By Adv Nadene Badenhorst
On Friday, August 28, the Constitutional Court (the highest court in the country) heard and reserved judgment in the case of Ecclesia de Lange v Methodist Church of South Africa. This is undoubtedly the most important case for religious freedom and the autonomy of the church that has ever come before our courts, and one that could open the door to the courts dictating to the church what she may and may not believe, preach and how she should govern her internal affairs (incl. qualifications for church leadership and membership, church discipline, etc). To read more about the potential ramifications of this case, see https://forsa.org.za/lesbian-ministers-case-in-constitutional-court-in-august/.
Recognising what a critical case this is for the church in South Africa and one in which the church’s voice should be heard, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) on Friday asked the Constitutional Court for permission to join the proceedings as a “Friend of the Court”. The wonderful news is that the Court heard us and granted FOR SA an opportunity until next Friday, September 11, to file papers and put our case before the Court, as we are now in the process of doing with the help of attorneys Motla Conradie Inc and Adv Reg Willis who have agreed to act in the matter on a pro bono basis.
Call to Action
To date, leaders / churches representing approx. 6 million people have joined as members of FOR SA. Our hope is that all who have signed up as members, will stand with us to protect the autonomy of the Church — even if they themselves hold to a different view point to the Methodist Church on this particular issue. FOR SA’s rallying point has always been that, while churches may disagree with each other on matters of doctrine, we can agree on this: it is not for the State (government / courts) to tell us what we may and may not believe, preach and how we should govern our internal affairs! That right belongs to God alone as the Head of the Church (Col 1:18; Eph 5:23) and the One to whom an account shall be given (Heb 13:17). FOR SA’s position in this case will therefore be one of defending the principle of religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church, rather than defending the particular standpoint of the Methodist Church.
If ever there was a time for the Church to stand united, it is NOW! This decision by the Constitutional Court could forever change our freedom as Christians and as the Church in South Africa, and will set precedent for every other case involving religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church coming before government commissions (incl. the Human Rights Commission and Commission for Gender Equality) and the courts in future. We have to use our freedom (to speak, to act and to participate in court proceedings) to protect our freedom, before it is too late. No one should have to choose between obeying the Constitution, and obeying God (with consequent fines or imprisonment for not obeying the law). To force people to make such a choice, is nothing short of religious persecution.
If your church / ministry has not yet signed up as a member of FOR SA and wishes to stand with us in this case to defend religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church, please get in touch with us as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org We would also appreciate prayer as we prepare our papers for the Constitutional Court – thanking God for making a way for us even at this late stage, and asking for His guidance, wisdom and favour as we present our case. Together, and with God, we can make a difference – for His glory and our good!
The facts in Ecclesia de Lange v Methodist Church of SA, are briefly as follows: De Lange was an ordained minister of the Methodist Church, whose service as such was discontinued by the Church following her announcement that she intended marrying her same-sex partner. The Methodist Church believes that according to the Bible, marriage is a divinely-ordained lifelong union of one man and one woman, and that any other understanding of marriage is incompatible with the Scriptures and thus with Church doctrine. (This view of marriage is of course central to the Christian faith, and is held by the majority of Christian churches around the world). The Church further believes that ministers of the church are custodians of the Church’s doctrines and commit themselves to abide by the doctrines and beliefs of the Church. Ministers may therefore not enter into same-sex or any other form of marriage contrary to the Church’s understanding of marriage as a sacred covenant by one man and one woman.
De Lange took the Church to court, and lost both in the Cape High Court and in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). (For the findings of the SCA, see here – http://gatewaynews.co.za/sca-rules-in-favour-of-religious-rights-church-autonomy-in-gay-minister-ousting-appeal/). De Lange thereafter appealed to the Constitutional Court, and is asking the Court to find that the Church unfairly discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation and that she should be reinstated as minister of the Methodist Church. (De Lange has since divorced the same-sex partner to whom she got married at the time, and is now involved in another same-sex relationship).
*FOR SA is a non-profit Christian organisation, working to protect and promote religious freedom in SA. To join FOR SA and/or sign up to its newsletter, visit www.forsa.org.za Also follow us on Facebook at “Freedom of Religion SA” for regular updates on religious freedom and related issues locally and worldwide.