Namibian Christendom is for the first time confronted by a topic that, until now, as far as the Namibian church establishment is concerned, has always been a straightforward matter: the Namibian Constitution does not guarantee marriage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Previously the men and women of the cloth in Namibia were not worried about such a then ‘trivial topic’. It was an issue relegated to South African churches where LGBT marriages are allowed, but the churches must now figure out whether or not to conduct such marriages for their members.
It took a threat of a legal battle by members of the Dutch Reformed Church to wake up the Namibian Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a motion submission by the Anglican Diocese of Saldanha Bay in South Africa to wake up the Anglican Diocese of Namibia. Now the Council of Churches in Namibia says it is planning to have an awareness workshop on LGBT issues in the near future.
For the Dutch Reformed Church in Namibia (DRCN) it started with the change in the church’s southern African body that people in same-sex unions should be admitted as pastors, and that pastors in South Africa be allowed to register to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, as long as such marriages are not conducted in the church or under church law.
The Namibian synod threw the baby out of the cot, largely because allowing people in same-sex unions to become reverend means that the synod could find itself with a LGBT reverend in one of its Namibian congregations.
In their objections the Namibian synod is saying that in Namibia they would only accept theological LGBT candidates if they would live celibate lives and not those who would be in same-sex unions.
“We understand membership as access to the sacraments, offices of the church and submission to church discipline. We undertake to admit theological candidates who have a same-gender sexual orientation and who live celibate to the ministry,” said Rev. Clem Marais, the General Secretary of DRCN.
Also, other members in the Dutch Reformed Church in Southern Africa (DRCSA) objected to the new regulations, forcing the church to put an embargo on its new regulations.
The affected parties however threatened to take the church to court if it does not lift the embargo on its own resolutions to allow same-sex marriages and those in same-sex marriages to become reverends.
To help sort out the matter an “extraordinary convention of the General Synod is called for 7 – 10 November 2016 with a view on hearing the objections in a clerical way, thus revisiting the whole issue anew,” says Rev. Marais.
“We testify that our ethical responsibility spans the complete spectrum of life and encourages Christian believers to be consequent in their prophetic voice against ethical transgressions in society. Synod is, however, saddened by the apparent lack of enthusiasm amongst believers to tackle ethical issues other than sexually related ones,” Marais said of the church’s stance.
For the Namibian Anglican Church it is the question of whether or not to bless a same-sex union – which has already been legalised somewhere else. In South Africa this debate is rooted in Desmond Tutu’s reverend daughter, Mpho, who had to leave the priesthood after wedding her female companion. The wedding caused a furore, more so because an Anglican reverend did what part of the church establishment considered as ‘a prayer of blessing’ to the same-sex union, a big no-no for the church.
The discussion prompted a motion by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay that clergy give prayers of blessing to those in same-sex unions and those identified as LGBTs and who are in legal same-sex unions, that they be licensed as reverends.
The proposal is that Anglican clergy “may provide for prayers of blessing to be offered for those in same-sex civil unions; provide for clergy to be especially prepared for a ministry of pastoral care for those identifying as LGBTs, accepting that any cleric unwilling to engage in such envisioned pastoral care shall not be obliged to do so; provide for pastoral counselling of those identifying as LGBTs; and provide for the preparation for and the licensing of those in same-sex unions to lay ministries on Parochial, Archidiaconal and Diocesan levels.”
Ironically, when contacted for an interview for this article Rev. Linea Haufiku of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia skirted around the issue. “From the Anglican Diocese of Namibia’s perspective, we cannot comment on the issue of same-sex marriages which is a motion proposed to be part of the agenda of the upcoming Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, by the Anglican Diocese of Saldana Bay,” (sic) she responded with a written statement she provided during the interview.
Namibian Anglican Church clergy referred to the motion as ‘a South African thing’, but expressed concern at the ramifications if such a proposal were to be adopted, when the meeting of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa convenes at the end of this month in South Africa. What is to be done when a Namibian same-sex couple – married somewhere else – asks the reverend to give a prayer of blessing?
Rev. Haufiku, however, while flatly declining to comment directly on the Saldanha Bay proposal on the agenda, points to the Bible saying the gospel is clear on issues of same-sex relations, and the Anglican Church simply follows the Bible.
Rev. Marais says the church is obliged to recognise the reality of people who live with an orientation to same-gender sexual relationships.
“However, like we are unable to explain other realities in creation, we are, despite research, also unable to explain this phenomenon to satisfaction. We testify to the fact that the Bible does not refer to this kind of orientation which affects a small percentage of people. The Bible only alludes to practices of same- gender sexual engagement of predominantly men. We accept that individuals with such a same-gender sexual orientation do not necessarily willingly make immoral choices to express their being,” Rev. Marais says in the church’s official response on the regional body’s decision.
Rev. Marais says the Dutch Reformed Church in Namibia did not mean to condemn people with a same-gender sexual orientation. “Our request stems from an honest effort to strive towards the conduct we believe Christ expects from us,” she says.
As for the LGBT Dutch Reformed Church members, Rev. Marais says: “We are grateful for all members of our church who live in celibacy while they have a same-gender sexual orientation and assure them of our intercession and love We urge church councils to convey this request for celibacy with sensitivity and to provide counselling where necessary.”
Contacted for comment the Council of Churches in Namibia’s Acting General Secretary Ludwig Beukes said the council is simply an umbrella body with member churches that have their own different doctrines. Thus, the council “has no mandate on individual pastors and what they want. Pastors are appointed by their churches and have to submit to their church doctrines.”
“Each church is autonomous and independent in their church ethos. CCN as a facilitating body creates a platform for dialogue on different issues, issues like LGBTs, same sex marriages. In fact we are planning to have two awareness workshops on the issue,” said Beukes.
– Additional reporting by Albertina Nakale