SOUTH AFRICA’S DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH PERMITS POLYGAMY: FACT OR FICTION?
A message claiming that the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa is now allowing polygamy and the confirmation of gay members, has been circulating social media, causing an uproar within the church. The source of the claims is an article published by PRAAG (a pro-Afrikaans online newspaper) on the 1 April 2016.
The article asserts that a church commission under directorship of Dr André Bartlett (a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church serving the Aasvoelkop congregation, and theologian at the University of Pretoria) found that polygamy is acceptable for Christians. The PRAAG article states further that the commission also consulted the Quran, the holy book of Islam, to prove that polygamy is acceptable.
In a country already inundated with opposition towards President Jacob Zuma, the PRAAG article went so far as citing Romans 13, saying that if Jacob Zuma has more than one wife, then as members of the church, who according to Romans 13 must submit under the governing authorities placed over them, Christians can have more than one spouse.
FACT OR HOAX?
The article was an intentional HOAX
The PRAAG article was purposefully published on the 1st of April 2016, in other words on April Fools’ Day. Dr Dan Roodt, founder of PRAAG admitted that the article was placed as an April Fools’ joke and defended PRAAG’s publication of the story saying: “The recent decisions of the Dutch Reformed Church about gay members is so vague that you can read anything into it.”
In response to the article, the Dutch Reformed Church issued the following statement (in Afrikaans): 
Die kantoor van die Algemene Sinode het kennis geneem van die Praag webtuiste se 1 April gekskeerdery met die NG Kerk. Ons weet dat Suid Afrikaners ‘n uitsonderlike vermoë het om deur humor te reageer op moeilike sake, maar die verwarring wat die artikel geskep het, vereis dat ons net enkele sake wil duidelik maak.
Ons wil dit baie duidelik maak dat daar geen kommissie in die NG Kerk is wat besig is om oor die moontlikheid van poligame huwelike te werk nie, en daar was nog nooit enige sprake van so ‘n kommissie nie. Die wyse waarop die artikel poog om ‘n individu onder verdenking te bring en ‘n verleentheid te skep vir ‘n predikant en gemeente van die NG Kerk veroorsaak dat die goeie gees van Suid Afrikaanse humor ontaard in iets wat ongemaklik is.
Die NG Kerk het nog altyd duidelik gemaak dat huwelike nie slegs monogaam moet wees nie, maar ook gekenmerk moet word deur liefde en trou. Die NG Kerk was verder nog altyd duidelik dat enige oorweging van selfdegeslagverhoudings afhanklik is van dieselfde etiese standaarde as wat geld in ‘n huwelik tussen een man en een vrou. Alhoewel ons in die NG Kerk diep bewus is van die komplekse aard van vrae oor seksualiteit, was daar by ons nog altyd konsensus dat seksuele verhoudings monogame verhoudings behoort te wees.
Die idee dat enige besluite oor selfdegeslagverhoudings by implikasie outomaties iets kan verander aan die kerk se standpunt oor poligamie is totaal in stryd met hoe die kerk sake oor die huwelik en seksualiteit bespreek het oor die afgelope jare.
The statement made it clear that the article is void of all truth, that it was an April Fools’ joke and that the Dutch Reformed Church is in no way exploring theological reasons to justify polygamy. The General Secretary of the Dutch Reformed Church, Dr Gustav Claassen, stated further that they originally viewed the article for what it was, a clear April Fools’ joke, but later decided to respond more firmly after church members reacted. Claassen said they requested a correction of the article but to date PRAAG has not done so.
Sadly, the article was placed on social media and soon became the latest ‘hot topic’ among Christians who feel it is their public duty to forward any message that might expose sin within the Church.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
From a Christian perspective, there is a far more pressing issue at stake here than simply verifying whether this message is a hoax or not. The question which needs to be asked is why Christians are so eager to forward messages of this nature and why there is such a willingness to “expose” fellow believers without taking the time to respond in a Biblical way.
A Biblical response to rumours of sin
In Exodus 9:21 we find Noah, who found favour in the sight of God (Gen 6:8), drunk and naked inside his tent. Noah is discovered by his son, Ham, who eagerly calls his brothers and exposes the drunken state and nakedness of his father. The two brothers, Shem and Japheth, reveal a godly response by doing everything in their power to cover the nakedness that sin presents by not destroying the dignity of their father. They even walk backwards to cover the body, not wanting to see the nakedness and put their father to shame.
Matthew Henry (in his commentary on this scripture) describes the impudence and impiety of Ham as follows: “Ham saw the nakedness of his father and immediately went to tell his two brethren. To see it accidentally and involuntarily would not have been a crime; but the sin was that he pleased himself with the sight. Perhaps Ham had sometimes been himself drunk, and reproved for it by his good father, whom he was therefore pleased to see thus overcome. Note, It is common for those who walk in false ways themselves to rejoice at the false steps which they sometimes see others make.
But charity rejoices not in iniquity, nor can true penitents that are sorry for their own sins rejoice in the sins of others.
Ham presented his father to his two brothers (in the street, as the word is), in a scornful deriding manner, that their father might appear vile unto them as well.
It is very wrong…
- To make a jest of sin (Proverbs14:9), and to be puffed up with that for which we should rather mourn, 1Corinthians 5:2.
- To publish the faults of any, especially of leaders, whom it is our duty to honour. Noah was not only a good man, but had been a good father to him; and this was a most base disingenuous requital to him for his tenderness. Ham is here called the father of Canaan, which intimates that he who was himself a father should have been more respectful to him that was his father.
There is also a lesson in the pious care of Shem and Japheth to cover their poor father’s shame. They not only would not see it themselves, but provided that no one else might see it, herein setting us an example of charity with reference to other men’s sin and shame. It is not a matter of concealing sin but expressing grace to the sinner. There is a mantle of love to be thrown over the faults of all (1 Peter 4:8). Besides this, there is a robe of reverence to be thrown over the faults of leaders, fellow believers and family in Christ.”
Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.