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Methodist challenge to South African church policy on gay unions


A group of 19 Methodist ministers in Cape Town, South Africa, is seeking to change its denomination’s policy of not allowing clerics to officiate at the celebration of same-sex unions.

Following legislation approved by the country’s parliament in 2006, South Africa allows gays and lesbians to contract legally valid civil unions.

The ministers of the Methodist Cape of Good Hope District (church area) requested a provincial synod meeting on 10 May to give them the right to decide, on grounds of individual conscience, whether or not to perform same-sex union ceremonies.

Ministers of most churches in South Africa are appointed as marriage officers by the State, and may apply to solemnise civil unions.

Several denominations, among them the Methodist and Congregational churches, have forbidden clergy to officiate at same-sex unions, or at ceremonies of blessing where same-sex couples have been legally married by state officials.

The synod asked a pastoral commission to look into the request.

One of the ministers, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Ecumenical News International on 15 May that the clerics wanted the right to decide whether to preside at same-sex unions in much the same way as Methodist ministers in South Africa are individually allowed to decide on whether to re-marry divorced persons.

The cleric requested anonymity due to the fact that the synod has forbidden its ministers from speaking to the media about the issue. He also indicated that, as far as he knew, none of the 19 ministers had yet presided at a same-sex union.

The Rev. Mark Stephenson, superintendent of the church’s Salty Print Circuit said, "The Methodist Church of South Africa is passionate about celebrating ‘unity in diversity’. This is a question about how we read scripture, and manage perceptions and polarities in our collective identity."

Stephenson, who was not one of the 19 clerics who challenged existing denominational rules, added, "In my book, this means learning to be inclusive, even if it means a breach in discipline."

(c) Ecumenical News International