Archive for October, 2015

History made as South African Church Votes to Bless Same-sex marriage and Ordain Gay Ministers

Friday, October 9th, 2015

YES! for Gay People in Dutch Reformed Church – NG Kerk  – There were Tears of joy after the announcement.

By Melanie Nathan, October 08, 2015.

Dutch Reformed Church Theological College

History was made in South Africa today, when the synod of  what was once probably the most conservative church on the planet, the Dutch Reformed Church, (NG Kerk/ DRC) in an overwhelming majority,  voted in favor of ordaining gay ministers and blessing same sex unions.

Translating from the Afrikaans language I was able to determine this:

The DRC’s general synod chose to move forward with regard to the church’s position on gay relationships. Two proposals before the Synod were received as follows: Dr. Andre Bartlett  with 102 votes against the 88 votes received by Dr. Chris van Wyk’s  proposal. Van Wyk’s proposal asked that further research on the matter occur  before a decision was to be made. But it was decided that the time  to keep researching and not make a decision, is over.

“I was flabbergasted, but I think it’s a great step forward for the restoration of the dignity of our church’s gay members,” Bartlett said after the announcement of the vote.

Bartlett’s proposal noted that heterosexual and homosexual couples in a relationship of “personal faith obedience to the Lord,” must be allowed to fully participate in all the privileges of the church.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 10.34.06 AMIt was however stated that there would be no forcing of the issue.  Because some in the Church continue to believe marriage should be between a man and woman, an element of discretion is still given to the church councils to formulate their own practices and rules.  It was stated that no one should be forced to conduct gay marriages, because there is such a diverse amount of views within the church about it.  (Source Netwerk 24)

This new ruling where the Church in essence now approves same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay ministers may be the saving grace for the Church’s sliding popularity.

This is the Church that once all but controlled a country which thrived on discrimination.  It may even be described the as the religious wing of Apartheid.  Drawing on an old article in the Mail Guardian,  “The Slow and Steady Death of the NG Church…”  Charles Leonard back in 2010 paints this picture:

“It was once described as the National Party (The Afrikaner Apartheid party) at prayer. But the Dutch Reformed Church numbers are dwindling. Charles Leonard finds out why.

It was during the one beautiful Afrikaans hymn that I closed my eyes and I was instantly transported about 40 years back to the platteland Dutch Reformed Church in which I was brought up.

I am a teenager in my dark green suit sitting close to my mom on the brown benches. My dad is sitting in the elders’ benches next to the pulpit. The grey-faced, toga-clad dominee’s droning voice and the airless church are dragging heavily on my eyelids. Not even the mint imperials my mom is feeding me are helping to keep me awake. At least the occasional singing brings variety, although the congregation lags a bit behind the histrionics of the organist.

That formerly omnipotent Afrikaner church I grew up in is in trouble. Officially it lost 20 000 members last year, even though the real numbers are likely to be much higher. It had always turned away people with different ideologies, skin colours, and sexual preferences. Now, it seems, we are witnessing the book of Exodus’s “jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”.

Three, four decades ago Afrikaners could hardly get a job without a reference from their dominee. But, at some point that all changed.

“The church lost its grip over people,” says Jean Oosthuizen, the progressive news editor of the Die Kerkbode (The Church Messenger), which once acted as National Party praise singer and the Dutch Reformed Church’s Pravda during the apartheid days. He says many lost faith in the church because of its actions in the past.

“The Afrikaans churches’ support for apartheid is now costing them a lot. Many people feel cheated and want to know, if the church lied to them about apartheid, what else it is lying about?”

They never had a proud record when it came to inclusiveness. They discriminated against women, who were not allowed on their pulpits, and black people, who were not allowed in their white churches. And, as Oosthuizen points out, women are still not allowed to preach in the Gereformeerde Kerk (Reformed Church), and the Hervormde Kerk (Restructured Church) is still arguing over whether apartheid was a sin. These days, almost all the Afrikaans churches seem to discriminate against gay people, except perhaps one.”

