Shuck and Jive

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Caboose on the Justice Train

Here is rationale for the decision to rebuke Rev. Jane Spahr (pdf file):
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. In this particular case, in W4.9001 we have inclusive and broad descriptive language about marriage, “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family.” This sentence is followed immediately by “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.”

The language of the second statement draws on our cultural understanding today of marriage that is rooted in equality. But it is not faithful to the Biblical witness in which marriage was a case of property transfer because women were property. Nor does it specifically address same gender marriage.

Similarly, in the reality in which we live today, marriage can be between same gender as well as opposite gender persons, and we, as a church, need to be able to respond to this reality as Dr. Jane Spahr has done with faithfulness and compassion.

In regard to charge #3 that Dr. Spahr has “intentionally and repeatedly acted in violation of the Book Of Order in violation of her ordination vows, (W4.4003e) we again recognize that while Dr. Spahr has done so, 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. (G2.0200.)

Notwithstanding the foregoing, we are constrained to accept that the following language in GAPJC Disciplinary Case 21812 is authoritative and should be followed until and unless modified: “We further hold that the officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.”

In regard to charge #4, that Dr. Jane Adams Spahr has failed to further the peace, unity and purity of the church (W4.4003g), we commend Dr. Spahr for helping us realize that peace without justice is no peace.

As a commission, we give thanks for the courageous and heartrending testimonies of the married couples who shared with us their great hurt through the policies of our church. We also thank them for the joy in marriage they shared with us that that has brought healing in their lives and in their families through the ministry of Dr. Spahr. On behalf of the church, we ask for their forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be, done to them in the name of Jesus Christ.

We implore the Synod and General Assembly levels of our church to listen to these testimonies, which are now part of this record, to take them to heart, and to do what needs to be done to move us as a church forward on this journey of reconciliation.

Wherefore: It is the express decision of this commission that you, Jane Adams Spahr, are guilty of the offenses as charged herein and recited above in this decision as charges 1, 2, and 3.

We determine that you are hereby censured by rebuke as provided in D12.0102, and we declare as follows:

Whereas you, Jane Adams Spahr, having been found guilty as stated, and by such offenses have acted contrary to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); now therefore, the Presbytery of the Redwoods, in the name and authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rebukes you. You are enjoined to avoid such offenses in the future.

It is the further decision of this Commission that in the event of an appeal from this decision by either party, that this rebuke and injunction shall not be imposed until final determination of any such appeal.

Respectively submitted,
Redwood Presbytery Judicial Commission August 27, 2010
The tone here is to sound as though they are (and perhaps they are) on Rev. Spahr's "side" but then decide that she violated her vows anyway. I contend that the PJC did not have to rule this way. The Book of Order is contradictory and the legalization of marriage in some states is a new and different situation that is not addressed in the Book of Order.

The PJC chose to emphasize one provision over another.

Anyway, the struggle continues. The decision will be appealed and by the time it finally reaches the GAPJC we will be at the 2012 General Assembly. The last GA couldn't even talk about it. Given our track record, I doubt 2012 will be much different. Around and around we will go.

So what does all this say to clergy who have lesbian and gay parishioners who want their relationships acknowledged in a sacred space? It says (reading between the lines):

"Don't wait for us to get it right. We never will either judicially or legislatively until long after the wind is blowing in that direction. The church is and always will be the caboose on the justice train. Go ahead, clergy and sessions, do what your conscience dictates. When we rebuke you, recognize that is part of your calling. We crucified Christ after all."


  1. Great quote. Some how I do not think Janie will "avoid such offenses in the future."  God bless Janie Spahr!

  2. I read the LA Times article about this case, on Aug 28. The panel did seem to sympathize with Rev Spahr and appreciated her ministry but apparently thought their hands were tied by the language of the BCO. I think Rev Shuck's between-line reading is accurate; leaders should and will follow their conscience.

  3. Your comment at the end... Yeah, that's what I thought the ruling was getting at. I hope sessions and officers will step forward to follow their conscience, despite possible rebuke.

  4. I have to believe that no session or clergyperson would really not ordain/marry just because they were afraid of the rules.

  5. It would be a great irony if the GAPJC says again to Janie, "You didn't do a marriage so you are not guilty but don't even do it again."

