Church leaves PCUSA over gay ordinations

Fremont Presbyterian pastor says his Sacramento church ‘didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us’

Anderson

AMEN | The Rev. Scott Anderson gives the benediction at the end of his ordination in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 8. Anderson is the first openly gay person to be ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination. Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif., voted Oct. 16 to leave the PCUSA over the denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay ministers. (Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal/Associated Press)

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento church has voted to split from Presbyterian Church USA over the national denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay clergy.

After months of discussion, members of Fremont Presbyterian Church voted 427 to 164 on Sunday, Oct. 16, to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Let me make it clear that Fremont didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us,” said the Rev. Donald Baird, senior pastor.

About 800 congregants attended church Sunday for a meeting about the pros and cons of what is technically known as seeking “dismissal” from the mainline Presbyterian fold. Supporters of the separation argued that their denomination had drifted away from biblical teachings with its decision to allow gay ministers.

Scott Anderson became the denomination’s first openly gay minister when he was reordained last week in Wisconsin. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Sacramento for seven years before he came out to his congregation and resigned in 1990.

“This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church,” Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who favored leaving the denomination, told the Sacramento Bee.

Cindy Harris, who is preparing to become a minister herself, was on the side of those who expressed reservations about joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“I think God can and will call whoever he wants to call, regardless of sex or orientation,” she said, wiping away tears after the vote.

Fremont, with weekly attendance of about 1,400, is the seventh Sacramento-area church to leave the mainline Presbyterian Church over doctrinal issues in the past few years, according to the Bee.

Regional church leaders plan to meet with Fremont’s staff to discuss what will become of the church’s property and other assets.

In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Anderson predicted that accepting gay clergy would make the Presbyterian church stronger in the long run.

“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Mad, sad and a little tired

Lawyer/activist has a message for those who continue to deny LGBT their equal rights: There is no factual or legal basis for your bigotry, and the time is past due to start treating each other with respect

Jon Nelson  Special Contributor

I’m mad, sad and a little tired. Over the years, I have been involved in issues with a finite end: See a problem, organize a coalition, have open discussions and solve the problem.

Not so with equal rights for gays. We have made strides and yet, with the new Congress, there surely will be setbacks.

I just got through watching And The Band Played On, a movie about the beginnings of AIDS in the 1980s, the resistance to its recognition, the struggle for funding for research and the compelling humanity of those who were infected. And I guess it’s their stories that have caused me to think about where we are, why there is so much resistance and why, even though I am tired, I cannot stop now.

Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are all legislative goals to right the wrongs levied against a segment of our society.

But much of society doesn’t see it that way. They speak in terms of a “gay agenda,” “gay rights” or “pushing a lifestyle on us” that would lead to the “destruction of our family values.”

The problem for me is that most of these people aren’t evil or stupid or even mean-spirited. Many are my friends. Yet they believe in their hearts something that has a definite, negative impact on the lives of millions.

Surely that can’t be right, but why can’t they see that?

I read a story in which one Presbyterian minister eloquently denounced the homophobia which exists in many a religious doctrine, and then I read a quasi-rebuttal from another minister of the same faith. He had kindness in his heart, but his message was clear: We should love one another but not condone homosexuality.

This makes me mad, sad and tired because of the message it sends to those who so desperately need support and help: Our youth.

Somewhere in Fort Worth today, a young girl sits in a pew, next to her parents, and hears the minister proclaim that God has judged her feelings to be an abomination, and either she must change or be damned to hell — but that she is loved nevertheless. And she is so hurt and confused.

Somewhere in Fort Worth today, a young boy, egged on by his peers, with shrill voice and hyena smile, yells the word “faggot” at another boy who is confused and full of self-doubt. And the boy who uttered those words has heard his minister make similar proclamations as the girl’s minister. And that boy has heard his parents make jokes about gays and worse. And he has seen politicians and others of prominence disparage the “gay movement” as a threat to “our” society.

No wonder he acts the way he does.

As a lawyer, I am used to logic and clear argument. Take the case in California dealing with the constitutionality of the marriage ban. Let’s start with something we all can agree on and something which is the law: Before our rights can be infringed upon, the state must show some compelling interest that must be protected.

