Monday, October 13, 2008

Press statement of Executive on Boesak and Homosexuality debate

HOMOSEXUALITY DEBATE

The Executive of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa deeply regrets the misrepresentations of the procedures and decisions of Synod on the issue of homosexuality by our former Assessor, ProfDr Allan Boesak. We want to inform the world and our church of the correct information.

We want to state the following:
1. The Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa is a Church who functions within the Presbyterian Church law system. That means that the church works with meetings and not individuals. Only when a meeting (Synod: General or Regional, Presbytery or Church Council) came to a decision, that decision stands and is the official position of the various structures in URCSA. Any individual within URCSA not mandated to speak on behalf of these meetings within URCSA, would voice their personal opinion and does not speak on behalf of URCSA. A person may rise in Synod or any other meeting of URCSA and make a point, but it will remain a viewpoint, unless an official decision has been taken by majority vote. This point is important to note in the light of the debates at Synod and the utterances of individuals in URCSA specifically on the homosexuality debate and in the public press.

2. Interim Policy on homosexuality (2005)
At the General Synod of URCSA in 2005 the Synod took the following decision ( decision 90) which would be the interim guideline until Synods comes to a final decision:
a) Synod confirms that the Bible is the living Word of God and the primary source and norm for the moral debate about homosexuality
b) Synod acknowledges the diversity of positions regarding homosexuality and pleads that differences be dealt with in a spirit of love, patience, tolerance and respect.
c) Synod confirms that homosexual people are members of the church through faith in Jesus Christ.
d) Synod rejects homophobia and any form of discrimination against homosexual persons.
e) Synod appeals to URCSA members to reach out with love and empathy to our homosexual brothers and sisters and embrace them as members of the body of Christ in our midst.
f) Synod acknowledges the appropriate civil rights of homosexual persons.
g) Synod emphasizes the importance of getting clarity about the theological and moral status of homosexual marriages, or covenantal unions .
h) Synod emphasizes the importance of getting clarity about the ordination of practicing homosexual persons in ministry.
i) Synods assigns the following tasks to the Moderamen:
- Do an extensive study on Christian faith and homosexuality while taking into consideration the above mentioned principles;
- Table a report with recommendations to the General Synodical Commission (GSC) during the coming recess ( 2005-2008);
- And encourage and direct discussions on the theme of homosexuality in URCSA.

3. Mandate and Report on homosexuality
The mandate was to be carried out under the leadership of the previous Assessor, Dr Allan Boesak and his Commission, consisted of Prof. Nico Koopman, Prof. Jeremy Punt, Prof Christina Landman, Prof Rothney Tshaka. According to the decision of the 2005 Synod this commission had to follow a certain process within the church with their. They were instructed to table their report during the recess at the General Synodical Commission (GCS which is the body which handles the affairs of the General Synod while the Synod is not in session) for debate. The report was to be distributed to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for debate. The responsibility of this commission was to direct the discussion on homosexuality in URCSA. The commission unfortunately did not fulfill its task in this regard.

4. Homosexuality debate during Synod:
The report was received only by the delegates (and not by the entire church structures as was the mandate to the commission) and they received it only a few weeks before Synod was to convene. Because of this irresponsible manner in which a report of such importance for the church and its members whose life’s are personally, directly and deeply affected by its final conclusion, the delegates were not prepared to debate this issue properly and make an informed decision. The result was that some delegates reacted to the report on an emotional level and said inappropriate and hurtful things. For these irresponsible utterances by individuals in Synod, URCSA is very, very sorry and makes an unconditional apology to the entire Church and its homosexual members who have been hurt by this. We want to stress these utterances were that of individual delegates and not a decision by the Synod as a meeting. We deeply regret that the commission did not do its work properly in terms of the process that the report should have taken in the URCSA. Synod by decision rejected these utterances and confirmed the integrity of those who worked on this report.

4. The current position of URCSA on the issue of Homosexuality
Synod regards the report as a well prepared report and thanked the contributors to the report. Synod decided that the report should take the route, as was decided by the 2005 Synod, but was not implemented by the Commission on homosexuality. The report and its recommendations are now referred back to the 7 Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for discussion.
In the meantime the current official position of URCSA on homosexuality is the interim policy as formulated in 2005( decision 90) as stated in point 2 of this press release.