    Having said that I think the GA should send down an amendment that says PCUSA MWSs shall not be agents of the state in signing marriage licenses. Wouldn't fix the current problem but would deal with a real theological problem: how can a leader in the Christian community be an agent of the state?

  6. Bob, I don't see any movement in that direction, although people bring it up hypothetically. Some say the church should get out of the marriage business. Others say the state should get out of the marriage business. Neither is going to happen any time soon if ever.

    And you are right, it does not address this issue.

    I don't think GAPJC can say these were not marriages this time. If a friendly (to Janie) liberal presbytery like Redwoods can't acquit, I doubt the GAPJC will be able to change it.

    I think the ruling will stand. I think we will need a large number of defrockings before this is done.

    Ah well, I have said my piece. If I keep at this, I'll just get irritable.

  7. It would have been better for those who support homosexual marriage if the GA had sent down an amendment this year although I don't think it would have passed.

    Still I suspect given the reasoning that the Redwoods PJS wants a GAPJC decision that turns down their decision. I agree with you that I don't think this will happen. Whether the GAPJC cares if the state of CA had marriage between two people of the same sex legal or not at that particular time will be an interesting question.

  8. I still shake my head in disbelief that the PCUSA believes it can regulate free speech and decide which words can be used or not used by its members, which is (as even the BFTSs admit) the real issue here: what shall we call a marriage?

    I agree John, given that the BoO was clearly wrong in this case (ie. the statement "Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman" is just factually incorrect), I think the PJC had the authority to find her not guilty.

    Or they could have decided that, when she referred to these marriages as marriages, she was doing so in the factually correct civil sense, since same-sex marriages don't exist in the PCUSA. That would have been a wonderfully convoluted and ridiculous judgement, of course (which would have set the BFTS's hair on fire) but forcing people to abide by their own ridiculous rules is a nice bit of non-violent subversion, I think.

    I'm trying hard not to get too worked up about it, since clearly regardless of the ruling, same-sex marriages will still happen in the PCUSA. These couples are still married before God, regardless of the blindness of some of His followers.

    I'm also greatly comforted by the YAAD votes at GA on marriage. In the end, the BFTSs can't beat demographics. Cases like this simply show ever more clearly the injustices that young people in particular have no patience for.

    The BFTSs have already lost and they're the only ones who don't know it yet.

  9. "how can a leader in the Christian community be an agent of the state?"

    I've always thought it strange that MWS can be agents of the state for marriage, but not divorce. So much for "protecting marriage", I guess.

    I wonder, BTW, how many of the "protect marriage" types in our denomination out in CA have signed the 2012 California Protection of Marriage Act, which would outlaw divorce. Their motto: "You said 'Til death do us part.' You're not dead yet."

    Perhaps some Session in a friendly presbytery could get an overture sent to the next GA to ban all divorce. It wouldn't go anywhere, but it would be fun to watch the BFTSs contort themselves into pretzels trying to proof-text their way out of that one. Seriously.

  10. I thought the best part of the ruling was this sentence:

    '[the BOO says]‘Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.’ The language of the second statement draws on our cultural understanding today of marriage that is rooted in equality. But it is not faithful to the Biblical witness in which marriage was a case of property transfer because women were property."

    Marriage today is based on the Romantic revolution where marriage became a civil contract between two people who fell in love. Anybody remember "Fiddler on the Roof"?

    I think maybe the Taliban still practice a form of marriage that is close to what the Bible presents as marriage.

  11. "I think maybe the Taliban still practice a form of marriage that is close to what the Bible presents as marriage."

    I don't know. Do the Taliban encourage trading sheep or land for wives?

    Had a curious situation that I didn't really understand at the time. An elderly church member from Nigeria met my daughter at worship and suggested to me that she would be a good match for her son in Nigeria. Not understanding I said I didn't think so. She kept saying it to me and to my daughter. Then the young man died. At the memorial service she said something about her son and my daughter. So I asked an African pastor who told me she was SERIOUS! I should have said a definite no from the very beginning. Different cultures - ya gotta love them.

    Alan it may or may not surprise you that I am with you on divorce - except for adultery (and with just one time the marriage might hold together), or abuse. Haven't met too many abusers who stop abusing. Have met some spouses seriously beaten when the talked about divorce before leaving the house.