August 2010

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.


I’ve been feeling really lousy the last three days, hence no posts. But I came across this…this thing on Chris Johnson‘s other blog, Bad Vestments, and just had to share it with the Reformed crowd. According to Chris, the neck this is around belongs to a United Methodist, which should confirm some of those things that the Reformed have always thought about Arminians:

You know what’s really frightening? Someone actually took the time to make that fabric into a clergy stole. Of course, someone then risked his career by being photographed wearing it….

Just found out from Pastor Dave Pepper via Facebook that Dr. Donald Bloesch, professor emeritus at Dubuque Seminary and a long-time voice for orthodoxy in the United Church of Christ, has died at the age of 82. That might not mean much to most folks, but it is a great loss to the world of Christian theology. I read Dr. Bloesch’s Essentials of Evangelical Theology in seminary, and have been blessed by his 7 volume Christian Foundations series, as well as by a variety of other books of his. He was a Reformed theologian who was a student of Karl Barth’s, but not an uncritical follower. He also taught me to take the history of theology seriously, and to read and weigh the insights of modern theologians in light of the Church Fathers and Reformers. He was also eminently readable, as opposed to so many academic theologians who seem obsessed with being as obscure as humanly possible. He will be missed.

A group of mostly mainline and evangelical left leaders and academics has published an open letter on the matter of President Obama’s Christian faith. Though it is signed mostly by a collection of people with whom I rarely agree, in this instance I think they are right on target, and I’ve added my own inconsequential name to it. This is the letter in its entirety:

As Christian leaders— whose primary responsibility is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with our congregations, our communities, and our world— we are deeply troubled by the recent questioning of President Obama’s faith. We understand that these are contentious times, but the personal faith of our leaders should not be up for public debate.

President Obama has been unwavering in confessing Christ as Lord and has spoken often about the importance of his Christian faith.  Many of the signees on this letter have prayed and worshipped with this President.  We believe that questioning, and especially misrepresenting, the faith of a confessing believer goes too far.

This is not a political issue. The signers of this letter come from different political and ideological backgrounds, but we are unified in our belief in Jesus Christ.  As Christian pastors and leaders, we believe that fellow Christians need to be an encouragement to those who call Christ their savior, not question the veracity of their faith.

Therefore, we urge public officials, faith leaders, and the media to offer no further support or airtime to those who misrepresent and call into question the President’s Christian faith.  And we join with the President in praying that God will continue to bless the United States of America.

I don’t know anything about the depth of the president’s faith, or the sincerity with which he holds to it. I have no idea what kind of theological notions he harbors, though after twenty years at Trinity UCC in Chicago there’s probably more than his fair share of nonsense. I also know that it doesn’t really matter. The question of presidential faith mostly tells us, if anything, what motivates him to pursue the policies he prefers. And Barack Obama has been pretty clear that he’s a liberal mainline Christian, the evidence for which may, I think, be found in almost every consequential stance he’s taken.

The continuing insinuation from some corners that he is a secret Muslim is simply ridiculous, up there with the conspiracy theory regarding his birth certificate. It’s every bit as unseemly as the repeated attacks from the left on George Bush’s evangelicalism, or the whispers that sometimes swirled around Ronald Reagan because he rarely went to church. I have no problem with people disagreeing in the most vociferous terms with Obama’s politics and policies, or even disliking him personally. But folks really should leave it at that. Anything more is adding poison to a civic environment that is already toxic enough.

It has long been evident that Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine are not quite what they purport to be. To Wallis tell it, he is a lone Christian prophet speaking truth to power, without connections to the rich and powerful of the world, fighting a lonely battle on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast.

Now, it would appear that at least part of the myth is being swept away. Not only has Wallis now got a buddy in the White House, but it would appear that for several years he and Sojourners have had a sugar daddy on the side. His name is George Soros, and the connection between them has been laid bare by Marvin Olasky of World magazine.

Since at least 2004, when he tried single-handedly to defeat the re-election bid of George Bush, billionaire Soros has been involved in funding a wide variety liberal and far left causes and organizations. Among those who have received his largess are Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, People for the American Way, the Center for Reproductive Rights, ACORN, the Compassion in Dying Federation, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, etc.

