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Wednesday 08 October 2008

"Religious homophobia divides families"

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By Daily News Staff - 1st October 2008

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"Religious homophobia divides families"

LGBT New Zealanders are over twice as likely to have given up their Christian faith than the general population, the author of the most in-depth study ever into the lives of non-straight Kiwis told the audience at last night's premiere of the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So at St Andrew's on the Terrace Presbyterian Church in Wellington.

"We will continue to work for change and for justice": St Andrew's Minister Dr. Margaret Mayman
The 180 attendees were a mix of church-goers and members of Wellington's gay community, including many who will be attending the Presbyterian General Assembly which begins tomorrow.

"The documentary was well received with many in the audience visibly moved by the stories of five Christian families and their gay and lesbian children," says St Andrew's minister Margaret Mayman. "It also addressed the issues of biblical misinterpretation that are at the base of much discrimination against gay and lesbian people."

The screening was followed by a panel discussion on the impact of religious homophobia in Aotearoa New Zealand. Dr Mark Henrickson, senior lecturer in Social Work at Massey University shared the results of his in-depth Lavender Islands research on the place of religion and spirituality in the lives of gay and lesbian New Zealanders.

Commenting on the declining numbers of Christians in New Zealand, Dr Henrickson said, "Proportionately, almost 2.4 times as many lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians have left Christianity as have the general population.

"If Christian religious traditions want to keep lesbians, gays and bisexuals out of their communities, then what they are doing is working. If through negative messages they want lesbian, gays, and bisexuals to change their identities or 'lifestyles', that is not happening, because most appear more likely to abandon their religious traditions than their identities," he said.

Henrickson also noted the negative correlation between religious involvement and family acceptance of gay, lesbian or bisexual children. Respondents who identified as 'No Religion' reported significantly more support from their families than current Christians. Families with ‘No Religion' were also significantly more likely to include a partner in family gatherings than current Christians.

The other panelists were Elizabeth Kerekere, takataapui activist of Out There! Queer Youth Development Project; Presbyterian Minister Fraser Paterson, and his daughter, New Zealand Film Maker Robyn Paterson. "Each told powerful and moving stories of encountering and triumphing over religious discrimination," says Mayman.

Mayman restated the commitment of her congregation to be a place where gay and lesbian people do not have to choose between spirituality and sexuality, where they can be part of a faith community as they seek to live the tension between identity and religious tradition creatively.

"We will continue to be a place of welcome and healing for those who have been hurt, and we will continue to work for change and for justice in the churches," Dr Mayman said.

In 2002, the Presbyterian Church commissioned research company AC Nielsen to interview couples with young children who were open to western spirituality but who did not attend church. They were questioned about their attitudes to the church. The research indicated that one of the most off-putting aspects of church for these young families was judgemental attitudes held by the churches, particularly lack of acceptance of divorce, de-facto relationships, and homosexuality.

In 2006, the church excluded gay and lesbian people and people in de facto relationships from leadership.