Article Title:Deborah Gordon's long road to ministry
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:26th October 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:119
Text:The first openly gay woman being allowed to train as a Presbyterian minister in New Zealand says that gay and lesbian Christians should not shut themselves away from church because of prejudice.Introduction Wellington-based Presbyterian lay preacher Deborah Gordon says she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from people around the country following the Church's decision to allow her to train for its ministry. Why is this such a big deal? Well, Deborah is lesbian, and organised religions to this day struggle with having gays and lesbians in their congregations, let alone wanting to train as ministers - witness the ongoing furore in the Anglican Church over Bishop Gene Robinson's election in the United States. Deborah grew up in the Anglican faith, but left that church in 1994 when she and her partner of 10 years, Rosie Salas, decided they wanted to attend church together. "She was an elder at St Andrews on The Terrace, and I had nothing particularly tying me to my parish so I shifted," she explains. "Subsequent study of reformed church history has confirmed for me that the Presbyterian model of governance is one I feel at home with. I still speak "Anglican" liturgically, but the edges have been sanded off." The Presbyterian Church's highest court in New Zealand overturned a decision a few weeks ago that barred gays and lesbians from entering its ministry, clearing the way for Deborah to pursue a calling she says she has had since her early twenties. "Facilitating the interplay between people's lives and their sense of God and the divine is my primary understanding of what I am called to," she says. "Being alongside people in the holy parts of their lives - troubles, joys, birth, death and love - are what drives me. Having a call isn't that comfortable an experience, rather more like being shoved by God into doing what you know you should be doing!" A lot of gay people have trouble understanding gay Christians. Surely, with the endlessly-referred-to Biblical passages that allegedly condemn homosexuality, being Christian and gay is nothing short of self-inflicted torture. How does Deborah reconcile her orientation with what the big book says? "I don't try, any more than I try to justify why I don't keep slaves or share a husband with several other wives. Nor would I kill a child who swore at her parents. The Bible is a vehicle for God's message, but so are lots of things, like people and the world we live in. So much of the New Testament tells us about God's love and how to express that love to each other - why is the church not focusing on that? Any child will tell you that the message of Jesus was about love, not control." Deborah says she understands gay and lesbian people who feel estranged from organised religion because of their sexuality. If they feel a need to cut ties, then she believes they should. But for those who want a church connection, she believes they should find a parish that welcomes them, even if it's of a different denomination. "Don't shut yourself away from church because a particular place turned you out. Get on the internet, find other lesbian and gay people to communicate with who feel the same way. GalaXies, the Wellington queer congregation, came together out of a shared need for such a group. "It takes a lot of courage to be out even in a halfway friendly congregation of heterosexual people, so give yourself some contact with other queer Christians. Don't assume that every straight Christian will be hostile, either. I have had stunning support from a whole range of wonderful church people of every conceivable demographic group." Deborah is under no illusions that the road ahead is going to be easy. She was very happy when the judicial court made its ruling, but she was also apprehensive. "What's happened thus far is likely to look like a picnic in the park compared to the arguments that will be forthcoming in the next Assembly," she says. She is no doubt referring to the likes of Auckland minister Stuart Lange, who heads an anti-gay church network called Affirm. Last week Lange predicted the destruction of the Presbyterian Church following the decision. With proclamations that "homosexuality is contrary to the purpose of God", Lange and his ilk are likely to fight further progress tooth and nail. "This decision affects all lesbian and gay people in the church, since it says that there are no grounds of doctrine, policy or practice to exclude us," says Deborah. "The feedback I've been getting from completely unknown people around the country following my media appearances has been overwhelmingly positive - it seems that seeing a real person, who is friendly and warm, presents a contrast to the demonised version presented by some parts of the church. "And it's been personally very affirming." Chris Banks - 26th October 2003    
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