Soon after the end of Apartheid, South Africa enacted an all inclusive constitution which prohibits discrimination based on gender, gender identity and sexuality, protecting all LGBTI people. It seems that this is one Church that is catching up with the times, albeit 20 years into the New South Africa. There are other Churches in the country which still have a long way to go.

My comment: As a South African who grew up knowing a lot about this Church and its impact on South Africa, during the Apartheid era, understanding everything it stood for, in a million years I would not have imagined this day being possible.  I hope it stands as worldwide example of an evolution toward progress and how faith can and should embrace all.  If more faith based organizations are able to accomplish this, we will see a dramatic decline in homophobia around the world.” (Melanie Nathan)


Ds. Nelis Janse van Rensburg was chosen as the moderator of the NG Kerk’s Synod.
Suzaan Steyn interviews Janse van Rensburg  about gays in die church and this groundbreaking action.

Please note that the discussion begins with a criticism that not enough women are in leadership positions in the Church and the Church moderator makes that admission.

Doubts Exist about Interpretation of Welby’s Invitation to Canterbury

Monday, October 5th, 2015

By David W. Virtue DD
October 1, 2015

There have been no refusals, so far, to the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet in Canterbury next January, except we have not heard from the leader of the most powerful Anglican province, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

No matter, we will, but it will be on his schedule, his terms, and his timetable, not on anyone else’s including the ABC’s. He will consult with his GAFCON brethren first, VOL has been told.

Responses range from mildly enthusiastic to heavily caveated with most of the West (Global North) being positive. The one biggest thorn is how to interpret the appearance of Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The Episcopal Church’s yet to be installed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will attend; he is generally enthusiastic.

While the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Rev. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, welcomed the meeting as “a good thing,” he described the decision to invite ACNA this way. “It is understood that the representative will be present for one day, before the formal meeting gets under way — as an opportunity for some conversation, in the ultimate hope that we might be able to find a way forward towards reconciliation”.

No, not really. Beach’s appearance is the only reason the GAFCON archbishops would even attend. Hiltz is treating Beach’s pre gathering appearance like a nuisance mosquito bite or like one who has been invited for hors d’oeuvres, but not the full dinner, because Welby has not formally invited him unless he is prepared to be reconciled to his “brother” North American archbishops.

That is not how Kenyan Primate Eliud Wabukala sees it.

The central issue for the GAFCON archbishops is the heretical stands of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The ONLY reason the Global South archbishops will attend is if Archbishop Beach is invited to come. If Welby is not prepared to deal with the apostasies of TEC and the ACoC, it will all fall apart.

That’s a whole different take on the matter.

The Bishop of Vermont, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, said, “It is not clear to me the reasoning behind inviting other guests who are not Primates of the Anglican Communion to this meeting, especially since this is the first meeting of the Primates in quite some time. Clearly the Archbishop, with his wider perspective on things, thinks this is a good idea, and so I trust his judgement.”

He doesn’t seem to get it either. This is not a Primates meeting. The last one was in Ireland in 2008 when a third of the Primates were no shows. There have been none since. This is a special call by the Archbishop of Canterbury to see if the two integrities can live together or whether to call the Communion quits. What about that do Hiltz and Ely not understand?

This won’t be primarily about climate change or some social justice issue. It will be about the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Unless Beach is given full access and allowed to speak to this cabal of primates the gabfest is doomed.

Archbishop Beach is on record saying that he would accept the invitation if the GAFCON Primates do, “and I am expecting that they will.” So far, so good.

A statement from GAFCON said that it would “prayerfully consider” the invitation. “The crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching, which continues without repentance or discipline.”

This is about church doctrine and teaching, not a Kumbaya global warming moment and why can’t we all just get along. This is a come to Jesus moment for Hiltz and Curry and any liberal leaning Western archbishop more in thrall with the culture than Scripture.

