Anglican Church of Southern Africa Completes Adoption of Anglican Covenant

Bishops urged to provide guidelines for blessing same sex unions
GAFCON II will offer an alternative vision of marriage and mission

By David W. Virtue

In an attempt to straddle the pansexual fence and to ensure unity in the communion, the liberal Church of Southern Africa, a clone of The Episcopal Church, adopted the Anglican Covenant this week. At the same time, at a pastoral level, they urged its bishops to provide guidelines for the blessing of same sex civil unions.

This is trying to have your cake and eat it too. The future of global Anglicanism, we have been told, lies in the holding together of conservative theology and liberal pastoral practice. That has simply not worked out.

To date, no other African province has signed on to the Covenant and probably won’t. The Church of England has still not signed off nor has the Episcopal Church. It is, to all intents and purposes, dead on arrival.

Nonetheless, the Southern African Provincial Synod unanimously voted to ratify the decision taken at its previous meeting in 2010 to adopt the Covenant. This completes the legal process.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, proposed the motion. Addressing the Synod, meeting this week in Benoni, Johannesburg, he emphasized ACSA’s commitment to being at the heart of Anglican life, often acting as a bridge-builder, and drawing on its own experiences of living with considerable diversity and wrestling with difference.

Seconding the motion, the Dean of the Province, Bishop Rubin Philip of Natal, quoted from the Introduction to the Covenant:

6. To covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith. Rather, we recognise the importance of renewing in a solemn way our commitment to one another, and to the common understanding of faith and order we have received, so that the bonds of affection which hold us together may be re-affirmed and intensified. We do this in order to reflect, in our relations with one another, God’s own faithfulness and promises towards us in Christ (2 Cor. 1.20-22).

The (Southern African) Church neither marries same-sex couples, nor ordains or licenses priests or deacons who live in same-sex unions. This is in line with the practice of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

However, in the words of the Rt. Rev. Martin Breytenbach, Bishop of St. Mark the Evangelist, during a debate at the Synod, “Civil unions are a reality, whether we like it or not.”

Proposing the resolution, Bishop Breytenbach acknowledged he was on the “conservative” side of the debate, but said all God’s people need pastoral care and “we have people in our church who are same-gender couples who regard themselves as married, even though I find it difficult to accept.”

The Rt. Rev. Garth Counsell of Table Bay – from the diocese of Cape Town, which is viewed as more open to recognizing same-sex marriage – said the resolution was “not talking about same sex- marriage or whether we will do that or not.” It was rather about “confronting legal reality”…

The covenant was born of an idea by Archbishop Rowan Williams in 2004 to try to set boundaries in belief and practice for the Communion’s 39 provinces. It died after a majority of dioceses within the Church of England voted to reject it.

To date, only a handful of Anglican provinces have signed on to it.

In two weeks, some 1200 faithful orthodox Anglican leaders led by the Primates Council of GAFCON will propose a different understanding of the church’s mission when they meet in Nairobi, Kenya. Their vision will not embrace same sex unions or gay marriage, but it will offer a vision to bring the transforming love of Christ to all peoples of the world, including those caught in the vortex of homosexual practice.

In a surprise announcement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby said he would meet with the GAFCON Primates Council two days before the official start of GAFCON II at the invitation of Kenyan Primate Eliud Wabukala. Welby said his schedule did not allow him time to attend GAFCON II although it is still unclear whether he would have signed the Jerusalem Declaration as a necessary precursor to attending the high level gathering of Anglican archbishops, bishops, clergy and laity.


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