Tuesday, September 06, 2005

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.


At 7:30 AM, Anonymous michael levy said...

I was thrilled to discover your Blog on the Internet recently. It is so well written and so informative - and so desperately necessary.

However, I was surprised to note in your Blog that you state that "South Africa has several secular organisations". I understand that you have lived in South Africa. I have been here all the 60 years of my life to date. At no time during this sojourn in what must be one of the most religion-riddled countries of the world have I ever been aware that there have been "several secular organisations" here. On the contrary, I have always personally sorely regretted the obvious absence of secular organisations in this part of the world. At most over the years there has very occasionally been a single such organisation at a time - usually relatively short-lived at that - and currently, I am not aware of any such entity at all.

As regards the two references you give:-

First, SAFACTA, the South African Free and Critical Thinkers Association, has been defunct for 5 years now. Even when it was in existence, it was nothing more than a loose group of some 30 persons who met occasionally in private homes in Johannesburg. It never, I am sure, dared to call itself so much as "secular", let alone "atheist". At most it would have described itself as a discussion-group to encourage free thought on a range of subjects which, as it happened, were frequently non-religious, such as one I attended on homoeopathy!

Secondly, the South African Atheism Pages - the only one of the South African Links listed on SAFACTA's web-site which can be accessed - are no more than a web-site posted by a private individual who seems loath to reply to e-mailed enquiries. It is in no sense an "organisation".


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