The Permanent Judicial Commission of the PCUSA has issued a bizarre decision in the case of the Rev. Jane Spahr. You may remember that she was convicted of violating the PCUSA constitution by performing same sex “marriage” ceremonies for two pairs of lesbians back in 2006. The PJC has essentially said that she couldn’t be convicted of this, because what she did was impossible:
Spahr was charged with and found guilty of violating W-4.9001 and the 1991 AI by performing “wedding service[s] in the marriage of” two same sex couples. The S PJC determined that Spahr was guilty based on her actions in performing “wedding” services for two same sex couples.
There is no prohibition in W-4.9001 against performing a same sex ceremony. The 1991 AI acknowledged that there is no mention in the Book of Order of same sex unions or ceremonies. The 1991 AI states that it is not “proper” for ministers to conduct ceremonies represented as marriages between persons of the same sex.
The ceremonies that are the subject of this case were not marriages as the term is defined by W-4.9001. These were ceremonies between women, not between a man and a woman. Both parties acknowledged the ceremonies in question were not marriages as defined by the Book of Order. It is not improper for ministers of the Word and Sacrament to perform same sex ceremonies. At least four times, the larger church has rejected overtures that would prohibit blessing the unions of same sex couples. By the definition in W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony can never be a marriage. The SPJC found Spahr guilty of doing that which by definition cannot be done. One cannot characterize same sex ceremonies as marriages for the purpose of
disciplining a minister of the Word and Sacrament and at the same time declare that such ceremonies are not marriages for legal or ecclesiastical purposes.
Let me get this straight. Spahr said that she was doing marriage ceremonies. (She unequivocally makes that claim on her Web site. There, she has a press release she issued at the time of her conviction in which she says, ” “I am deeply saddened that our church has chosen not to recognize the loving relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of its own family. It continues to be my honor as a minister to perform marriages for loving, committed couples, no matter what their sexual orientation.”) She doesn’t say she was doing some kind of same sex commitment ceremony, which apparently is permitted in the PCUSA. She says she was doing weddings.
The PJC, however, says that she wasn’t doing weddings, and the reason she wasn’t doing weddings is because under the definition of marriage given in the constitution, what she was doing can’t be a wedding, because there is no marriage involved. So despite the statement of the 1991 Authoritative Interpretation “that it is not ‘proper’ for ministers to conduct ceremonies represented as marriages,” it is apparently not possible for a minister to do that. It isn’t possible for a minister to represent a commitment ceremony as a marriage ceremony because there can’t be a marriage involved. This, of course, raises the question, “then what was it that the AI supposedly prohibited?” Apparently, it didn’t prohibit anything, because the thing it prohibited doesn’t exist.
The PJC has essentially used a linguistic trick to deny that what Spahr, the couples involved, the prosecution and the defense all admitted happened, happened. With a wave of a magic wand, they have reached the results they wanted, and in the process make a mockery of the PCUSA constitution and common sense.
(Hat tip: Toby Brown.)