Shuck and Jive

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanks to Rev. Jane Spahr

Here is a nice article about Rev. Janie Spahr in the Pacific Sun (Marin County, CA). I loved the headline: Rev. Janie Spahr is going to change the Presbyterian Church if she has to marry every gay and lesbian couple in the nation!

Preach it, Sister! The article tells her story, her recent court cases (church court, that is) and of her compassion for those who are left out.

The article begins:

When she was 12 and captain of her softball team, the Rev. Janie Spahr intentionally picked the players usually chosen last. Even as a child, she reached out to the disenfranchised and preached that everyone deserves a chance.

"When you're not picked, you know how you feel," the 65-year-old Presbyterian minister says with trademark tenderness. "Everybody has within them greatness. My greatest wish is that people will see their own greatness and believe it."

I also just ran across this website-- The LGBT Religious Archives Network. Here is what it is about in a sentence:

The LGBT Religious Archives Network (LGBT-RAN) is an innovative venture in preserving history and encouraging scholarly study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) religious movements around the world.

And while I am on the topic a thank you from Michael Adee and Bear Ride from More Light Presbyterians for your speaking out (in whatever way you do so) for inclusivity.


  1. Well, look who has come out of the woodwork. The little snitch from Knoxville who likes to bother my executive presbyter about me!

    Let's see...which of your last two statements was dumber, this one:

    "perhaps her militancy has actually slowed down the reforming..."

    Is 'militancy' marrying people by gunpoint? It has slowed down the fundy reforming, that is for sure.


    "...then all of those people that she marries will not be legally married. I hope that she has plenty of money, because someone will end up suing her."

    I would vote number two as the dumber statement. But since you are so concerned with her financial well-being, you could make a donation to her legal fund?

  2. I've never heard of this woman's ministry before. But, praise God for it. Everyone who is committed to the gospel, and cares about gay and lesbian people coming to Christ, should support full GLBT inclusion in the church.

    But, why do you feel her committment has slowed down the reforming, Stushie? I don't understand.

  3. When she was 12 and captain of her softball team, the Rev. Janie Spahr intentionally picked the players usually chosen last.

    Hmmm, I wonder what their record was.

    Isn't Rev. Janie's gospel just about making people feel better about themselves? And how far does this tenderness extend? Does it extend to "reich wingers" as well?

  4. It actually does, Jim. I've met her and she's a lovely person, and incredibly forgiving considering the intense smear job she's received from the Layman, PFR, etc.

    And no, Janie's not all about "making people feel good about themselves". She's actually got a pretty hardcore message: she wants people to devote their lives to serving the church and (in this particular situation) dedicating themselves to their partners in loving, lifelong commitments.

  5. I've met her and she's a lovely person, and incredibly forgiving

    I'll take your word for it, Fly. Her ability to motivate others may be overlooked in the political brouhaha.

  6. Her ability to motivate others may be overlooked in the political brouhaha.

    Which is, again, a direct consequence of the smear job perpetrated on her by the Layman, PFR and others.

  7. Flycandler,

    I'm not Presby, but I've always heard good things about the Layman, although I"m sure I would not agree with them in this whole sexuality issue.

    Why do you feel they want to smear this women? What do they say about her?

  8. John has talked about this in the past, but the Layman is the publishing organ of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which was founded by an oil tycoon largely in reaction to the northern church's support of the civil rights movement. It has consistently pushed a hard-right agenda and is now throwing its support behind the schism movement in the PC(USA).

    The Layman is generally considered to be the New York Post of Presbyterian news outlets. It is deliberately inflammatory and tries to divide the church between us (ultraconservative evangelicals) and them (everyone else, a.k.a. heathens). Recently, the Layman Online apparently supported calls for the revocation of John's ordination.

    As far as Jane is concerned, I remember reading articles in the 1990s that made her sound like some sort of hyper-promiscuous sex freak and delved into juicy descriptions of various forms of lesbian sex.

    Jane has been in a committed relationship since (I think) the 1980s and leads a fairly pedestrian life. In some of his earlier books, even Jack Rogers (whom I admire greatly) kind of fell into the trap, quoting in Claiming the Center from a speech she made about the joy her relationship brought her but zeroing in on an offhand remark about making love. When I first met her at a conference, I thought I'd be introduced to some ultra-feminist flamethrower. Instead, I saw a very compassionate lady with a deep love for her ministry and the church.

    There are many, MANY reasons to dislike the Layman (I remember their attempts to spin the infamous Reimagining Conference blowback in a way that convinced the Session in my church at the time that the blue hymnal was full of subversive lesbian messages). The way they smeared Janie is just one of the more egregious.