Back in July, Olasky published a column in which he said that Sojourners had received $200,000 from Soros’ Open Society Institute in 2004. He apparently hit a nerve:

It didn’t seem to me like any big deal: Of course Soros would see the religious left as important in drawing evangelical votes away from a conservative embrace. Of course Jim would take the money in pursuit of his aims. So I was surprised by Jim’s reaction when Timothy Dalrymple, who writes for the Patheos website, asked him about my mention of Sojourners receiving funding from Soros.

Dalrymple asked, “Is there anything wrong with making common cause with the George Soroses of the world?” Jim exploded: “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros.”

Jim kept insisting: “We don’t receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners. That’s where it comes from.”

Yeah, well. Wallis later put this down to ignorance–he claims not to know where all of Sojourners‘ money comes from, and the Soros money was only the “tiniest fraction” of its funding–but by 2007 his organization had taken $325,000 from Soros, including $100,00 to support the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign, one of Sojourners‘ biggest hobby horses the past few years.

So why is this significant? First, it shows Wallis at his worst–accusing others of lying about his operations, refusing to apologize when it turns out that he’s wrong, and generally acting more like a politician with his hand caught in the cookie jar than a Christian leader. And second, it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt a connection between Wallis, scourge of the rich who claims to be non-partisan and even non-ideological, and one of the prime funders of the political left, a billionaire atheist whose causes include abortion and gay rights, to which supposedly Wallis objects. For years, Wallis has made a living out of accusing religious conservatives of ties to political conservatives, and treating those ties as if they demonstrated that the former had sold out for a mess of political pottage. Those accusations, sad to say, were frequently accurate. It’s too bad that the accuser never bothered to look in the mirror.

That a sliver of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim is not shocking in the context of other bizarre and stupid things they tell pollsters. In a rebuke to geography teachers everywhere, 10 percent of people either don’t think Hawaii is part of the United States or aren’t sure. Twenty percent believe aliens have contacted us here on Earth. And 11 percent have confidence in the United States Congress.

Rich Lowry, National Review Online

A member of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, which has been locked in conflict with the PCUSA’s Heartless Presbytery, left a comment on my previous post on the situation. She has further news on the situation, and has given me permission to share that as a post. She writes:

As a member of Colonial, I am proud to say we “Officially” left the PCUSA today and joined the EPC. For us, it is business as usual. Of course we want to keep our property – we are paying for it, never a cent from Heartland. If it is decided that Heartland technically owns it, they also occur all the debt that goes with it – they cannot afford that kind of debt.

This past week, right before we took our vote, we received a letter from our Elders that was sent from Heartland, basically saying our Elders are incompetent and do not know what they are doing. We elected those people so basically they are saying the same thing about us. It is sad Heartland is caught up in the financial and political aspect of things rather than focusing on the real issue: Christ, spreading the Word and missions for the greater good of all of humanity.

We will continue to pray for Heartland and if this is their “gracious” plan for exiting, I pity their enemies.

She has also sent along a link to an archive of the various documents pertaining to the Colonial discernment process, including communications from the presbytery, which you can find here.

Thanks for the information, sister. Our prayers will continue to be with our brothers and sisters at Colonial.

UPDATE: This comes a little late, for which I apologize to my contact at Colonial. She has sent along scans of two other documents that need to be out there to substantiate some of what she says above. Here they are:

The notable thing here is the remark in the administrative commission’s letter:

There is no provision within the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a congregation to vote itself out of the denomination. Individuals are able to leave the congregation but no majority vote can move the whole membership from the congregation.

This is technically correct, of course. Congregations can’t vote themselves out of the PCUSA. What they can do, however, is survey the congregation to find out what the will of the members is, and take a vote of the congregation to ask for dismissal. Colonial has done both of those things. Heartless’ administrative commission, however, isn’t interested in trivia such as what the desire of the congregation might be; its only interest, to all evidence, is in keeping the property.

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