New Zealand Presbyterians ban gays from church leadership roles

New Zealand Presbyterian Church leaders voted Friday to bar gays and people having sex outside of marriage from taking leadership roles in the church.

The church's general assembly voted 65 percent to 35 percent to forbid the church from training, licensing, ordaining or inducting as ministers gays and people living together outside of marriage.

The rule does not apply to any church member licensed, ordained or inducted as a minister prior to 2004.

The Presbyterian Church was divided by a rift in opinion in 2003 after a split vote to allow non-married people in leadership roles.

Those identifying their religious affiliation as Presbyterian tally nearly 417,500 or 11 percent of the 4 million plus population, according to 2006 national census figures, making the church grouping the third-largest in New Zealand.

In debate ahead of the vote, one regional delegate told the assembly, "We follow the scriptures not Shortland Street (a local TV soap), we follow Christ not culture."

General assembly moderator the Right Reverend Pamela Tankersley said, "We recognize the pain that this decision will cause some in our church."

National Radio reported that some delegates left the assembly in tears shortly after the vote outcome was announced, reports AP.

Tankersley said the issue had been addressed by the church over many years and "we can be satisfied that this decision was reached after thorough and prayerful discussion," she said.

She called for a minute's silence after the vote and then in a prayer asked for God to help guide the church from this point.

One gay minister who asked to have his dissent recorded was told by Tankersley that he would have to go outside and record it in writing.

Lesbian church minister Margaret Mayman said the church had lost the opportunity to express the love of Christ to all members of its community.

"We're obviously bitterly disappointed ... very sad for our church, that it has responded in fear to a change in the patterning (of relationships) across the world," she told the radio network.

She warned some "progressive parishes" will flout the law and choose their leaders for their commitment to the gospel rather than for their sexual orientation.