  9. Grace, I realize I didn't quite answer your question.

    The reason they went after her is because she was the long-time head (until a couple months ago) of That All May Freely Serve, a group that advocates full inclusion and formed in 1992 after the PJC removed Janie's call to a church in Rochester once she made it public that she is gay. The Layman had a lot to do with getting the evangelicals in a lather and getting the case all the way up to the PJC. She has become their favorite punching bag and they've made her into a caricature of a "radical, militant, feminist lesbian". It's really quite sick.

  10. Thanks, Flycandler.

    What about the affirming evangelicals in your church, though? Do they protest?

    I'm orthodox, and evangelical in the faith, but am totally supportive of full inclusion of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

    Looking at Stushie's remark, I thought there were concerns that she was not preaching the gospel.

    It's so sad how Christians are divided concerning this whole sexuality issue, and a terrible witness to the love of Christ.

  11. I can't speak for stushie specifically, but I do know that the argument goes "lesbians can't be pastors, therefore they're not really preaching the gospel". Same old crap they used to say about women pastors.

    There are affirming evangelicals in the church. I mentioned Jack Rogers, a former moderator (the "Presbyterian Pope For a Year"), a self-described evangelical who actually came 180° on the issue through study and prayer (and unusually, not through having a family member come out). He writes about this brilliantly in his latest book, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. His earlier book, Claiming the Center was probably when he was at 100-120°.

    The problem is that evangelicalism is very new, not just generally, but specifically in the PC(USA). It has become a synonym for "conservative" and that's not really doing it justice. We have some hardline Calvinists who are church-politics conservative, and we have many evangelicals (like Rogers) who are church-politics liberal. Ironically, if the Layman succeeds in its push to split the church, the remaining evangelicals would likely lose a tremendous amount of power.

    Grace, you mentioned that you're not Presbyterian. If you don't mind my asking, to which denominational tradition do you belong? I think it could be enlightening as far as our conversation about the PC(USA)'s structure (which is Presbyterian) and theology (which is Reformed). For the record, I was baptized in the PCUS (the old southern church) and raised in a former-PCUS, now PC(USA) congregation. I am third-generation Presbyterian on my mother's side, but my dad's family is all Missouri Synod Lutheran (or Misery Synod as Garrison Keillor calls it). He "converted" when he married my mother, in a PCUS church.

  12. Flycandler,

    My background is Lutheran(ELCA) although I've had fellowship in a number of different church settings.

    Right now my husband and I are searching for a new church home, due to an upcoming move. The local ELCA congregation has closed it's doors, so it's probably between the Presbys or the Piskies(Episcopalian) for me.

    Prayers appreciated. :)

  13. Grace, I had wondered. I like to think my instincts are strong enough for me to spot a Lutheran at twenty paces. FWIW, the PC(USA) and the ELCA are in communion, which basically means our churches have agreed that we broadly teach the same things, so we can swap pastors and allow the sacraments to be performed my ministers of either church. I'm sure John can explain the idea better. Again, my paternal grandmother is Misery Synod, so they treat ELCA in much lower regard than the PC(USA)--it's complicated, I know. Get a bunch of Germans and Scandinavians with grudges together and watch the passive-aggressive sparks fly!

    Like I mentioned, the Presbyterian Church (and this includes ALL Presbyterian churches, including the splinters) is Presbyterian in governance and Reformed in theology. That means that we elect our leaders. In the PC(USA), the members of a congregation elect Elders to a board called the Session, which actually runs the local church. The congregation "calls" a minister to be the Pastor of a church. Each local church has proportional representation (and sends Pastors and Elders to meetings) in a Presbytery, a regional division (mine is the Greater Atlanta Presbytery, John's is Holston Presbytery). Presbyteries themselves belong to multi-state regions called Synods, and Presbyteries and Synods send delegates to the General Assembly, held every other year, and the delegates elect a Moderator, who is the titular head of the church for two years.

    We do not have a bishopric, and in practice we never have the same person at the top for more than two years (this underlines the fact that we believe Jesus is the actual, permanent head of the church).

    The Episcopal Church (itself the embodiment of the Anglican Communion in the United States) is by contrast an episcopate, with a rigid structure of dioceses, archdioceses, and of course the head of the church is the Archbishop of Canterbury, though formally inferior to the Fidei defensor, Queen Elizabeth II. The Episcopal Church in the USA tends to be a bit more democratic than I make it sound, but it is much more formalized than in the Presbyterian tradition. We do not recognize the Queen (except when she's on the cover of People magazine).

    All that blather to make two points. One, Presbyterians will blather on endlessly about church governance given half the chance (it's our way of venting from all those congregational meetings we've sat through over the years). Second, while the vast majority of members in ANY church are blissfully unaware of these things and are instead concentrating on worship and community (which probably is the right thing anyway), it is very helpful to understand how the structure of the church works when trying to understand issues (like ecclesiastical court cases involving Janie Spahr) that go on in the larger church. Both the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians are part of "connectional churches". No congregation is an island, and we are connected to every other congregation in the denomination.