Dutch Church not so Reformed
I was surprised to find a South African newspaper distributed for free at my local station in London. The South African, which boast 82 000 readers every week is based in the UK and aimed at the huge South African ex-pat community.
A story they’re reprinted from the Pretoria News caught my eye: “Gay dominee must be celebate, says church”
A “dominee” is the Afrikaans word for vicar.
It seems the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa is undergoing the same “crisis” the Church of England is experiencing over gay clergy.
The dominee, Laurie Gaum, was the subject of an inquiry after it was revealed that he’d had a four-year relationship with his partner (who had sadly committed suicide).
The commission found that their relationship “appeared to be a loving one” but was still nonetheless “unacceptable to the church”.
Gaum has been suspended from the church and his readmission is subject to an undertaking to remain celibate “towards people of the same sex”.
He plans to take legal action.
There is a bitter split in the church according to a follow up story in the Pretoria News. There have been several rows. A gay organist was dismissed at one church and another prevented the “flamboyant” pop star Nataniël from addressing local students.
According to Andre Muller who leads a gay congregation, “This is the biggest crisis facing the church since its decision in 1986 to allow black people to join.”
At that time the church split, loosing tens of thousands of members who went off to form an all-white church - the Afrikaanse Protestante Kerk.
“We are facing a similar situation now,” Muller said. “As soon as the church takes a policy decision on this matter, it is likely to lose many members from whichever opposing side.”
A theology lecturer at a local university observed: “Whichever way the decision goes, it is likely that those who are sufficiently unhappy in the other camp will want to form their own grouping.”
Humanists can only sit back and watch in amusement as the prejudices and bigotries – deeply felt as they are – tear the churches apart.
NOTE: South Africa has several secular organisations. See: The South African Free and Critical Thinkers Association and The South African Atheism Pages.