Last Friday, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the PCUSA’s Redwoods Presbytery convicted the Rev. Jane Spahr of (again) violating the denomination’s policy against conducting same sex marriages. The PJC then bent over backwards to say that they were only doing so because they had to. First, the charges on which she was convicted:
1. On or about June 20, 2008, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, did commit the offense of representing that a same sex ceremony was a marriage by performing a ceremony in which two women, namely Sara 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.) Book of Order. As authoritatively interpreted by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (GAPJC) in its Decision and Order in Disciplinary Case 21812, Jane Adams Spahr v. 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 W4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.” This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote.
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 persons of the same sex. This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote.
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 21812, you, JANE ADAMS SPAHR, failed to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in violation of your ordination vows. (W4.4003e) This charge is sustained by a 4-2 vote.
Yes, well. I guess it isn’t necessary to point out that we’ve been here before with this. The last time, the denomination’s PJC made like a circus contortionist to let her off the hook. This time, the presbytery convicts her, then applauds her:
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 wellbeing 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.)
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.
Then, just in case anyone had missed the point, they handed down a penalty of a wrist-slap:
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.
They didn’t add, “but of course if you’re conscience leads you to continue to indulge in such ‘offenses’ in the future, we will naturally laugh up our sleeves at the yahoos and ‘rebuke’ you again–assuming the synod or denominational PJC doesn’t overturn this conviction, which we’re sure they will”–but they didn’t have to.
I hate to say I told you so, but the lack of any kind of effective sanction, combined with the display of effusion for Rev. Spahr in the decision, simply confirms what I said back in July when the General Assembly refused to take the plunge and change the Book of Order wording on marriage:
Oh, actually, there’s a third thing to remember: people such as Janet Edwards and Jane Spahr have already done same-sex weddings, and the refusal of the responsible bodies (up to and including the denominational Permanent Judicial Commission) to enforce the standards means that last night’s results are only going to stop the scrupulous. Those who don’t care what the denominational standards are are going to proceed as they like, and dare anyone to stop them.
Redwoods didn’t stop her. In fact, it joined her in the dare.