Church court upholds 3 of 4 charges against Spahr — but not because they wanted to

Posted on 27 Aug 2010 at 4:55pm
The Rev. Jane Spahr

The Permanent Judiciary Committee of the Presbytery of the Redwoods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has released its verdict in the church trial of lesbian minister the Rev. Jane Spahr who had been charged with performing same-sex marriages in violation of the denomination’s Book of Order. The committee voted to uphold three of the four charges against Spahr and to censure her by rebuking, adding that she is “enjoined to avoid such offenses in the future.”

The rebuke and injunction, however, will not be imposed until the final determination in the event that Spahr chooses to appeal the ruling.

In a statement released after the committee’s verdict was announced, Spahr said: “I’m sad for my  church. Think about the mixed-messages they are sending the faithful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters in our community. Think about the mixed-messages they are sending to the next generation who overwhelmingly embrace God’s amazing hospitality and welcome. A great injustice has been done today.”

The committee voted 4-2 to uphold the charge that Spahr did refer to the same-sex weddings she performed during the five months such unions were legal in California as marriages in violation of church doctrine that declares “…officers  of  the  PCUSA  authorized  to  perform  marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex  ceremony is a marriage.”

The committee also upheld, on votes of 4-2, that Spahr “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience” by performing 15 same-sex marriages during the time those marriages were legal in California, and that the minister “failed to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in violation of [her] ordination vows.”

The committee, however, voted 6-0 not to sustain the charge that Spahr “failed to uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church” by “intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the Book of Order.”

Even in voting to sustain three of the charges against Spahr, the committee appeared to be siding with Spahr to some degree, almost seeming to say that even though she violated the Book of Order, Spahr did the right thing. In other words, the committee seems to say, quite plainly, that they had to uphold the charges because Spahr clearly violated certain sections of the Book of Order, but that they believe that Spahr is right and that the Book of Order is, at least in some cases, wrong.

You can download the full text of the decision in PDF form at RedwoodsPresbytery.org (look under the “Announcements” section on the home page),but here is the part I was describing:

“The Permanent Judicial Commission, in sustaining the first three charges, recognizes that while the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr has indeed performed these marriages, which were and continue to be legal marriages, she did so acting with faithful compassion in accord with W­7.3004. These marriages were legal in the state of California, being civil contracts (W­4.9001), and are different from same-sex ceremonies. The testimonies of those at court clearly demonstrated this difference.

“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.”

Later on in the ruling the committee members note although they had to find that Spahr had repeatedly violated the Book of Order and her ordination vows, they also believe that 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.”

And they said that they refused to uphold the charge that Spahr failed to “uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church” because they believe that she should instead be commended for “helping us realize that peace without justice is no peace.”

AND, the committee members expressly asked forgiveness of the same-sex married couples “for the harm that has been and continues to be done to them in the name of Jesus Christ,” urging the Synod and General Assembly levels of the Presbyterian Church to “do what needs to be done to move us as a church forward on this journey of reconciliation.”

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