Since then of course, the country has changed dramatically – and so has the Dutch Reformed Church. It has allowed its racial / political theology to catch up with the modern world (and other Reformed churches elsewhere), and has gradually begun to bring its sexual theology up to date, too. It has accepted openly gay and lesbian clergy since 2007.
Now, the Moderator of the Church has made a personal plea for full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, including access to gay marriage, in Church.
(English language reports of moderator Niemandt’s call that I have seen include some obviously nonsensical errors in translation from the Afrikaans. I include below my own translation from a more complete Afrikaans report at Netwerk24)
Nelus Niemandt’s Plea: Throw the Church Open to Gays
It is time that gay NG ministers should no longer forced to be celibate and that gay couples’ marriages should be consummated with the full blessing of the church..
This is the plea of Prof. Nelus Niemandt, general moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church.
He hopes the decision on gay clergy will be lifted in October at the general synod and that they will also be able to marry.
“My hope is that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered will be normalized (in the church),” Niemandt said.
He answered in his personal capacity the question of where the South African community of faith is as far as gay marriage is concerned almost ten years after civil gay marriage was legalized.
It is no longer unusual, according to him, to have a gay couple church that is fully integrated into the life of the church, but he would like to have wider acceptance of gays in the church.
The general synod in 2013 ordered a task force to take among others a view on whether gay officials in practicing civil unions can be acceptable to the church and their report will be presented to the October general synod in Pretoria.
The church last took a decision about homosexuality in 2007.
In the latest boost for gay rights the US Supreme Court ruled Friday the country’s constitution guarantees the right to marriage between people of the same sex.
According to Dr. Wouter van Wyk, secretary of equipment, information and communication of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (NRCA), homosexuality will probably be back on their agenda for their general synod in 2016 .
The church (presently) only accepts gay ministers who are celibate.
Rev. Andre Muller, founder and chief minister of the Reforming Church, said he has not experienced much change in the church since the (gay marriage) legalization at the end of 2006 . He is excited about what the effect might be of the Americans’ decision, which he believes will eventually have to be seen.
“The churches in general still kick against it. It’s frightening how judgmental they still are.”
Even so Muller, who was a minister in the DRC before he resigned more than two decades ago because he was gay, says there are ministers who are very positive and accepting. “If South Africa should be asked to hold a referendum as in Ireland, it would not happen. In the statute books it right, but not in people’s hearts.