The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand has voted to exclude from leadership positions people living together in gay or unmarried relationships, a spokesman said Friday. Sixty three percent of 400 delegates attending the assembly voted to ban from future appointment as leaders "anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman." The ruling will be enforced immediately but is not retroactive and will not affect current leaders or others in training. Individual congregations will now be asked to vote on the issue, a process which might take up to two years.
The issue of gay clergy has divided the Presbyterian church in New Zealand for almost 20 years, and it stirred strong emotions among assembly delegates. A spokesman for the Presbyterian Affirm movement, Reverend Stuart Lange, said the church stood to lose members if it did not take a stand on homosexuality. "We realize it's not comfortable for those of an opposite view, but this is really where the church has always stood and it's consistent with a mainline understanding," Lange said. In New Zealand's 2001 census, Presbyterianism ranked as the third largest religion, with 431,547 of New Zealand's population of 4 million saying they were affiliated with the church.