Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu-Van Furth, daughter of Desmond Tutu recently revealed that the South African Anglican Church revoked her licence to preach because she married a woman. “Because the South African Anglican Church does not recognise our marriage, I can no longer exercise my priestly ministry in South Africa,” she said.
Reverend Mpho, who had been stationed at Saldanha Bay on the Cape West Coast, said that once the order to revoke her priestly license was given, she decided on her own to give up ministerial duties, rather than have it stripped off her, which, to her, was a slightly more dignified option.
South Africa is one of the few countries at the fore of the LGBTQ movement in Africa since the legalisation of same sex marriages in 2006. However, the South African Anglican church, as well other Christian denominations have openly kicked against this law, stating that marriage is an exclusive union between a man and a woman.
There has been a serious internal debate in the Anglican Church over its stance on gay relationships and marriages, one that is dividing the Church around the world. Earlier on in January this year, the American branch of the Anglican Church, the US Episcopal Church, was sanctioned for endorsing gay marriage. It was considered a major stray from the church’s central belief in the traditional doctrine of marriage as a one-man one-woman affair.
According to a UK media outlet, itv, in the US, the Episcopal Church, which has taken a more liberal approach to the issue of same-sex marriage, is made up of 100 dioceses. But the largest number of Anglican communities in the world resides in Africa where they more conservative and immensely anti gay marriage. Therefore, it is no surprise that Reverend Mpho is still a priest in good standing in the US Episcopal Church, as she revealed in her interview with City Press.
The high-profile union between Mpho and her partner, Marceline, was solemnised in the Netherlands last December, and was attended by her parents, Leah and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who gave their blessings. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been openly vocal about his support for homosexual relationships. “I would find it impossible to stand by when people are being persecuted for something about which they can do nothing about – their sexual orientation,” Tutu said in defence when he endorsed the decision of the Church of Scotland to appoint homosexual ministers back in 2009.
Concerning the uproar surrounding their marriage, Mpho is quoted to have said that despite the obvious differences between her and her partner, Marceline, it is ironical that it is their sameness of being women that is causing so much trouble. “My wife and I meet across almost every dimension of difference. Some of our differences are obvious; she is tall and white, I am black and vertically challenged. Some of our differences are not apparent at a glance; she is Dutch and an atheist, I am South African and a priest in the Episcopal/Anglican Church.”
Mpho and Marceline’s marriage sparked debate on social media and brought the issue of same-sex marriages in the South African Anglican church to a head. While many criticised the couple, and Bishop Tutu’s decision to support his daughter, others rallied in support.