Friday, September 29, 2006

Press the homophobia button

The New Zealand Presbyterian church voted today to ban training or hiring ministers or elders who are gay or lesbian, or who are in a de facto (unmarried) heterosexual relationship. The vote, which received 65 percent support (60 percent was required) makes permanent a temporary ban enacted in 2004. Gay or lesbian people licensed, inducted or appointed prior to 2004 are unaffected.

The vote comes a couple weeks after an anonymous hate mail campaign in which stickers were sent to hundreds of parishes around the country. One sticker said, “Gays are a cancer in our church, let’s keep them out of leadership.” The second sticker said, apparently accurately, “Gays aren’t welcome in our church, help us let New Zealand know.”

Presbyterian fundamentalists had threatened to split off from the church if the motion wasn’t adopted. It’s a fairly typical tactic by religious fundamentalists who threaten to take their toys and go home if they don’t get their way.

Presbyterian Church Leader Rev. Fraser Paterson appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast show this morning prior to the vote and acknowledged that a pro-gay vote would lead to a split in the church. But, he said, if the result was anti-gay, “there might be one or two people who find they’ve had enough and get out (of the church),” but there would continue to be people in the church who support gay and lesbian people. He said he planned to vote against the anti-gay resolution.

Apparently, religious centrists and liberals are supposed to take whatever right wingers dish up, no matter what. This is a traditional stance by centre-left religionists—turn the other cheek, and all that. In their defence, leaving the church would hand the fundamentalists exactly what they want—no homos in “their” church.

The 2001 NZ Census found that less than 11 percent of New Zealanders (about 430,000) acknowledged being Presbyterian. According to media reports, the church has around 430 parishes and weekly attendance of around 40,000.

Personally, I have no idea why anyone would want to be a minister in any church, much less one where there are clearly so many people who dislike or despise you. And if the Presbyterians want to promote intolerance and bigotry within their church and claim some sort of divine mandate to do it, they’re free to do so.

But it never ceases to amaze me how people who call themselves Christian can so gleefully ignore their founder’s teachings. It shouldn’t surprise me, I know, and to be fair, no religion has a monopoly on hypocrisy. It affects the non-religious, too. Maybe it’s just part of being human to teach one thing and then “do unto others” something completely different.

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