Gay leadership rejected by Presbyterian Church

NEW ZEALAND - The Presbyterian Church will not accept future leaders who are in gay or de facto heterosexual relationships.

However, the decision taken last night is not retrospective, so ministers and those in training will not be expelled from the Church.

The debate, which has gone on for nearly 20 years, stirred strong emotions among the 400 church General Assembly delegates from all over New Zealand, who are meeting in Christchurch this week.

Sixty three per cent voted against allowing "anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman" to become leaders of the Church.

The ban also extends to heterosexual couples in de facto relationships.

The assembly opted to pass an extra vote to make the rulings effective immediately.

However, congregations will also need to vote on the issue, a process which will take about two years.

Stuart Lange, a spokesman for the Presbyterian Affirm movement, said the practice of homosexual guidance was inappropriate. He said the Church would have lost very high numbers if it did not take a stand on homosexuals' role in the Church.

"The indecision has been debilitating. Large numbers have been hanging in there very frustrated at the lack of decision."

The decision has saddened those among the 37% who voted against the proposal.

Fraser Paterson, a minister from Wellington, said he felt very disappointed with the announcement.

"It was a very sombre moment. It felt to me like we had made a mistake."

Ross Scott, a former Presbyterian minister based in Christchurch, was "in the closet" when he entered the Church, but came out eventually in 1991 when he was sent to a General Assembly to vote against allowing homosexual ministers and elders in the Church.

"It's really sad ... if things go the way they are going there may not be a place in the ministry for me."

He said banning homosexuals from becoming leaders in the Church would strengthen the conservative part of the Church.

"On one level it will ensure the Church stays together but it will not end the debate."

The General Assembly will next debate the controversial Civil Union Bill, and yesterday's decision has some delegates speculating the Church will oppose the legislation.

Paterson said a decision made by the General Assembly had been overturned twice by congregations over the last 10 years, so there was still a chance homosexuals would be allowed into leadership positions.

He said the Church was sending out contradictory messages: "You are welcome to be a member but you are not going to be a leader."

Hamish Galloway, chaplain at St Andrew's College, told The Press he supported restricting homosexuals from becoming ministers because it might contribute to the breakdown of the family in society.

"I see a link with increasing promiscuity and the breakdown in marriage and family life, so I tend to take the conservative view."

Conservative views had been taking hold in the Church since the 1970s. Galloway said churches which had more biblically conservative points of view had grown fastest.

However, Rev David Clark from Remuera said that prohibiting homosexuals from taking leadership roles in the Church was not going to make the problem go away. "You can pass all the rules you bloody well like, but we will always be among you."

Galloway said he was surprised that opponents of homosexuals in positions of leadership managed to pass the 60 per cent threshold required to make a decision.

He said homosexual ministers would be able to continue in the Church.

"Nobody is talking about excluding anybody. It's about who will be an appropriate leader."

Rev Martin Macaulay said indecision over homosexuality's place had a bad effect on Church morale and finances.