By Douglas LeBlanc
Bishops of the Anglican Province of Southern Africa have approved creating prayers for same-sex couples in a more domestic context than those proposed by the Church of England.
Bishops approved the proposal for these prayers on March 6 after they declined a proposal by Raphael Hess — chairman of the Southern African Anglican Theological Commission and Bishop of Saldanha Bay — that would have made such blessings for same-sex couples a congregational decision. In 2018, Saldanha Bay became the first diocese in the province to approve such blessings.
“Archbishop Thabo Makgoba returned to the task we were given nine years ago, namely to spell out guidelines for providing pastoral ministry to those in same-sex relationships,” said a “Statement on Human Dignity and Marriage” by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Synod of Bishops.
“Noting that we are baptizing the children of same-sex couples and confirming LGBTQI Anglicans, he appealed for guidelines on the form of prayers we are to use when ministering to them, for example, when we bless their houses or meals in their homes,” the statement added.
“He challenged us to develop prayers of affirmation and acknowledgement for all faithful Anglicans with which all of us can agree, and to present such prayers to Provincial Standing Committee (PSC) and Provincial Synod.”
One conservative group has objected to the proposed prayers, Mwangi Githahu reported for Independent Online in South Africa.
Philip Rosenthal of ChristianView Network said the announcement was “a deceptive, illogical compromise and a rebellion against the Bible’s clear teaching that same-sex sexual relationships are unnatural, sinful, and should be ended.”
Archbishop Makgoba praised the bishops’ decision in a telephone interview with Church Times. “I’m excited about the fact that we are no longer debating that the issues are there or are not there,” he said. “It is an acknowledgment that we’ve got a pastoral responsibility as clerics and as bishops to care, which is very important, and an iota of movement that contributes into not only the Church in Southern Africa, but the broader Church.”
Church Times noted that the South African province’s debate on same-sex blessings began during the tenure of Desmond Tutu. By 2016, one of the archbishop’s daughters, Mpho Tutu van Furth, had to surrender her license to the Diocese of Saldanha Bay when she married Marceline van Furth, a Dutch medical professor.
Bishop Hess announced his support of same-sex blessings in the same address in 2016 when he said that “Mpho Tutu has complied with the canonical requirement that the consequence of her marriage to Marceline van Furt has caused.”
The bishops’ statement said they agreed that “All Anglicans, of whatever sexual orientation, are equally deserving of our pastoral care”; that “we were not debating any change to our Canon on Holy Matrimony, endorsed in our Prayer Book, which declares ‘that marriage by divine institution is a lifelong and exclusive union and partnership between one man and one woman’”; and that we fully accept one another’s integrity in our debates on the matter.”
A subgroup of the Provincial Synod — composed of Bishop Hess, Bishop Nkosinathi Ndwandwe of Natal, Bishop Moses Madywabe of Khahlamba, and Bishop Luke Pretorius of the Diocese of St. Mark the Evangelist — has been charged with creating the prayers.