Title: Keeping Civil Unions out of the church Credit: Chris Banks Features Monday 14th March 2005 - 12:00pm1110754800 Article: 657 Rights
Hugh Kempster, Vicar - St Columba's He's an Anglican priest and a spokesman for Christians for Civil Unions, yet he's forbidden to perform one in his own church. Hugh Kempster, of St Columba's Community Church in Grey Lynn, Auckland, sees the irony. "I can in my church bless cats and dogs, but if two people come to me who love each other and one of them happens to be the wrong gender, I have to leave the church, take off my collar, and find a quiet little corner in Grey Lynn," he says. "It is bizarre." He says this is a situation he'd like to challenge within the church, “but those cogs turn very slowly". But the cogs didn't turn so slowly just over a week ago when Archbishop Vercoe – the head of New Zealand's Anglican Church and he who dreams of "a world without gays" – represented our country at an Anglican crisis meeting in Ireland to determine the fate of gay clergy. This meeting resulted in the Americans and the Canadians being told, in that polite Anglican way, to piss off out of the church and not come back till 2008, when hopefully they'll have had to time to think about their dreadful sin – a liberal stance on the blessing of same-sex unions and openly gay clergy. Bishop of Auckland, John Paterson, told Newstalk ZB that while gays and lesbians were not to be ordained as clergy, particularly not at the level of bishop, they were “welcome in the church”. However, enquiries from the gay media to clarify this paradoxical statement were not welcome. A week's worth of phone calls to the Diocesan Office of Bishop Paterson by were not returned. Sources within the Anglican Church tell us that Paterson doesn't like dealing with the media, another paradox, seeing as he seemed readily available to speak on the radio. Like many religious figures, it seems Paterson is happy to talk about gays and lesbians – just not to them. Meanwhile, Hugh Kempster has applied to become a civil union celebrant. It's important for him, but after attending a synod last year at which Bishop Paterson spoke, Kempster was concerned that he might end up losing his job over his stance. “Bishop John gave a fairly right-wing charge to the synod, so I went to see him personally to find out what was going on,” he says. “He said he'd had a lot of pressure from the conservative element within the church, so that was reflected in the charge.” Kempter asked if he applied to become a civil union celebrant, would he be defrocked, as Paterson had suggested in his speech? The answer was a qualified “no”. “He laid down some boundaries to say you can't do it in church, and you can't take it in your capacity as a priest, but basically he couldn't stop what I could do in a private capacity. So I'm running with that, and I'm going to test those boundaries.” Paterson has said he's trying to take a middle ground position which will hold the conservative and liberal elements of the church together, yet it has become increasingly obvious that the Anglican Church's idea of a “middle ground” is one where the conservative position is adopted because most liberals are still drafting out the time-share agreement on a new spine. And while the Anglican hierarchy continue to debate issues of homosexuality in an abstract manner behind closed doors, widespread media coverage of their hand-wringing ensures that the shockwave of institutionalised homophobia spreads far beyond the four walls of the church. One can't help feeling that Richard Randerson, the Assistant Bishop of Auckland and one of this country's most well-known Anglican liberals, is wishing this whole debate would go away. Quietly. He spoke at length about his feelings surrounding gays in the church in “Taonga”, the Anglican national magazine, in December. He supported the ordination of gay American bishop Gene Robinson, saying he would have been chosen “because the synod perceived he had the pastoral and spiritual qualities essential to leadership. Bishops are not chosen lightly.” “I have not come easily to the view that a homosexual relationship that bears the marks of love, commitment and permanence can be acceptable in the eyes of God,” he wrote. “The point of conviction for me arises from the friendship and collegiality I have shared with gay and lesbian church members, lay and ordained, over many years and in many places. Their experience of Christ, and their commitment in the Christian way, is no different from anyone else's. To say they are not part of us is a terrifying judgment which is not ours to make.” Regarding the judgements of other figures within the church, Randerson says all diocesan bishops are coming under pressure from conservatives. And liberals. And everybody. “It is not an easy time for going public when each ‘side' is looking for public support of their position,” he told me. “We need to learn to live as a Church with mutual respect for each other's views, but that is proving a difficult thing to achieve in some quarters.” He won't accept for a second that there is a similarity between the Anglican Church and the Destiny Church. “The Anglican stance is clearly different from Destiny's - the General Synod (national body) of our Church last May passed a resolution that affirmed the life and ministry of gay and lesbian members of the Church.” Isn't that just semantics, though? More “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric from clergy who merely have better dress sense than their TV counterpart? “It is true that Anglicans have not yet reached a point of agreement re the blessing of same-sex unions,” Randerson conedes. “But we have not denied the validity of such unions (which many would support). Nor have gay and lesbian people been deemed unsuitable for spiritual leadership.” Hang on a minute – not been deemed unsuitable for spiritual leadership? Isn't that precisely what this whole worldwide furore is about? The American and Canadian branches of the Anglican Church have been sin-binned for their belief that gays and lesbians **are** suitable for spiritual leadership. Gay and lesbian clergy in New Zealand are “a defacto reality” according to Randerson, yet Bishop Paterson's statement to the media clearly pointed out that New Zealand would be falling into line with the rest of the church, and barring gays and lesbians as clergy. “The difference between "not yet affirming" and "deeming unworthy" may have for the moment a similar effect, but there is an important difference,” says Randerson. “I think one could say that at the international level of the global Anglican Communion there is not yet consensus that gays and lesbians may be ordained. In the current very divided situation it becomes an issue when a synod is asked to express its mind on the subject, and the Church is not wanting to open up divisions by seeking to express a view.” Randerson is happy to express his views, but is keen to ensure that we establish his views are personal and not representative of the Anglican Church. Seeing as conservative Anglican leaders feel no such compulsion to make similar disclaimers when ostracising gays and lesbians, perhaps we've learned everything we need to know about how this divided church really feels about our community. Chris Banks - 14th March 2005    
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