Church moderator says gay ban decision way to uphold ethical standards

Wellington, New Zealand - The moderator of the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly says a decision banning those in gay or de facto relationships from becoming church leaders is a way to uphold ethical standards.

Supporters of the rule, which has applied since 2004, won Friday's vote 65% to 35%. The rule needed 60% of the vote to be successful.

Right Reverend Pamela Tankersley says she recognises the pain the rule will cause some people, but she says parishioners expect the church's leaders to endorse the principles of the scriptures.

She says people in gay or de facto relationships are welcome in the Presbyterian Church, but they are not the right people to be in leadership positions.

Rule bars training, ordination

The rule bars anyone in a sexual relationship outside marriage from training or becoming ordained as a church leader. People who have already been ordained will be exempt from the ruling.

Those in support told the General Assembly in Auckland on Friday that they want church leaders with standards and integrity to set a good example to the younger generation.

Real threats are abuse and paedophilia

The Aids Foundation says the real threat to the credibility of religious leadership is not homosexuality, but abuse and paedophilia.

The foundation's executive director says the church has missed an opportunity to be more inclusive and its lack of moral courage is disappointing.

Rachael Le Mesurier says the church should be focusing on hypocrisy, intolerance, sex abuse and paedophilia.

She says the decision sends a message that lesbians and gays are second-class citizens who are not entitled to be employed in leadership positions.

Decision will alienate society

A religious studies academic says a decision barring anyone in gay or de facto relationships from being a Presbyterian leader will only alienate the church from society.

Dr Marion Maddox from Victoria University says it is a surprising move, considering how common such relationships have become.

Dr Maddox says many gay and lesbian parishioners are likely to feel that the Presbyterian church no longer has a place for them.

Voices against ruling

Church members who spoke against the proposal say it sounds like discrimination and that God calls people to be church leaders, so the decision should be left in his hands.

A lesbian Presbyterian minister, Margaret Mayman, says the church has lost the opportunity to express the love of Christ to all in the community.

Ms Mayman believes some progressive parishes will flout the law and choose their leaders based on their commitment to the gospel rather than their sexual orientation.