What’s Brewing: Slavery dropped from ‘Marriage Vow’; Presbyterian Church celebrates gay clergy

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the only major GOP presidential candidate who’s spoken out against the Family Leader’s “Marriage Vow.”

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The “Marriage Vow” pledge that a right-wing Iowa group is asking presidential candidates to sign continues to make headlines. Over the weekend, the group, called the Family Leader, removed a portion of the pledge’s preamble which suggested blacks were better off during slavery. But this wasn’t before GOP candidates Michele Bachmann — who, alarmingly, leads one recent Iowa poll — and Rick Santorum had already signed the pledge, which also says homosexuality is a choice and calls for banning all pornography. Thus far, only one GOP presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, has spoken out against the pledge, although Jon Huntsman has also confirmed he won’t sign it.

2. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s new policy allowing ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians took effect Sunday. Many congregations marked the change with a national day of prayer organized by More Light Presbyterians, which pushes for LGBT equality within the church. The 2.8 million member Presbyterian Church joins other Protestant denominations including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in allowing gay clergy.

3. Six police officers have been fired for lying about what happened during a September 2009 raid of the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. More officers face hearings this week following the release of a 343-page report showing they lied or destroyed evidence in the wake of the raid. Eight men were arrested during the raid, but charges were dropped and the city later paid the men more than $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit.

—  John Wright

‘A roomful of silent witnesses’

NO LONGER SILENT | The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, assistant professor at Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, donated his stole to the Shower of Stoles project in 2001. He added the line of bells along the bottom so that he would never again be silent about his sexual orientation.

Collection of stoles from LGBT clergy on display at Northaven UMC, including stole from local minister Stephen Sprinkle

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Shower of Stoles — a portion of which is now on display at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas — is a collection of liturgical stoles from LGBT religious leaders representing about 30 Jewish and Christian denominations from six countries on three continents.

Stoles are the religious garb worn by clergy around the neck, usually over a clerical robe. This collection, started by a lesbian minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose ordination was threatened when she came out, is designed to “connect with people emotionally,” creating an impact similar to that of the NAMES Project AIDS Memoral Quilt, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Voelkel said the collection is an important artifact of the ongoing battle for ordination equality in mainstream churches.

In 1993, Voelkel explained, the Presbyterian Church called for a three-year period of open dialogue on human sexuality. The Rev. Martha Juillerat, a Presbyterian minister from rural Missouri, participated by traveling around her district participating in dozens of conferences and opening dialogues in churches throughout the area.

Despite the invitation to come out, there was no guarantee that Juillerat wouldn’t face repercussions.

And in fact, she did.

Voelkel said that when the Presbyterian Church threatened to revoke Juillerat’s ordination in 1995, she put word out for other LGBT clergy to send her their stoles and stories. Within a week she had 75.

When Presbytery officials gathered to discuss her case, “she lined the room with stoles,” Voelkel said.

Within a few weeks the collection had grown to more than 200.

After Juillerat retired, she donated the collection to the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, which now maintains it. The collection has grown to about 1,200 pieces.

Today, parts of the collection are exhibited in about 100 places each year. Voelkel said that some churches use the display as part of the welcoming process, but others bring in the collection before they are even ready to talk about it.

She called it “a roomful of silent witnesses.”

Those witnesses can have an impact. Just last week, 18 years later Juillerat’s fight, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow ordination of LGBT clergy.

A display of 50 stoles will be on exhibit at Northaven United Methodist Church through June 5, said the Rev. Eric Folkerth. The church is a welcoming congregation with a large LGBT membership. Northaven is also a beneficiary of the Black Tie Dinner.

Folkerth said his church has hosted the exhibit before: “It was very moving and an inspiring thing to see.”

While other churches use the collection to begin a dialogue, Folkerth said, “This is a reminder that we are so blessed.”

Folkerth said that in terms of creating change, it would be better for the stoles to be somewhere else. But, “It’s important to remind ourselves what’s going on in the rest of the church.”

Among the stoles in the collection is one from the Rev. Steven Sprinkle, an associate professor at Texas Christian University. In his accompanying story, Sprinkle said that he served several congregations as a single person. Congregants suspected he was gay and he was targeted with graffiti on his house and had his car ties slashed.

