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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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There is more than one kind of Christian

An interview with Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman

We all have our own beliefs, whether they’re super evangelical Christian or hardcore atheist. But how do our beliefs impact on other people? Should a religion be able to introduce national law, or should it be kept separate from state issues? What about when those lines blur, such as in the issue of gay marriage? Salient talks to Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman, the Minister of St Andrews on The Terrace, to find out what her Inclusive Presbyterian Church thinks about the issue.

Although St Andrews on The Terrace officially became inclusive in 1991, Margaret says that the church has always been very liberal and active. In 1951, they were involved in protesting with dock workers during the Waterfront Lockouts. Later, during the 1981 Springbok tour, the then-Minister went to Hamilton to protest on the field against the tour, and tried to stop racially segregated teams from leaving New Zealand to play in South Africa. St Andrews on The Terrace was also involved in keeping New Zealand nuclear-free, and used to have an official Peace Church sign before it was destroyed.

There have been gay and lesbian people in their congregation for a long time now. Margaret says that the parish voted on the decision to become Inclusive because in Presbyterian churches, the Minister is not the only person involved in the leadership, and decisions are always made with the approval of the parish.

There is a very specific process to become an Inclusive church, and Margaret says that it was important to ensure that the parish wanted to be recognised in this way. She comments that, unfortunately, Destiny Church leader Bishop Brian Tamaki has such a huge media presence that he gets to define Christianity in New Zealand, and has a fairly extremist view that really isn’t fair to other churches.

Margaret has officiated 25 civil unions. During the campaign to legalise civil unions in New Zealand, she started an organisation called Christians For Civil Unions to show Parliament that there wasn’t just one Christian opinion on the issue. They worked with secular campaigners to help achieve civil unions here, and the church members never questioned it; in fact, they fully supported it. Margaret says that it did, however, get to a point where some people assumed that they were a fully gay church because they were so big on the issue.

When asked the difference between religious and non-religious marriages, Margaret says that all marriages are considered civil marriages, but some are performed by Ministers. Civil unions can also be held by Ministers in church. In her opinion, the current laws around marriage are not helpful in achieving gay marriage, which is unreasonable for a secular country.

Margaret says St Andrews would support gay marriage if it were legal; however, legalising civil unions were important in securing legal rights for gay people, and they had to either accept that, or continue to fight for full marriage and probably not get it. She notes that some states in the United States already have gay marriage, and considers it quite surprising that New Zealand is behind the United States on this issue. Margaret has found that some gay people prefer civil unions because they’re something different from the traditional institution of marriage, and there is far less pressure for a civil union to be a major event like a marriage often is.

Margaret says that verses in Leviticus have caused the most unrest between gay people and Christianity. She explains that they were originally written to separate the Jews from the Palestinians, but they are not applicable now, in her view, since they were written for a specific place and event that happened thousands of years ago. She also says that the Bible never discusses committed gay relationships or an understanding of homosexual orientation, and that Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament are meant to free us of the rigid, older laws that were restricting people’s quality of life. She points out that the issues raised in the Bible have been worked around before, such as the suggestion that slavery and the oppression of women are okay, as well as the assumption that the Earth is flat. Margaret believes that the Bible is not to be taken at face value, but to be interpreted to help better our lives, and that many of the stories are only myth, rather than true accounts.

Margaret says that there are a few certified Inclusive churches in Auckland, and one in Christchurch, but that not all churches who are inclusive of the gay community have sought out official status. She notes that although Methodist churches are often quite inclusive, Methodist churches in New Zealand often have a mainly Pacific Islander parish that were traditionally anti-gay.

Margaret says that Anglicans were divided on the topic of homosexuality, with some being very liberal and others being conservative and evangelical. The same went for Presbyterians who have decreed that gay people can’t be ordained, but those who already were ordained would not be stripped of their positions. She says that in Roman Catholicism, most gay people felt tolerated by the church but felt they were not allowed to be open about themselves at all. She remarks that younger evangelicals are far less concerned with homosexuality than their parents’ generation.

Margaret mentions that a recent nationwide poll in America found that 53 per cent of Americans had no problem with gay marriage, and actually preferred it to people being a single parent—which was unthinkable 15 years ago. She also says that most of the controversy that the media focuses on shows hardcore evangelicals, rather than moderate Christians, and that evangelicals actually want to control all sexuality, to the point of advocating celibacy bar procreation in marriage. Margaret believes that homosexuality is just a way for them to verbalise this more effectively.

It’s really heartening to know that even in the Christian world, there are people who not only support but advocate for the rights of the gay community. It seems like there is a very
good chance that equal rights for gay people in New Zealand will happen in our lifetime, with churches around the country helping lead the charge. As the work of St Andrews is testament to, religion and the gay community can most certainly work together with a little bit of open-mindedness.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Clement McBigglewaddle says:

    Great article! And hear hear!

  2. Geraint Scott says:

    Thanks Clement!!! :D

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