The Weekend Herald revealed last week that rebel ministers had married same-sex couples against the wishes of their governing bodies. The Baptist Church has a policy of banning ministers who break the rules, but its new leader says he will take a constructive approach to any rebellions.
The new head of the Baptist Church in New Zealand says he will not take a punitive approach to rebellious ministers who marry same-sex couples.
The Baptist Union Assembly voted in 2015 to ban ministers from conducting gay weddings and suspend their marriage licences if they broke the rules - angering liberal churches who felt their automony was being undermined.
National leader Charles Hewlett, who began in the role three months ago, said the ultimate decision on whether a rebel minister lost their licence was made by the Assembly.
But he said his approach would be to engage in robust discussion with any minister who broke the rules, rather than shun them or marginalise their church.
"As national leader I would take a very relational approach to such ministers - I care for our ministers deeply," he said.
"There is a certain kind of leadership to make church governance work. And that is about working together. It doesn't mean bulldozing over one another."
Though he is a conservative, Hewlett is considered more constructive than his predecessor Craig Vernall, who was in charge during the legalisation of gay marriage and the subsequent Baptist resolutions.
The stricter rules introduced in 2015 were in response to Baptist ministers who had conducted same-sex weddings following legalisation two years earlier. The Weekend Herald reported last week that rebel ministers in several denominations had married same sex couples in defiance of their governing bodies.
Hewlett said it appeared no further same-sex marriages had taken place in Baptist churches since the Assembly's resolutions three years ago.
"They have respected that decision. I'm not saying they are happy or agree with it, they've respected it.
"And I'm respecting them back, and I want us to enter into robust dialogue on the issue."
Though he was open to conversations with these churches, he could not envisage a change to the church's strong opposition to same-sex marriage in the near future.
The anti-same sex marriage rules were overwhelmingly backed by Baptist churches. Around 95 per cent of the Assembly voted for the resolution to suspend rebel ministers' marriage licences.
The resolutions reflect the fact that the Baptist Union has increasingly been influenced by evangelical or apostolic leaders whose churches are more hierarchical, rather than congregation-led.
Liberal, inner city church ministers are angry at the resolutions, because they believe they go against the core Baptist principle of autonomy for each congregation.
Though it has been a divisive issue in the Baptist denomination, it has not led any churches to break away from the umbrella organisation. In the Anglican Church, a group of around 10 parishes has splintered off in opposition to the General Synod's decision to allow same-sex blessings.