The GAFCON Primates have stayed away from recent Primates’ gatherings. The last was in 2008. It was “some encouragement” that ACNA has been invited, a statement said.

A pastoral letter issued by the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, the Kenyan Primate and GAFCON chairman, this week, was less than sanguine about the state of the Communion, which had become, he suggested, “a source of weakness, as Churches which have rejected the truth as Anglicans have received it spread false teaching, yet continue to enjoy full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, the Most Rev. Clyde Igara, who said that he has “some reservations” about the meeting, also has anxiety about the direction of the Church of the West.

“Our big and elderly sisters continue to dominate,” he said. “They want to dominate their influence on the Communion by their Western theology.” The Communion should accommodate “both the big and elder brothers, and the younger growing ones.”

He hoped to attend the meeting, but on the understanding that the Communion was “not compromising between the truth and a lie.” Strong words, indeed, that Hiltz et al ought to take note of.

But there was a warm welcome from elsewhere in the global south. “We wholeheartedly support the Archbishop of Canterbury for this important meeting,” the Primate of West Africa, the Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, said. “It is the right way for all the Primates to support him and chart the way forward.”

The ultra-liberal, TEC clone Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Rev Francisco de Assis da Silva, suggested that the meeting could “strengthen our sense of body and allow us to move forward as one.”

He called for “a very proactive agenda . . . We have focused much on the issues of sexuality, but I think it may be time to go beyond that. I think it is time to focus on other needs of our world.”

The diversity within the Communion had been “framed at times in a negative light,” suggested one of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, the Most Rev. William Brown Turei, a liberal progressive archbishop. “One reaction to this has been a strong demand for uniformity, imposed and enforced.” The way forward was “to embrace our diversity and focus on unity, and not uniformity, and to love unconditionally in the way that God first loved us.”

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr. Paul Kwong, agreed. “We have spent too much time and energy in the last decade to deal with our differences; it is about time for us to focus our attention to our commonality,” he said. “Mission is one of our commonalities. . . There are far too many pressing issues that the provinces in the Communion can work together to help resolve than the issue of sexuality. Issues like poverty, refugees, and military conflicts and many more.”

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the integral and inseparable instruments of the Anglican Communion,” said the Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Bolly Anak Lapok. “One of the Archbishop’s functions is to preside over the annual meeting of the Primates regardless whether a primate or some primates are ready or not. This is not just the way forward; without it the Communion is dysfunctional.”

Reports that Archbishop Welby is envisaging a looser structure for the Communion (News, 18 September) has not meet with universal approval.

Archbishop Wabukala said it was “very sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling a meeting of Primates to see if the Communion can be saved by making relationships between its Churches more distant rather than closer.”

It is “very sad that we look like we are moving toward a provisional separation”, said the Archbishop of Korea, the Most Revd Paul K. Kim. “I don’t really want to agree with the opinion that it is time for our communion to make an exit strategy. . . I don’t want to concede that our communion has failed to keep a creative tension among those conflicting opinions. I have thought that an inclusive Catholicism or comprehensiveness is the most important aspect of Anglicanism.”

It should be pointed out that Korea has been and is in TEC’s corner on most issues.

He continued, “I am really worried about that, although the separation is temporal, it could narrow the space for those who are in between both extreme ends. . . The separation could be interpreted as extremists’ victory against all the sincere efforts. . .

“If we move toward a separation and have to choose one position between both extremes, is it really possible to keep a sincere missionary dialogue with our respected society and culture?”

Archbishop Hiltz confessed to being “not encouraged” by the “looser structure” scenario.

“I am uneasy with the notion that the Communion could be reshaped into a group of churches that all have some kind of relationship with Canterbury, but not one another,” he added. “It flies in the face of our historic understanding of the Communion.”

Despite gloomy pronouncements from elsewhere, he said that he was full of hope for the Communion, suggesting that, of its four instruments, only the Primates Meeting was not functioning.

