'Marry him or dump him'

Poll: A 72-year old Southland woman has had her 30-year church membership revoked because she lives in a de facto relationship.

The Calvin Community Church, a presbyterian church in Gore, has revoked the membership of one of its long-term members because her relationship with a man she lives with was "at variance with what is expected of a member of Calvin Community Church".

The woman said she was told "out of the blue" she had to either marry her long-term partner, leave him, or no longer be a church member.

She was still able to attend the church, but she has declined to do so because "they have discussed my private life around the table".

"I was shocked. I was very upset at the way it was put to me, someone just phoned me out of the blue and I was told I had to either marry him or I can't be a member of the church."

"This is 2014, not the 1950s, times have changed."

The woman and her partner, who have both been married previously, have been together for eight years and have been living together in Gore for three years.

As a Christian, she said she would prefer to be married to align with her beliefs.

But her partner was not ready and it was not anyone's place to force someone into marriage, she said.

"There is only one judge and that is God. Why break up a happy relationship. I'm very happy living with him, I'm too late in life to go through a relationship upset."

"I've thought about it and prayed about it and I'm happy with my relationship."

Elders at the Gore church disagreed.

In a letter to the distraught woman, senior pastor Keith Hooker said those who wished to be counted as members were responsible for upholding the church's standards in accordance with scripture.

It was the church's view living unmarried with a long-term partner did not meet those requirements.

"You have said that your partner is not willing to marry you. Although being married is outside of your control it is, however, your decision to remain in the relationship," his letter says.

"While we respect your right to live in a de facto relationship, it is quite clearly at variance with what is expected of a member of Calvin Community Church."

Should her circumstance change then she was "most welcome" to apply to have her membership reinstated, the letter says.

The woman's partner Bruce Laird, of Gore, said the church's view was "archaic".

"I understand this is the year 2014. Modern Christianity is supposed to be about acceptance and understanding.

"(This) has caused great upset to my partner who has been a loyal servant of the church for three decades. It's a pity the church isn't as loyal."

His partner now attends a different church where she had been welcomed, he said.

When rung by the Southland Times, pastor Keith Hooker, who has been at the church for 10 months, said he had written the letter on behalf of church elders.

In a written response to questions, Hooker said the woman remained welcome to worship at Calvin Community Church but church members agreed to lead a life consistent with their profession of faith as contained in the teaching of the Bible.

"No-one is ever turned away from our church. All are welcome to worship here.

"The Christian Church's role is to be salt and light in the world i.e. not to reflect society but to be a positive influence by upholding God's standards. Society's values are constantly changing but the teaching of Jesus remains the same."

"Calvin remains deeply committed to the spiritual wellbeing of the person concerned and we are very saddened that this person can no longer be a member of our church. We are heartened that this person continues to have participation in some aspects of our church life."

Executive officer of the Southern Presbytery, Rev Alan Judge, said the Presbyterian Church did have a rule around de facto relationships in leadership, but not around membership.

If a church was concerned about a member’s behaviour the Presbyterian Church had processes for dealing with those concerns. If the member felt those processes had not been followed they had the right to appeal to the Presbytery.


The Southland Times