That’s the law. It’s part of our Constitution and so the state must put on evidence in court to prove that some state interest needs protecting, thus justifying the infringement of your rights or mine.

Evidence, not emotion. Facts, not fabrication.

In the California case, as in every other case which has been tried, there was none.

THERE IS NONE!

How loud do I have to say it? How many times do I have to say it?

THERE IS NONE!

How would you like to go to court and be convicted or lose a civil case even though the other side presented no credible evidence against you? There is no factual — and therefore no legal — basis to deny us the same rights as you have.

If I were a minister and, standing in the pulpit, said that God had proclaimed slavery to be the natural way of life, or that it was un-Christian for women to have the right to vote, you would throw me out — or worse. Yet that is exactly what happened in our country and in mainline church pulpits. Bible verses were used to justify inequality.

Today you think, “How could they have done that?” Or “Why would anyone believe that?” And yet, I hear the same today.

So I want to talk to you as a gay man who is watching what is happening. To the minister, the politician, the parent, to you: Your words have effects on others.

Just stop and think for a moment. Is the message you are sending hurtful to others, even though you mean well?

Fact: Every reputable medical organization in the world has long proclaimed homosexuality to be normal. Why are you ignoring that? Fact: There is absolutely no evidence that granting equal rights to gays will have any adverse effect on marriages between a man and a woman. Why are you ignoring that?

It is time for you to stop saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It’s condescending and demeaning to me. You are judging me and shouldn’t.

Do you hear the anger in my words? It’s because I’m human and have feelings. Listen, I picked up a rifle and went to war for you, and you tell me that I am not equal to you? I can still see those dead eyes staring into space, and you tell me I can’t marry the man I love?
You’re damn right I’m mad, and you would be, too, if you were in my shoes.

So think. Think about me and you. Think about the children and the messages you are sending.  As human beings, we are all connected and in this together. Let’s treat each other that way. In the meantime, I won’t give up on you.

Jon Nelson is an attorney in Fort Worth and one of the co-founders of Fairness Fort Worth.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Church finds minister guilty for marrying gays

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A retired Presbyterian minister was found guilty of misconduct Friday, Aug. 27 by a church court for officiating the weddings of 16 gay couples when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

A regional commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled 4-2 that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience” by performing the weddings in 2008 before Proposition 8 banned the unions in the state.

The church’s highest court has held that Presbyterian ministers may bless same-sex unions as long as they do “not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage.”

By willfully challenging that holding, Spahr broke her ordination vows, the commission said in its majority opinion.

At the same time, however, the tribunal devoted most of its 21/2-page ruling to praising the 68-year-old pastor, a lesbian who founded a church group in the early 1990s for gay Presbyterians.

Spahr was acknowledged “for her prophetic ministry” and “faithful compassion. The commissioners called on the broader church to use her example “to re-examine our own fear and ignorance.”

The six-member commission representing 54 Northern California churches censured Spahr with a rebuke as punishment. Spahr said she was disappointed by the verdict and would appeal to a midlevel church court.

It was the second time the regional Presbytery of the Redwoods convened a court to consider charges against Spahr for sanctioning same-sex relationships.

In 2006, a church court composed of different members ruled that she had acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005.

—  John Wright

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

Rev. Jane Spahr on trial — again — for marrying same-sex couples

In 2008, retired Presbyterian minister the Rev. Jane Spahr was acquitted by the denomination’s Supreme Judicial Council on charges that she violated church doctrine by performing a wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple.

The Rev. Jane Spahr

Spahr’s legal defense at the time said that while the Presbyerian “Book of Order” defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the denomination’s rule book included no language specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Judicial Council found her not guilty on the grounds that the wedding wasn’t a real wedding anyway.

Now, Spahr is on trial with the church again for performing same-sex marriages: Back in 2008, during that brief period when same-sex marriages were legal there, Spahr performed 16 such weddings. Spahr said that she was compelled by her faith and her calling as a minister to perform the ceremonies because “to turn my back on the love and life-long 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.”

The trial is set to start Tuesday, Aug. 23, at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa, Calif.

By the way, Spahr is openly lesbian and has been an advocate for LGBT equality for years, long before she actually came out.

—  admin