5. Dr Allan Boesak’s statements in the public press.
As the executive we deeply regret the misleading and false statements made by Dr Allan Boesak ( Moderator of the Cape Synod)in the public press, since Friday. The Moderamen would like to clear up the confusing facts that Dr. Boesak put in the public domain. The Report tabled was not Dr Boesaks. It was the report of a commission which consisted of Prof. Nico Koopman. Christina Landman, Prof. Jeremy Punt and Prof. Rothney Tshaka. He only presented the Report on behalf of the commission. For Dr Boesak to claim in the week-end press that” he confronted the Synod (in this report) with an issue and that the Synod was not emotionally or theologically ready to talk about it”, would be to ignore the contributions of distinguish academics to report and claim sole responsibility for its content. He creates the impression that this was an issue between him and the Church/ Synod. Creating the impression that he was he was the champion of a cause and by so doing put the spotlight on himself. Dr Boesak took the issue of the report far too personally, while he was not the sole writer or owner of this report. Once this report was submitted it became the property of the URCSA.

When Dr. Boesak stated in Die Burger newspaper that, “he confronted the Synod (in this report ) with an issue and that the Synod was not emotionally or theologically ready to talk about”, he was absolutely correct. Dr Boesak neglected his duty as the person who was given the responsibility by Synod in 2005 to assemble a commission to work on this report and to ensure that URCSA was emotionally and theologically ready to debate with insight the issue of homosexuality. It was only three years after this mandate was given to him, that he called a commission together in June of this year. One of the members only heard in June of this year that he was a part of the commission. This report was to tabled between 2005 and 2006 at the General Synodical Commission and send to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations for debate, because the work was not done, this process was not followed and the church and delegates to the Synod, “was not emotionally and theologically ready” to debate the subject of homosexuality. As chairperson of this commission Dr. Boesak simply did not do his job properly and he must take full responsibility for what happened with this report at the Synod. He must be honest and take ownership for this. He should not shift the blame to Synod, but he should be courageous and mature enough to admit his serious neglect. Dr. Boesak did a disservice to URCSA and its homosexual members in this regard and he puts his fellow commissioners in a very difficult situation. Despite this short space of time in which this report was completed, Synod regards this research on the topic as excellent and worthy of considering.

Dr Boesak’s accusation as reported in die Burger on Monday that, URCSA committed treason against Belhar, is an accusation that the Uniting Reformed in Southern Africa does not take seriously. URCSA has not made any decision on the report and specifically where the report deals with the Belhar Confession. Dr Boesak is simply sensational in his utterances. He has no grounds for such an accusation, because there was never a decision taken or a value judgment made by Synod ( as legally constituted meeting who can take decisions, legally) on Belhar and homosexuality. His accusation is highly irresponsible and misleading.

Dr Boesak creates the impression in the Week-end Argus that URCSA has come to a decision on Homosexuality when he is quoted , “ I cannot accept the church’s decision and stand as a representative. I will remain on as an ordinary minister. I will cannot defend such a decision.” No decision was made on homosexuality, except the decision to refer the report for proper discussion as was the intention and decision of the general Synod of 2005.

Dr Boesak has vilified the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and its Synod for no valid reason and spoke untruths about the actions of this Church of God. We as a Church will not call on him to retract these untruths, but we leave him with his conscience before the Almighty God and we pray to God that Dr Boesak, will use his God-given gifts for a righteous cause.

This is the final public engagement of URCSA on this issue. We will now go back to our Regional Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations, to direct and deal pastorally with the issue of homosexuality in the spirit of the 2005 decision. We call on the whole of URCSA to start talking and debating.

This press release will be read throughout URCSA on Sunday to put the issue in perspective and to remove all confusion and false statements.

ISSUED BY THE EXECUTIVE:

Prof . ST Kgatla ( Moderator)
Dr. Mary –Ann Plaatjies –van Huffel( Assessor)
Dr. Dawid Kuyler( Scribe)
Rev. M. Godfrey Betha ( Actuarius)
Rev. Reggie Nel
Rev.MP Moloi
Dr. Henry Platt.
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