Friday, August 27, 2010

On The Recent PCUSA Ruling Against Rev. Spahr

Many are decrying the recent ruling by the Presbytery of the Redwoods Permanent Judicial Commission on the rebuke of Reverend Jane Adams Spahr for officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies when they were legal for the brief few months in California. The Commission found Rev. Spahr guilty of three violations of the PCUSAs law and Constitution.

Here were the following charges....

Charges against Jane Adams Spahr, a minister of Word and Sacrament:
1. On or about June 20, 2008, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, did commit the offense of representing that a same sex ceremony was a marriage by performing a ceremony in which two women, namely Sara Marjorie Taylor and Sherrie Ann Holmes, were married under the laws of the State of California in effect at that time, and thereafter signing their Certificate of Marriage as the person solemnizing the marriage. This action is in direct violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order. As authoritatively interpreted by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (GAPJC) in its Decision and Order in Disciplinary Case 21812, Jane Adams Spahr v.Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “…officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.” This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote.
2. You, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience concerning the aforementioned authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order, in that during the period between June 17, 2008 and November 3, 2008, when same sex marriages were valid and lawful under the laws of the State of California, you represented that no fewer than fifteen such additional ceremonies you performed were marriages of persons of the same sex. This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote
3. By intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the above referenced authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order as set forth in Disciplinary Case 21812, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, failed to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in violation of your ordination vows. (W4.4003e) This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote
4. By publicly, intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the Book of Order, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, have failed to further the peace, unity and purity of the church. (W4.4003g). 6-0 to NOT sustain this charge

Now what does the ruling actually say, and why was Rev. Spahr convicted on three of the four counts but not the last one. Before the LGBT community gets all up in arms about the ruling, as some are prone to do, let us examine the rational behind the Commissions findings...

We are constrained to accept that the following language in GAPJC Disciplinary Case 21812 is authoritative and should be followed until and unless modified: “We further hold that the officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.”
What this is saying is that because PCUSA doctrine and law says that a marriage is only between one man and one woman, since Rev. Spahr presided over a same-sex marriage she violated the law of the PCUSA. But the ruling does not stop there, and instead the Commission uses this opportunity to slam the denomination as a whole for its anti-marriage equality stance, when it said this....
We commend Dr. Spahr and give thanks for her prophetic ministry that for 35 years has extended support to “people who seek the dignity, freedom and respect that they have been denied” (W7.4002c), and has sought to redress “wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples in the church, in this nation, and in the world” (W7.4002h).
In addition, we call upon the church to reexamine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.(G3.0401c)
We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel. In this particular case, in W4.9001 we have inclusive and broad descriptive language about marriage, “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family.” This sentence is followed immediately by “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” The language of the second statement draws on our cultural understanding today of marriage that is rooted in equality. But it is not faithful to the Biblical witness in which marriage was a case of property transfer because women were property. Nor does it specifically address same gender marriage.
Similarly, in the reality in which we live today, marriage can be between same gender as well as opposite gender persons, and we, as a church, need to be able to respond to this reality as Dr. Jane Spahr has done with faithfulness and compassion. In regard to charge #3 that Dr. Spahr has “intentionally and repeatedly acted in violation of the Book Of Order in violation of her ordination vows, (W4.4003e) we again recognize that while Dr. Spahr has done so, she has also followed the Book of Order by remembering that our confessions and church is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him. (G2.0200.)
In regard to charge #4, that Dr. Jane Adams Spahr has failed to further the peace, unity and purity of the church (W4.4003g), we commend Dr. Spahr for helping us realize that peace without justice is no peace.
As a commission, we give thanks for the courageous and heartrending testimonies of the married couples who shared with us their great hurt through the policies of our church. We also thank them for the joy in marriage they shared with us that that has brought healing in their lives and in their families through the ministry of Dr. Spahr. On behalf of the church, we ask for their forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be, done to them in the name of Jesus Christ. 
We implore the Synod and General Assembly levels of our church to listen to these testimonies, which are now part of this record, to take them to heart, and to do what needs to be done to move us as a church forward on this journey of reconciliation.
Thus the Commission, even though it was forced to convict Rev. Spahr for violating church doctrine, it itself issued a very stern rebuke of the PCUSA church as a whole. It showed that being anti-marriage equality is not a position that Christ would have taken, and is in fact one that he would have embraced wholeheartedly. Hopefully in the coming years the PCUSA will change its position on gay marriage and embrace full equality within its Presbytery.

The Full Text of the Decision can be read here...


  1. The concept of a church having some kind of judicial "commission" and making "rulings" and "bringing charges" against a person completely baffles me.


  2. I think it is because the Church has its own governance, and it must provide order of a sort, which is does through commissions etc... Kinda a throwback to the concept of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy.


Related Posts with Thumbnails