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Local Presbyterian Body Defies National Church on Same-Sex Marriage Rebuke; Interview With Rev. Jane Spahr

| May 16, 2012
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From the Marin Independent Journal on Tuesday:

In an unprecedented defiance of a church judicial commission, representatives of Northern California Presbyterian churches Tuesday refused to rebuke a retired pastor for marrying 16 same-sex couples when gay marriage was legal in California in 2008. The 74-18 vote on a motion opposing the censure of the Rev. Jane Spahr came at a meeting of the Presbytery of the Redwoods at the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo.

Jane Adams Spahr (Religious Archives Network)

People affiliated with the church told both the Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle that the vote represented the first time a regional body had defied a ruling by the national church on an issue concerning gays and lesbians.

In February, the church’s General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission upheld a lower regional body’s ruling to censure Spahr. The charges she was found guilty of included:

- Committing the offense of representing that a same-sex ceremony was a marriage by performing a ceremony in which two women were married under the laws of the State of California and thereafter signing their
Certificate of Marriage as the person solemnizing the marriage;

-Persisting in a pattern or practice of disobedience concerning an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order, in that under the laws of the State of California, she represented that no fewer than fifteen such additional ceremonies she performed were marriages of persons of the same sex…

In its ruling (read a pdf of the decision here), the General Assembly wrote “the issue is not simply the same-sex ceremony. It is the misrepresentation that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes the ceremony and the resulting relationship to be a marriage in the eyes of the church.” The ruling, issued in response to an appeal by Spahr, also agreed with the lower assembly that “being faithful to Scripture and the Constitution on other matters does not provide a defense for the actions charged in this case.”

The censure was to be accepted by the monthly assembly of the regional Presbytery of the Redwoods at the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo. But instead, the Redwoods Presbytery rebelled, passing a motion resolving that the Presbytery “opposes imposition of the rebuke set forth in the decision…as inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the faithful life of ministry lived out in this Presbytery.” (Read the full motion here.)

Yesterday, KQED’s Stephanie Martin interviewed Rev. Jane Adams Spahr about this rebuke of the rebuke. Edited transcript:

Stephanie Martin: How are you feeling about how this body voted?

Jane Adams Spahr: Even though the rebuke was said against me, I really felt it was against these amazing LGBT couples who I had married. It was again saying that somehow or other, their marriages, though legal, still were seen as second class.

Essentially, we moved to oppose the rebuke that went up to the highest court. And there’s an amazing dissent the highest court did that’s in the body of our motion, which talks about essentially how can the church really view our marriages as less than?

I really felt affirmed, and these couples and their relationships. It really sent a message back to the church, that is that we do honor same-gender marriages. I always say to couples who come to me, it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, what matters to me is the quality of your relationship, and how can we as the church be supportive of you.

Because marriages have their ups and down, and for LGBT people to have support and care of their faith community is part and parcel of what every relationship wants and needs. We need friends, we need family, and I think the church should be at the forefront of support and welcome.

Again it was affirming the equality of our relationships. And really let’s oppose this rebuke because it perpetuates the harm that is done and the violence done when you call anyone lesser or second-class.

There were people who came from Texas and New York and other presbyteries to speak to this, to say this presbytery has been a beacon of hope, surely we don’t need to do this.

Stephanie Martin: Does this end the matter for you?

Jane Adams Spahr: It does unless when I do another wedding, someone decides to complain. That’s our process. Someone complains, it goes to investigative committee, then the committee comes to the presbytery and says we think there’s enough information here for charges.

This is not the first time Spahr, who is gay, has run afoul of the hierarchy of a religious denomination. Last December, she was one of three clergymembers to have an invitation to participate in Advent services at San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro rescinded at the request of the San Francisco Archdiocese. Another of the disinvited clergy was former Episcopal Bishop of Utah Otis Charles, who announced his sexual orientation after retiring in 1993, wed his same-sex partner in a San Francisco church in 2004, and married in a civil ceremony in San Francisco in 2008, during the brief period before Proposition 8 that same-sex marriage was legal.

You can read Stephanie Martin’s interview with Charles about that incident here.


Motion passed by the Presbytery of the Redwoods at the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo on the rebuke of Jane Adams Spahr:

THAT the Presbytery oppose imposition of the rebuke as set forth in the decision of the Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission, dated August 27, 2010 (which was stayed by its terms until the present day), by declaring and resolving as follows:

WHEREAS, our primary ordination vow as Ruling and Teaching Elders is to be obedient to Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him, (F-1.02; W-4.4003(a);

WHEREAS the love of God in Jesus Christ is for all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

WHEREAS, The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the constitution require that full inclusion and pastoral care be extended to all members of the church;

WHEREAS, this Presbytery called the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr to a ministry in outreach to—and in community among and with—lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

WHEREAS, the 38-year ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr has been faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to her calling;

WHEREAS, the decision of August 27, 2010, by its terms, acknowledges and apologizes (1) that the rules of the church “are against the Gospel,” and (2) that the decision and rebuke continue the grievous harm “that has been, and continues to be, done” by the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people “in the name of Jesus Christ;”

Be it RESOLVED that the Presbytery of the Redwoods opposes imposition of the rebuke set forth in the decision dated August 27, 2010, as inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the faithful life of ministry lived out in this Presbytery.

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