Church battle over gays reignites
By Richard Trow
A long and bitter row over gays in the Presbyterian Church has flared again with a gay student minister saying members have treated her as sub-human.
The continuing fight over the right of gays to preach and become church elders has left the Presbyterian Church deeply divided, and opened it up to accusations of homophobia.
In the latest battles - two weeks out from the church's biennial general assembly - Wellington trainee minister Deborah Gordon says the church has banned her from a training course, and a conservative Hastings parish has moved to toughen already severe anti-gay rules.
Ms Gordon, from St Andrews on The Terrace church, says she is exhausted and would have "gone under" without her supporters. In the church's latest newsletter, she says she has been faced with "constant and gruelling challenges". "The most difficult part . . . has been the constant use of the negative and depersonalising language . . . the church has referred to me as though I am not real or even human."
Life for a lesbian training to be a minister is "like climbing Everest . . . constantly slogging uphill . . . icy and lacking in oxygen", she says. "I have learnt a lot about myself, including my cracking point.
If it weren't for (my supporters) I think I would have gone under and given up."
Ms Gordon says she is unlikely to make it through the process. But the minister at St Andrews, the Rev Margaret Mayman, yesterday questioned
the rule outlawing "practising homosexuals" as ministers and lay church elders.
In 1996 the general assembly ruled that gays could not be ordained into the church, though those already ordained could continue as ministers. But Dr Mayman, herself a lesbian who has fought numerous battles with traditionalists to become a minister, said the rule had not been ratified by the church. It had been adopted despite a second vote on the motion
in 1998 falling short of the 60 per cent required.
She said the attitude of hardline church members was demonstrated by a move by St John's church in Hastings to make the 1996 rule retrospective, banning "existing homosexuals" from leadership positions. A defiant Dr Mayman said the "obnoxious and distressing" move was unlikely to succeed and promised a lively assembly at St Patrick's College,
Silverstream, on September 22.
She knew of about 12 gay Presbyterian ministers, but only three or four were "out". She said Ms Gordon did not want to talk to reporters because her situation "is already tenuous" and she did not want to inflame the church further.