Shuck and Jive

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Janet Edwards and the Trial

Rev. Janet Edwards of Pittsburgh Presbytery who is on staff at The Community of Reconciliation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently conducted a wedding for a lesbian couple.

A complaint was filed against her for doing so. She went to trial and the case was dismissed because the investigating committee filed the charges too late. You can read reports in the PCUSA news and in the Washington Post.

In June 2005, Janet conducted a marriage for Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole.

I met Janet at a More Light Presbyterian conference earlier this year in Nashville. I admire her for her stand for justice and her willingness to put herself to public scrutiny in order to raise issues of justice. Many bloggers have been offering their opinions on this case, such as this one. I thought I would ask her directly regarding her thoughts about the trial and the acquittal. She graciously responded with the following:

Reflections on the Trial

PCUSA through Pittsburgh Presbytery V Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D.

On June 25, 2005 I presided at the spirit-filled wedding of Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole. On June 28 the marriage was announced in the Wedding Celebrations of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette identifying me as the officiant, resulting in accusations, investigation, the filing of charges for acting contrary the Constitution of the PCUSA, and a trial on Wednesday, November 15, 2006. The trial day was momentous and complex. I offer my reflections on three different aspects of my experience that day.

First, this was a trial of the PCUSA through Pittsburgh Presbytery v. Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D. It began with a show cause hearing in which lawyers for the Prosecuting Committee and for me commented on the fact that the Investigating Committee filed the charges four days after the end of the one year statute of limitations on filing charges against an accused in a disciplinary complaint. Protection of the rights of all the parties was the responsibility of the Permanent Judicial Commission and their preliminary ruling was that the charges were dismissed due to late filing, but they heard the arguments and left the hall to deliberate. After an hour and a half they returned and confirmed their preliminary ruling that the charges were filed late and therefore they were dismissed. In my view, that was the only possible outcome according to the Book of Order. The PJC did their job; to me they looked heartsick at this inconclusive outcome.

Second, trials in the disciplinary process in our church are “ordinarily open” so I began right after the setting of the date for the trial to invite as many people as possible and to provide for worship and breaking of bread together after the trial which I expected to end swiftly in dismissal. The invitation specifically encouraged people to invite whomever they might want and it was so thrilling for me to meet so many strangers during the wait in the hall for the PJC to deliberate and at the lunch afterward. The invitation went to friends and opponents in the church, to old family friends, to colleagues in the GLBT community. It reach was extended by a news story about the invitation and the power of the internet which took it to a clergy group in Los Angeles and the entire email system of NYU. Over 200 people were respectful in their attention to the PJC, festive in the hour and a half wait and jubilant in their worship and meal after the trial was over. The presence of many ML, TAMFS and CovNet friends is very precious to me. Ask someone you know who came about the humming; it was awesome.

Third, I made a commitment to myself about a year ago to seek the help of professional media people when the IC made its decision because I feel strongly that marriage as a sacred union without regard to gender is an important aspect of full inclusion of GLBT people in both the church and American life. And, whoa Nellie, did those people do a good job for me. All three news hooks, filing of charges, pre-trial conference and trial, brought press coverage. All three local news channels here included the story all day long, broadcasting in full my statement after the trial. NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian in England carried the story. God richly blessed this opportunity in the court of public opinion. And pardon my sports’ analogy, but a draw in Pittsburgh feels like a win anywhere else. I am released from adjudication, innocent until proven guilty and certain there is no prohibition against presiding at the marriage of two men or two women in our Book of Order.

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