“I don’t think the instruments of Communion are as broken as some people think or say they are, and I am also a person that sees so much evidence of hopefulness with respect to our unity,” he said.

It should be pointed out that the ACNA is now numerically bigger than the ACoC. Tentative figures show the ACNA with more than 112,000 ASA and the ACoC with less than 80,000.

As Bill Atwood, an ACNA bishop noted, “If the January gathering of Primates does not fully address the real issues, the Communion will not survive–nor should it.”

(The Church Times contributed to this report)

Abuse, Exclusion, and Physical Attacks for Christian Syrian Refugee in Germany

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Christians fleeing Muslim persecution are finding just as much oppression in the refugee camps and shelters of Germany as they suffered in their home states. As the vast majority of asylum seekers are Muslims, many of whom have imported an adherence to sharia law with them, the few Christian co-travellers find themselves ostracised, abused, and even physically attacked.

The German state of Thuringia has been forced to implement a policy of segregating migrants from different backgrounds as soon as they reach the state, thanks to the persistent persecution of Christians by Muslim migrants.

Other states may be forced to follow, despite the protests of leftist politicians who wish to promote multiculturalism, as further evidence is emerging of widespread abuse of Christian refugees.

Joshua, a Pakistani Christian fleeing threats of violence in his home country has told the German state broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) that life “in the refugee camp is not really different from that in my home country. 98 per cent of asylum seekers there are Muslims and they threaten me, call me a Kufr, an unbeliever. I’m afraid there, very afraid. Mostly I stay in my room.”

His fellow refugee Elias, who, along with Joshua now worships at The Trinity Church, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Berlin, tells a similar story. Elias fled Iran after joining an underground church before he was even able to be baptized into the faith.

He escaped Iran via Turkey and made his way to Germany alone, fearful for his life. “But in the refugee camp, as it emerged that I am a Christian, [the persecution] continued. One woman called me unclean and said that I should not use the kitchen. During Ramadan, they woke me up and told me to eat before sunrise.

“I escaped and came here to live and practice my faith in peace. I know many of [the migrants] have gone through terrible times, but we should all be tolerant,” he said.

In August Germany announced that all Syrian refugees who came to the country would not be deported before being assessed. In doing so it effectively encouraged migrants to circumvent the Dublin Regulation, which identifies the Member State responsible for the examination of an asylum claim in the European Union.

The regulation is intended to avoid asylum seekers being sent from one country to another or being able to abuse the system by the submission of several applications. The country in which the migrant first applies for asylum is responsible for either accepting or rejecting the claim, and the seeker may not restart the process in another jurisdiction.

Germany’s actions encouraged migrants to cross Europe before initiating asylum applications.

Elias faces deportation back to Hungary as he first crossed into the EU there. He is fearful that, thanks to Hungary’s hard line approach to the recent migration crisis in Europe, his asylum claim will fail and he will be sent back to Iran. He now feels like a second-class refugee.

“Of course I’m happy for everyone who is allowed to stay in Germany,” he said. “But why should Muslims insult me in our home, calling me an infidel, and then those refugees are allowed to stay when I am not? I do not understand.”

Pastor Gottfried Martens, leader of Trinity Church hears stories like these every day. “Our Christian refugees are experiencing much oppression in the homes. They are abused, ostracized and even physically attacked. Many of the asylum centres, in my opinion, are not run in accordance with Christian values, with Sharia Islamic law.”

On his desk lie contact addresses for the directors of the migrant centres, social services and the Berlin State Office for Health and Social affairs, which oversees the distribution of migrants to the various centres, all of whom he has contacted seeking help for the Christian refugees who come through his door.

Occasionally he receives an answer, he says, but more often his pleas are ignored. “I think the shelter staff are simply overwhelmed by the situation. In order to integrate the newcomers, we really need many more social workers, psychologists and so on.”

