IAM at 25: Faith partners reflect on their work with IAM (Bishop Raphael Hess)

IAM works closely with faith partners in various denominations in our community to effect lasting and transformative change. We reached out to several faith partners we’ve interacted with over the years and asked them to reflect on our work together and the impact that IAM has on their work and the community more broadly.

Bishop Raphael Hess, Anglican Minister and Bishop of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, has known IAM since its inception. He was mentored by the late Bishop David Russel, “a real pioneer and a robust supporter of awakening the Anglican church to an inclusive, generous, radical, hospitality ministry.” Bishop Russel worked closely with IAM, and authored of The Bible and Homosexuality

Over the years, Raphael has worked alongside IAM at various points, sharing discussions and exploration of sacred texts that are commonly used to perpetuate homophobic views about human sexuality, using resources put together by IAM in his ministry, and more recently collaborating with IAM in work at the provincial level within the Anglican Church.

“When one talks about the Anglican Church you are really talking about a church that has an identity in its own locality and gives expression to that. It’s very difficult. It’s both its genius and its anguish and its pain, its weakness at the same time, so there’s a sense in which there are Anglican churches that are really, if I might say, progressive, generous and inclusive, and then there are other expressions of Anglicanism.” 

Over the years, IAM has supported the work of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay in many ways. IAM shared resources with the diocese’s reference group on Human Sexuality and co-facilitated a workshop on the intersection between sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics, culture and faith in 2018. IAM also collaborated with the diocese’s College of Ordinands, a theological education program, to impact the training of future clergy. In the Archdeaconry of Maitland, IAM facilitated a contextual Bible Study as part of the process towards more inclusive and affirming youth gathering as part of a larger effort to sensitize and empower youth to embrace diversity that included dialogue and anti-bias training and the use of inclusive language and art welcoming LGBTIQ+ youth. 

The Diocese of Saldanha Bay has come to be known as an inclusive and affirming diocese under the steering of Bishop Hess. In 2018, the diocese became the first in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to vote to allow clergy to bless and pray for same-sex unions, a milestone despite the fact that it has not yet been supported by the Provincial Synod. Through his support IAM’s vision and mission was shared with parishioners, clergy, and lay leadership. IAM’s Director, Ecclesia de Lange, was invited by the Bishop in 2018 to take part of the Synod procession and deliver a short message at the opening service.  

Raphael is heartened by the “openness, by the maturity, by the willingness to engage” of the people in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay, a vast, diverse population with a large rural component. I’ve been affirmed by the response of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay and we have tried to be accommodating. We have said we will respect and honour views that are different…but overall our very dramatic trying to break and push the boundaries in our synodical recommendations and resolutions have been overwhelmingly supported by our local synod, our local leadership meetings and so on, that’s been very good.”

Bishop Hess praised the power of IAM’s “non-combative approach” to change within the Church. “It’s an approach that is academically based so it appeals to the intellectual mind. It seems that sometimes we clergy, who have been trained academically, see ourselves as another species so we need to be talked with sensibly and argue things through. I think IAM does that really very, very well with the material that you have put out, and I think your mantra, “open mind, open door and open heart” is a lovely approach and it’s not militant.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.