Shuck and Jive

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spahr Found Guilty on 3 of 4 Charges

The Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of Redwoods Presbytery ruled that three of the four charges against Rev. Jane Spahr have been sustained and the fourth not sustained.

The last charge was not sustained by a unanimous vote. The first three were sustained by a 4-2 vote.
Here is the text of the charges and the ruling in red:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) charges you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, a minister of Word and Sacrament, with the following offenses:

1. On or about June 20, 2008, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, did commit the offense of representing that a the Marjorie Taylor and Sherrie Ann Holmes, were married under the laws of the State of California in effect at that time, and thereafter signing their Certificate of Marriage as the person solemnizing the marriage. This action is in direct violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (GAPJC) in its Decision and Order in Disciplinary Case 218-12, Jane Adams Spahr vs. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “…officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W-4-9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.” (Sustained)

2. You, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience concerning the aforementioned authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order, in that during the period between June 17, 2008 and November 3, 2008,, when same sex marriages were valid and lawful under the laws of the State of California, you represented that no fewer than fifteen such additional ceremonies you performed were marriages of the same sex. (Sustained)

3. By intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the above-referenced authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order as set forth in Disciplinary Case 218-12, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, failed to be governed by polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in violation of your ordination vows (W-4.4003e). (Sustained)

4. By publicly, intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the Book of Order, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, have failed to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church (W-4.4003g).
(Not Sustained)
Rev. Spahr was censured by rebuke and enjoined to avoid such offenses in the future.

The full text of the decision is on the website of the Presbytery of the Redwoods. Go to box on the right side under announcements. It is in a pdf file.

This is disappointing to say the least. Just before the decision was rendered a post on the Presbyterian Outlook site was circling the Twitterworld that compared the actions of Rev. Spahr to those of Jesus who healed on the Sabbath. The author writes:

As I read today's note in the LA Times about Jane Spahr to be tried by the PCUSA, I couldn't help but think of the text for this past Sunday, Luke 13:10-17, Jesus setting a woman free from 18 years of affliction, and doing so on the Sabbath, to make a point (he and the lady could have waited 24 hours) - healing is what the Sabbath is all about.

And then the synagogue leader weighs in - scolding folks, "Hey, we've got six days for work, and if you want healing, come on those days, but the Sabbath is for rest - keep it holy - no work!"

And that's when Jesus lays into the leader and his gang, "You hypocrites. You wouldn't treat an ox or donkey this way - you lead them to water on the Sabbath, so why deny the water of life to this woman on the Sabbath? What better day is there for revealing the love of God and the freedom therein?"

While Jesus stood on the intent of the law, the leader clung to the letter of the law. And according to the law, the leader was right and Jesus was wrong.

So, here we go again, arguing about our laws.

And missing the point of the kingdom of God.

Jane Spahr is technically wrong, if that's the tact we wish to take. Jesus was wrong, too, and someone might have told him, "Wait 24 hours. Then do your healing. No one will be offended, the law will be maintained and everyone will be happy."

But Jesus didn't wait, because love and mercy and forgiveness and hope can't wait.

So ... we'll drag Jane into the mud of our own foolish little world of rules - rules that keep people bound - hungering and thirsting for a better day.

We wouldn't treat a dog this way.
Rev. Jane Spahr did the right thing. Sometimes doing the right thing gets you in trouble with the religious authorities. It is time for more clergy to do the right thing. I am convinced that Rev. Spahr will not “avoid such offenses in the future.” I don’t think Jesus would either. Neither will an increasing number of clergy. I count myself in that number.

Please sign the Minneapolis Declaration of Conscience.


  1. The hypocrisy of some in the Presby never ceases to amaze me.

    For instance, the snobs at First Pres Bristol (my church), who unfortunately make up a large minority, have driven off many a potential worshiper with their sanctimonious attitudes and their Mercedes Benz. Yet they are received with all the usual plastic smiles and disconnected "hi, how are ya"s. They serve as Deacons and Elders, even at the Lectern and the Pulpit.

    Jane Sphar shows the pure, unconditional love Jesus taught us to show, and she is demonized.

    That's F&%$ed up. There's no better terms to describe it.

  2. @John: you may have followed my conversation with Alan on your earlier blog about this. It is my opinion that Janie's case could not become precedent for the denomination without her being declared guilty by the presbytery PJC. If she was found not guilty of all charges I think an AI by the most recent assembly would have prevented the prosecution from appealing the case on any but procedural grounds. If you read the decision it is clear that the PJC wants the denomination to change its mind. The only way for a precedent to be made for the whole denomination is for the GAPJC to consider an appeal. So I wouldn't condemn yet.

    The other route that the GA did not approve as an amendment to the Directory for Worship this year is a change in the definition of marriage. Frankly I find this most curious and contradictory. Why change the rules on ordination but not marriage? Either we want officers to be good role models in which case we want them to be married when they have sex or we continue to say that sex between people of the same sex prevents them from serving as officers because they are by definition bad role models.

  3. Jane Sphar shows the pure, unconditional love Jesus taught us to show


    @Bob Yes, that is what I said on the comment section that there is no longer double jeopardy.

    I am not so cynical to think that Janie wanted to be found guilty here. Besides I don't see the GAPJC overturning these decisions.

    Yes I am going to do some condemning until the BFTSs stop persecuting people.

  4. I don't see any big tragedy here. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    Count 1: Did Jane unite gay couples? Yes.
    Count 2: Has Jane done this previously? Yes.
    Count 3: Did she promise not to do this when we let her in? Yes?
    Count 4: Is there any harm in what she did? No, there isn't...

    ... but as long as we have these rules, we're going to have to ask her to not do this anymore...cause that's what our rules say...

  5. David,

    I don't think the rules are that clear. We have no rule in the Book of Order regarding a situation in which a clergy signs a marriage license for a same-gender couple.

    This decision is an interpretation of rules. It didn't have to go this way. 2 of the 6 voted to not sustain the charges. Had it been 3 to 3 she would have been found not guilty.

  6. And David, the ultimate consequence of a guilty verdict is that the next time she or anyone else signs a marriage license for a same-gender couple they can be defrocked.

  7. "cause that's what our rules say..."

    When the "rules" run contrary to what Jesus taught they are to be not only ignored, but ridiculed. Along with the Glenn Beck types that sit idly by and accept it.

  8. There are no Glenn Beck types posting here! Certainly not David! He is one of the good guys, Captain!

    The laws are unjust.

    The church has proven itself time and time again unwilling to change

    What do you do?

    You live with it or you break the rules and bring attention to their injustice. Only when people are adequately shaken up will change come.

    That is what Jesus did.
    That is what Ghandi did.
    That is what King did.

    These passive-aggressive decisions that praise while they punish are the hardest to deal with.

    "They are punishing us, but they are so nice and feel so badly about it. Maybe it is OK."

    No it isn't OK. We hide a great deal of injustice under the veneer of niceness.

  9. All that said, as I wrote in my most recent blog post, this is what I really think the PJC was saying (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."

  10. Wasn't necessarily calling David a Glenn Beck type, just alluding to them as the church is full of them.

    "break the rules and bring attention to their injustice"

    That's exactly what I meant. Along with the fact that those who sit by and do nothing are as bad as the antagonists.

  11. Thanks for the insight John.
    Carry on.