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JIC Post: By John ManukiaNew Zealand Herald The likely appointment of a lesbian as the new head of one of New Zealand's largest churches is threatening to tear it apart.The Rev Diana Tana, who has publicly stated she is in a lesbian relationship, looks set to be appointed president of the Methodist Church next month, as no other nominations have been received.But some conservatives say thousands of members will quit the church if her induction goes ahead. The church is already believed to have lost several thousand members after it decided in 1997 to allow gay priests to be ordained.Some church members have held special prayer sessions to seek divine guidance ahead of this year's conference, which begins on November 4.Many conference delegates expect more heated exchanges, and admit more members are likely to break away.Rev Tana, the leader of the tangata whenua arm of the church, Te Taha Maori, could not be reached for comment yesterday and current president Ron Malpass did not return calls.But leading conservative Methodists told the Herald on Sunday that thousands of members were unhappy about having a homosexual leading the church."It's one thing allowing gay clergy in the church, but having a homosexual leading the church is a different matter," one minister said."I know of many lay members who are considering a split from the church. This issue takes a stab at the very heart of Methodism."But gay supporters say the church must move with the times."Our Government has recognised the need for gay rights, so why can't the church?" asked one."To be told a gay priest cannot lead the church is a backward step."In 2003, church leaders signed a "memorandum of understanding" that allowed gay supporters and conservatives to work together in the church."A memorandum of understanding has been prepared which acknowledges the diversity of the church, the integrity of differing beliefs, and respects difference," a statement on the church's official website says.The Methodists' support for gay clergy has already led to the formation of a breakaway church.The Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand, linked to the international Wesleyan Methodist Church and named after the 18th century founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was established in July 2000. It now has more than 2000 members.
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