A group of senior Presbyterian leaders will meet in Christchurch today to discuss the implications of non-compliance with church rules.
Four churches – Knox, St Martin's, St Giles and St Ninian's – have issued public statements decrying a vote last month by the Presbyterian General Assembly to ban future leaders on the basis of sexual orientation or relationship status.
The rule, which was carried by 230 votes to 124, does not apply to existing leaders but means the church cannot train, license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.
Knox Church session clerk Alison Grimshaw said the rule created "second-class citizens" out of valued church members.
"It is all an issue of theological interpretation. In our mission statement, what we say is we are an inclusive church," she said.
"We talk about inclusion of people of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and we say they are included as equally valued participants in the church and life.
"If they are equally valued, then they must be equally eligible for positions of leadership.
"Other attributes, like their commitment to the church, can be considered when thinking of leadership roles, but not their sexual orientation."
Grimshaw said Knox Church had always dissented on the issue and had a long history of publicly voicing dissatisfaction.
"Knox hasn't come to this decision lightly. Being valued means being valued in every way, not just some ways," she said.
While a small group of Knox Church members agreed with the rule, most did not.
Grimshaw said a church meeting tonight would look at the implications of the decision.
Four other church leaders, reverends Sally Carter, Rob Ferguson, Geoff King and Yvonne Smith, will meet today to discuss the direction of the group within the church that refused to comply with the vote.
"It is really a meeting to look at what our end of the spectrum does next," Ferguson said.
In a public letter, Ferguson, minister at St Ninian's in Riccarton, said his congregation would not comply with the rule, "which does not acknowledge that people in committed relationships apart from marriage have the necessary gifts or calling to offer leadership".
"St Ninian's will continue to search for and celebrate the meaning we find in God as our way. We will do that in the only way we know how – by being inclusive in our leadership and in our welcoming," he said.
Public dissatisfaction has failed to sway church leaders in Wellington, who say differing views were always expected on the issue and the rules will not be changed.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, the Right Rev Pamela Tankersley, said all congregations had had the opportunity to be represented at the General Assembly and participate in the debate.
"The notice of motion was carried by 65 per cent and it is now a rule of our church that anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman may not be accepted for training, licensed, ordained or inducted," she said.
"We have clear processes ... and this rule is now part of that process. It is not retrospective, nor a new ground for discipline.
"There are people and parishes who disagree with the decision and are expressing their disappointment. People are welcome to express views about the rule."
Grimshaw said she doubted discipline or censorship could take place for those parishes refusing to comply with the new rule.
"The whole situation is very distressing," she said.
"Unless we have everybody being able to be considered, then we are saying they are second-class citizens and that I cannot accept. It is a very hurtful process."
Debate over the place of homosexuality in the church has been splitting congregations around the world.
The unity of the Anglican Church has been under strain after a United States church's decision to ordain a gay bishop in 2004 and the decision by a Canadian diocese in 2002 to bless same-sex relationships.