With around 600 refugees in his community, many of whom are fleeing the asylum centres just as they fled their countries, Pastor Martens has now opened up his church to those seeking alternative accommodation. The majority of those through his door are from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, where persecution of Christians is rife.

Elias is one of many sleeping on a mattress on the church floor. Pastor Martens believes Hungary would deport him back to Iran, which would mean death.

However, the community spaces he provides are rapidly filling up, with more people coming in daily. “Our members are afraid. Afraid in the homes of experiencing the same violence they suffered before they fled.”

Transgender parenting

Monday, October 5th, 2015

3116690684Question : When a human with XY chromosomes contributes sperm towards the conception of a child, are they are the father or mother of the consequential child?

Answer : It’s a bit complicated…

Peter Ould writes: The news this week that transgender model Fay Purdham is asking for donations to help her conceive a child with her sperm that was frozen before surgery raises a number of interesting ethical and theological questions for Christians to grapple with. Caroline Farrow has already accused Purdham of a “disturbed mentality” in wanting to be both (biological) father and (nurture) mother to her child. Others have use the language of narcissism, in that this appears to be a highly self-indulgent act on behalf of Purdham.

I want to step away from the immediate case at hand and instead ask us to consider the wider implications of what is being proposed, especially within a framework of Christian anthropology. The notion of parenthood and procreation lies at the heart of the biblical motif of marriage. The sexual union of husband and wife is used as an allusion to the union of Christ and his Church, and for centuries, nay, millennia we have understood that it is the combination of the male (sperm) and female (ovum) gametes that creates life. At the heart of this understanding is the idea that it takes a man to make sperm and a woman to make ovum. Life cannot begin without first a man and a woman seeking to bring it into being.

Modern gender theory changes all that. Now we have a 21st Century society where gender and sex are not the same and where some choose to “change” their sex to bring it into alignment with their perceived gender. Of course, whilst some sex change surgery and medication (including hormone therapy) does bring about visual changes, any individual undergoing such a transformation still remains chromosomally who there were before. An individual transiting from male to female for example, may be able to remove their male genitalia (and replace it with a physical vagina), have some success in permanent hair removal, and with the assistance of surgery and/or hormone treatment can even have breasts, but deep within their sex chromosomes are still XY and crucially they do not have any functioning procreative female sex organs. Behind a vaginoplasty there is a lack of a womb and ovaries.

This basic physical fact is at the heart of the dilemma in the Purdham case. Fay wants to conceive a child, but she is anatomically incapable of doing so. For this reason she has stored her sperm (from when she had male genitalia) and now she wants to use that to help produce her child. Is this an appropriate thing to do?

Let’s take a step back and consider what the Christian views of transgenderism are. There are broadly three main positions that I am aware of (though there may more and of course individuals hold these stances with subtlety). The first is a very “traditional” stance which says that God made people male and female and that therefore any attempt to change one’s sex is an act of idolatory and rebellion against God. In its favour, this position takes a high view of Scriptural anthropology and seeks to honour it. Counting against it, this position appears not to engage with the reality of a fallen world.

A second “liberal” position would be to say that God has created human beings in a number of diverse ways and that some people are born with a disconnect of gender and sex. Sex change restores the union of the two. In its favour, this position appears to be pastorally sensitive, though of course there is increasing disquiet even amongst the pioneers of sex change surgery as to whether it actually achieves the mental health outcomes it sets out to achieve. In criticism, this position appears to have a far too dualistic view of the divide between body and mind, and there is also the lack of a real engagement with a coherent doctrine of the Fall in the assumption that the natal diversity of humanity is a good thing per se.

A third position lies somewhere between this, a view described as “redemptive”. It views experiences like gender dysphoria as part of the Fall and remains open to the possibility that sex change surgery might actually be a good thing because it is seeking to make better that which is corrupted. Besides this openness to transformation, it also questions whether what does experiencing reporting as gender dysphoria is actually a physical phenomenon, or whether it might actually be purely psychosomatic, a result not of mismatched gender and sex but rather rooted in childhood trauma that has caused a detachment from one’s core (genetic) sexual identity.

