A modern day David and Goliath | Rev. Ecclesia de Lange, a South African open lesbian will face her once employer and now adversary in the Cape High Court.
By Melanie Nathan, May 19, 2013.
In 2010 when Rev de Lange announced to her congregation that she was going to marry her same-sex partner, her congregants jumped up and applauded, in what she describes in the video below as a joyful moment. But unfortunately the powers that be in the Church where she served, were not willing to share in the jubilation.
Rev. de Lange was found “guilty” – suspended-fired and charged by the Church with being:
“in breach of the Laws and Discipline and/or policies, decisions, practices and usages of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, when she announced to the Brackenfell and Windsor Park Societies her intention to enter into a same-sex civil union with her partner, as it was the Church’s policy, practice and usage to recognize only heterosexual marriage.”
While finally Rev de Lange faces the opportunity to be heard in the courts, hers is a case that exemplifies the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied.” After all she has been through and for so long, it is now up to the courts to decide how Eccelesia de Lange will find reparation for what she has been put through over these past years, while the Church subjected her not only to the harsh and emotional realities of discrimination, but also to an array of uncertain rules that served only to exacerbate the prejudice and her personal suffering.
Finally the Western Cape High Court in South Africa will hear the case of Rev Ecclesia de Lange against the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and it could prove to be landmark.
An icon in her local community north of Cape Town, de Lange has fought a courageous uphill battle against the powers of the huge Church mechanism, which seems to have purposefully placed untenable obstacles in her path to justice. Forced into an unfair arbitration agreement, de Lange is fighting now to have it set aside; the biased disciplinary hearing verdict to be retracted; and to be reinstated as full member of the Church she loved; and is also taking the unchartered step seeking an end to sexual orientation discrimination within the MCSA.
Now Reverend Ecclesia de Lange, will be entering the trial phase of her case against Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA), in a country where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is outlawed and where same-sex marriage is recognized as a legal right. Her much-debated decision to not remain silent about her sexual orientation, in a denomination that purports to “recognize” only heterosexual marriage, while same-sex marriage remains a matter of great debate, was regarded by the church as a “contravention” of its laws and disciplines.
Ecclesia told me that “The Church currently welcomes and affirms gay members and accepts their financial contributions, but it refuses to celebrate and affirm the natural consequence of two people who love each other and wish to commit to each other in a public religious ceremony.”
Presently, ministers within the MCSA are not permitted to conduct same sex marriages and its ‘Laws and Disciplines’ may only recognize marriage between a man and woman, although this is not clear.
Since February 2010, after her announcement, when de Lange was discontinued as a minister with the denomination and banished from serving out her call, not only did she lose her job, and the life she had created around this all-consuming career, but she also suffered an emotional firestorm, destroying her life’s dream and financial security.
However Rev de Lange chose to fight this principal, so rooted in discrimination, because of her deep conviction that the injury she suffered from the prejudice is about much more than just herself, as in reality it affects so many other members of the Church.
When de Lange tried to defend herself, a lengthy arbitration ensued, marred by purposefully unnecessary delays, attributed to the church and its flawed protocols, with all attempts at trying to negotiate resisted by the Church. De Lange soon realized that the procedure to which she was bound was severely flawed, as well as the unsurprising final verdict of the Church itself, which all meant simply that the Church had violated her constitutional rights and discriminated against her on the basis of, amongst others things, her sexual orientation.
One of the most important aspects of de Lange’s experience is her contention that the “Laws and Discipline of the MCSA” are so vague and ambiguous, that the lack of certainty as to procedures in and of itself exacerbated the discrimination, thereby jeopardizing the basic human rights of its members.
Pieter van R Coetzee, the attorney for de Lange, who is acting as the instructing attorney to the team of advocates (South Africa has a spli-bar system similar to the United Kingdon – of attorneys and advcates) consisting of a senior and junior advocate, emphasized that the case is now at a point where “there is no turn-around for the Church.”
Acting media liaison for the “Ecclesia De Lange Support Group,” Mike Luppnow, told me that:
“The decision by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to discontinue Rev de Lange as a minister is unconstitutional and unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation apart from being administratively unjust and irregular as far as it concerns the Church’s own Laws and Disciplines. It is only fair that Ecclesia be reimbursed for all station and emoluments to which she would have been entitled had she not been suspended and discontinued.”
I met Ecclesia back in 2011. I was invited to South Africa as keynote speaker for Cape Town Pride Gala, and I invited Ecclesia to accompany me and also to ride with me, in the Cape Town parade. A warm and deeply caring human being, she was being harangued by a large and powerful mechanism, which it seemed to me, relied on the knowledge that it had such greater resources. It seemed as if the Church relished in its power – delay after delay – it seemed to thwart any fair resolution. It was indeed a modern day David and Goliath. What became clear to me was Ecclesia’s unwavering faith in G-d and her strong sense of justice. Her determination, despite the huge odds, was clearly fueled by the tens and thousands of others who would benefit from her refusal to give up.
Please stay tuned as we continue to keep you posted as to the Trial and its outcome.
Hear what Ecclesia went through in her own words-