Mpho Tutu-van Furth had to give up her priest’s licence last month when she married a woman. But she believes the Anglican Church of Southern Africa will — with a little divine intervention — come to embrace same-sex marriages.
But it’s not Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s duty to heal the rift in the church over the issue‚ she says. “It’s not his job – the way forward is God’s work‚ and his job is to hold the space open for God’s spirit to act. And he seems to me to be very thoughtfully and prayerfully holding the space open.”
In May in Franschhoek‚ Tutu married Professor Marcelina van Furth‚ a paediatrician who researches infectious diseases at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The union had the blessing of her parents‚ Archbishop Emeritus Desmond and Leah Tutu.
Her father fought successfully for the ordination of Anglican women priests in South Africa – and is just as committed to the rights of gay and lesbian clergy to marry. “Like me‚ he feels a sadness‚” says Tutu-van Furth. “And like me‚ he feels confident that in the fullness of time‚ things will change. The internal logic of exclusion doesn’t hold. You can’t sing: ‘In Christ there is no east or west‚ except insofar as homosexuality is concerned.’ That definitely doesn’t work.”
After falling in love with Van Furth — who works with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation on health projects in SA — she did not consider delaying marriage as a way of keeping her South African reverend’s collar (she is still a licensed priest in the US Episcopalian Church).
“I think it’s far more important to be honest and to act with absolute integrity. And to say‚ no‚ no‚ no‚ no‚ NO!” She laughs‚ just as jubilantly as her father does. “Slightly emphatic!” Tutu-van Furth was previously married to the US journalist Joseph Burns‚ and the realisation that she was in love with a woman came as “a great big surprise”. “I was probably as surprised as anyone else.”
Van Furth is an atheist – but this has not posed a problem. “It seems to work quite well‚” says Tutu-Van Furth. “I respect her atheism‚ and she’s interested in Christianity. She comes to church with me‚ sits in a pew‚ listens to the teaching and asks me about it. She sinks into being a peaceful place and meditates while I pray‚ and that’s also fine.
“We don’t have arguments over theology – it’s not my job to convert her. That also‚ fortunately‚ is God’s job. My job is to live as godly a life as I can‚ and it’s God’s job to be God. So that works‚ too.”
Both of them have children‚ who are getting used to their respective stepmoms. “Sometimes we each get to be stepmonster — the evil stepmonster!”
For now‚ it’s a long-distance relationship between Cape Town and Amsterdam. “Living apart is as about as far from ideal for a married couple as anything is likely to be. But in the meantime‚ her work brings her here‚ my work takes me there. So we’re surviving separately for now.”
Tutu-van Furth says Pope Francis is edging the Catholic Church away from homophobia. “A little bit like Archbishop Thabo‚ he is opening a space for conversation – he hasn’t actually changed anything except the way of thinking. And maybe that’s the biggest change you ever need: the opportunity to change your mind.”
She also believes young South Africans are embracing feminism and LGBTI rights‚ but that the conservative ideas of one notable citizen‚ President Jacob Zuma‚ do not help. “His worldview seems very solidly to underline the role of fear‚ male dominance‚ patriarchy‚ the political power of the elite.
“His appeal to traditional leaders is based on this: if you want to retain your power as a man‚ you can’t let your uppity women decide on their own lives. I think I come from a household of uppity women.”
-MG Digital / Sunday Times