“In an attempt to drive me away, my pet Basset hound, Beau, and my English bulldog, Buck, were butchered and hung up in the back yard of my parsonage,” Sprinkle said. “There was a lot of fear in my life.”

But Sprinkle said he didn’t run. Instead he came out after a close friend told him, “If there are no secrets, Steve, there can be no ambushes.”

Shower of Stoles exhibit, Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sun. 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. through June 5. 214-363-2479. Northaven.org.

—  John Wright

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) votes to allow openly lesbian, gay pastors to be ordained

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted tonight to amend the denomination’s Book of Order in a move that clears the way for the church to begin ordaining non-celibate lesbian and gay clergy, deacons and elders, according to a number of online reports, including this one from Reuters.

Michael Adee

The denomination’s General Assembly voted last summer to amend the Book of Order by removing a requirement that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” But the change had to be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 173 regional presbyteries, and the 87th and deciding vote was cast tonight by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery.

Ratification comes at the end of a long battle, including a vote just two years ago refusing the amendment. However, by the time the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery voted tonight, 19 of the regions that voted against the change two years ago had already voted in favor of the amendment this time around.

Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians which has been pushing for the change for several years, on Tuesday told The Huffington Post, “This is quite a day of celebration. We’ve restored the longstanding Presbyterian understanding of ordination: that the most important qualifications are related to faith, not marital status or sexuality.”

—  admin

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

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.”

—  admin

Trial set for Calif. minister who performed gay weddings

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A retired Presbyterian minister and active critic of her faith’s position on same-sex marriage will be tried by a church court for performing the weddings of gay couples during a brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

The Rev. Jane Spahr, 67, has been charged with “publicly, intentionally and repeatedly” violating Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) doctrine by presiding at the weddings of 16 couples between June 2008 and November 2008, before California voters outlawed same-sex marriages.

“To turn my back on the love and lifelong commitments of these wonderful couples would have gone against my faith, the ministry where I was called, and most of all, against God’s amazing hospitality and welcome where love and justice meet together,” Spahr said in a written statement.

She has pleaded not guilty, explaining there are other parts of church doctrine that are just as important such as being welcoming and valuing diversity.

The church constitution defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but its Supreme Judicial Council has ruled that ministers can bless same-sex unions as long as they are not called marriages and the ceremonies don’t mimic traditional weddings.

The regional Presbytery of the Redwoods, which oversees 52 churches from an area north of San Francisco to the Oregon border, was required to bring the charges against Spahr earlier this year after a member filed a formal accusation against her.

Eleven of the couples Spahr married were expected to testify as witnesses at the trial scheduled to start Tuesday, Aug. 24 at a church in Napa.

“The question of this trial is, are state law and church law incompatible,” said the Rev. Robert Conover, the prebytery’s standing clerk. “Did Rev. Spahr violate the church constitution when she performed same-gender marriages that were legal?”

It’s the second time Spahr, a lesbian who founded a ministry for gay Presbyterians, has faced possible sanctions from her church. In 2006, she became the first pastor of her faith to be tried for officiating the weddings of gay couples from states that did not permit same-sex civil marriages.

The regional church tribunal acquitted her, but an intermediate church court rebuked her for misconduct the next year. The church’s highest court finally cleared Spahr of any wrongdoing, ruling she did not violate denominational law because the ceremonies she performed were not for government-recognized marriages.

Spahr’s lawyers plan to argue this time around that she would have been breaking church law and shirking her pastoral responsibilities if she had refused to marry gay couples who had the legal right to wed and wanted Presbyterian ceremonies.

“The implication of these charges is that Rev. Spahr should have told these couples no — that she should have advised these couples to go elsewhere,” the lawyers wrote in their legal brief. “The testimony in this case will show that Rev. Spahr’s was the more faithful response.”

If found guilty, Spahr could receive sanctions ranging from a rebuke, the most mild discipline, to a suspension. As with her previous case, the verdict following the upcoming trial would likely be appealed to a higher church court and take a few years to resolve, Conover said.

“Presbyterians, like most mainline Protestants, are accustomed to our church law and state law complementing each other,” he said. “We are in a situation now where what’s at argument is whether that is still the case.”

—  John Wright