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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Vestiges of Inequality: LGBT Ordination and Religious Weddings

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 16th March 2010

Why is it that we pay so little attention to the question of LGBT ordination equality within some Christian denominations?

In 1993, New Zealand legislated for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality in the field of goods and services provision, employment and accommodation. The transgender community was later read into the Human Rights Act 1993 on the basis that gender identity discrimination is a subset of gender discrimination, although the Human Rights Commission is yet to hear a case on the basis of gender identity discrimination as a consequence of that Crown Law Office decision. They would prefer to be directly included, according to the recent HRC Inquiry into Transgender Discrimination.

All of this leaves one exemption- religious ordination. In the case of liberal-dominated mainline denominations like New Zealand Anglicanism and Methodism, this is less difficult than it is within the dying Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand. While religious organisations aren't free to discriminate when providing social services or in employment of non-ordained workforce personnel, they are free to discriminate against whoever they chose to be or not to be an ordained minister. Except within Presbyterianism, there is little evident conflict over the issue in other denominational contexts.

(Apart from the Global Anglican Communion, that is. And even there, patience seems to be running out, given that several Church of England former ministers and bishops support the right to civil partnerships under religious auspices. This may have something to do with widespread outrage over the Anglican Church of Uganda's silence over that country's Anti-Homosexuality Bill within liberal Anglican quarters. As for NZ Anglicans, check out the impressive range of LGBT resources at the John Kinder Theological Library...)

Why is it that we don't pay as much attention to New Zealand Christian denominational ordination debates? One, New Zealand is now a predominantly secularised society, with not even much civil religion in evidence. It's not as if Christian religious observance provides social status or even moral authority in contemporary New Zealand society. More and more, it is seen as a private choice whatever one's chosen spirituality is. As a nation, we don't like ostentatious displays of exhibitionist faith and god-bothering akin to those in the United States.

Added to which, as Lavendar Islands told us, we tend to be more secularised than even the general public, so never the twain shall meet. Of course, we feel considerable empathy with victims of LGBT ordination bans within the Presbyterian Church and provide personal and emotional support to them.

Unfortunately, fundamentalist antigay Presbyterians use a particular strategy of biblical proof texting, along with appeals to twelfth century Thomist natural law theory and sidestep the issue of evidence-based proof as a basis for public (or organisational) policy.

This renders the Presbyterian Church an enclave or vestige, increasingly irrelevant to mainstream New Zealand society. Most fundamentalist sects are even more encapsulated and isolated from mainstream society...not that we'd deliberately dress like Rhys Darby and toddle off, battening down their doors, demanding the right to become 'pastors' in those sects.

We view them as belonging to an incompatible religious subculture and don't bother with them, except as adversaries when they get militant and try to deny us various forms of equality. LGBT Christian ordination isn't related to legislative reform, so we don't devote as much time to it because of that. The implicit consensus appears to be that LGBT ordination is a specific issue that directly concerns LGBT Christians who have chosen a specific subculture for their social networks and as a source of existential meaning within their lives.

It doesn't concern the rest of us directly, except if we have loved ones in those benighted religious organisations and social networks who are. I suspect it's because we view these institutions as dying anyway, and irrelevant to mainstream New Zealand LGBT concerns, legislative reform objectives and aspirations. They are seen as archaic vestiges.

Thus, for the time being, LGBT ordination will remain a rearguard backwater realm for New Zealand LGBT equality, at a time when it has long been achieved in most other fields within mainstream New Zealand society.

Craig Young - 16th March 2010

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