Dispute Over Female Priest Goes to Court

The dispute over the ordainment of Botswana's first female priest by the Dutch Reformed Church is now going to court. The administrator of the church, Isikiah Mooketsi confirmed that the lawyers acting for the group opposed to the ordination of Reverend Mmonie Kgosiemang recently served them with papers of their intention to sue.

He said the church has referred the matter to its lawyers who have indicated that they are going to put up a defence. Kgosiemang has been cited as the second respondent in the case.

The group that is challenging the ordination of Kgosiemang said the ordination contravened the church order (constitution). They said the church order discriminates against women as it stipulates that they should not be ordained as priests. The church members who regard themselves as the "concerned group" want to see the church order amended before women could be ordained.

But the church is insisting that the constitution does not say anything regarding the ordainment of women ministers. Mooketsi said the offending clause is in reference to the appointment of women as deacons and church elders. He said, in the past, women were appointed as deacons and church elders but there were no protests. "Even Kgosiemang," he said, "has also served the church as a deacon". Mooketsi expressed disappointment that the dispute is going to court. "As Christians," he said, "they should have opted for reconciliation".

"We want to reconcile but the other group is not willing to listen to us. I think reconciliation could have been the best thing.

"If women's empowerment is on the national agenda, why can't it be done in church? The Bible is not even against it. I think women's empowerment is an issue that should be taken seriously. Women should be allowed to head important institutions like the Kgotla and church."

Contacted for comment, Kgosiemang said she was delighted that the matter would be settled in court. "I feel it would be fine that this issue should be finalised," she said, adding that members of the "concerned group" have always threatened to take the church to court. But she said her name was not spelt correctly in the papers that she was served with. The papers were sent back for correction.

She stressed that the "concerned group" has a right to protest if it feels aggrieved. Kgosiemang said she does not have any grudge against the group that opposes her ordainment. She said if the court rules that she should step down, she would comply. "I don't have any problem. I am prepared to serve God in any capacity even when I am not a priest" she explained.

The lawyers for the two parties were not available for comment at the time of going to press.

Kgosiemang made history early this year when she became the first woman priest for the Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana. She was ordained in a moving ceremony in Mochudi. But the event was nearly disrupted by the "concerned group". On the eve of the ordainment, the lawyers for the group sent out a letter warning the church that they were going go challenge Kgosiemang's ordainment in court.

Members of the Bakgatla royal family entered the fray as they ordered the church to stall Kgosiemang's ordination until the dispute has been resolved.

However, the church went ahead with ordainment because they felt that they have been trying to be accommodative for far too long.