What you think is happening in gender dysphoria will ultimately shape your view of what sex, procreation and parenthood is about. For those who take the second position above, the diversity of gender and sex in human experience means that strict traditional boundaries of male and female in procreation and family structures are not necessary prescriptive for modern society. Whilst this liberation appears attractive, it raises a major challenge to Christian anthropology. The distinctness of male and female, of husband and wife, is a vibrant motif running throughout scripture. From the first couple in Eden, distinguished in their sexual difference and commanded to utilise it in procreation, to the icon of marriage of husband and wife as the union of Christ and his Church, to the great Wedding Feast at the end of time, men being men and women being women is core to an understanding of these icons of salvation. In the Bible, marriage is not just about the union of two people; it is about the procreative union of two differing individuals who, in their potential to create new life speak powerfully of Jesus bringing new life to his people where they are dead in their sins. Take away the possibility of procreation, remove the duality of the sexes, and the metaphor fails.

So we return to the possibility of a transgender woman providing her previously frozen sperm to be one constituent part of a conception. How does this scenario interact with the Biblical motif of procreative union as the icon of the saving work of Jesus? Is Purdham here operating as the male or the female in the picture? If she is providing sperm, is she acting as the male, the image of Christ? If she wishes to live as a female, is she now acting as the female, the image of the Church? Does the Church need someone beyond itself to create new life? Can it exist without Christ? Is Christ determined to bring new life outside of the Church? Does he even care about her?

Perhaps a fuller Christian answer, faithful to the Scriptural icons of salvation but also open to the possibility of restoring a fallen world, is found in our third “redemptive” perspective. It understands that the Bible does have clear imagery of the separation and distinctiveness of male and female, of their sexual procreative union as a powerful icon of the work of Jesus. At the same time, it recognises that we live in a fallen world, that for some people their sexual identity is corrupted or frustrated, and that a sex change may actually be a path towards completion in Christ, not a rejection of it. However, this redemptive view understands male and female to be (ideally) two distinct identities, so the attempt at redemption is not to mix the two as though the differences are unimportant, but rather to accept the differences and to live them out. This means that a male to female transgender person should seek as much as possible to be the sex they have chosen to transit into. If you are now female (as perhaps you should be), why do you need to keep your sperm? If you are male, why keep ovum? These are acts of holding onto the past, not living in the now and future of Christ’s resurrection life, changing us to the perfection we were created for. If as a male to female transgender person my resurrection identity will be truly female, why am I holding on to the corrupted former self?

Of course, this means that practically everyone who transits sex will not be able to conceive their own biological children, but this is already the case for many who have never struggled with sexual identity issues but still find themselves unable to conceive. The reality is that we do live in a fallen world, that we are all broken people in a number of different ways, sexually, relationally, genetically, psychologically. Christ redeems us and makes us who he intended us always to be and sometimes we are privileged to see part of that in our mortal lives. At the same time though we are not yet in that eternal kingdom of perfection, and as faithful disciples we need to live within the constraints of this fallen world. Our aim as followers of Jesus is to speak of his saving work, not just with our tongues but with our very lives, including our sexual lives.

new-peterTo try and merge male and female identities is to destroy the very distinctiveness which is at the heart of basic Christian anthropology. In the Biblical world view, men are men and women are women, even when modern technology and understanding has helped those whose maleness or femaleness needed a helping hand getting there. The perversity of what Purdham is asking us to help her do is not the act of changing sex, but rather in not living out that which she has now, at possibly great personal expense, already achieved.

Fay Purdham is now a woman and women have a particular role in the icon of Christ’s work with his people. To want to be a man again in fathering a child rather undermines everything she has gone through, and Christians who support her in wanting to father a child rather undermine everything Christ has gone through.