“. . . the censure is removed”

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA ruled (on Monday, released on Tuesday . . . so not like Wimminwise is right up to the minute) that the Synod of the Pacific’s decision to censure Rev. Jane Spahr was reversed, and the censure removed. You can read the full text of the decision here.

There’s also a Presbyterian News Service report on the verdict here. Jane Spahr’s response is online here.

This seems like very good news! And at the same time, maybe not such good news, from the perspective of those who see the need for the church to recognize same-gender unions as marriages — since refusing precisely this recognition seems to played a role in the favorable verdict.

The opinion makes interesting reading, whatever one’s ultimate take on the reasoning. It contains some eloquent statements about the difficulty and ambiguity of prophetic ministry, the dangerous demands of pastoral care, and the challenge of ministry to marginalized and oppressed — which is, after all, the church’s mission.

And no doubt the writers of the opinion are correct about this: “Christians are called to do justice.” And no doubt they felt, as we all feel, sometimes more acutely than others, that this is no light task.

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A Beautiful Wedding

Saturday’s “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities” was a remarkable time of sharing, worship, reflection, praise and celebration, and reconnecting with joy.  Indeed, if there was one word that kept recurring, and kept characterizing the morning’s procedings, it was precisely:  “joy.” 

It was a joy, first of all, to be able to meet and talk with Jane Spahr and the remarkable group of people who had come to support her, to tell their stories of marriage and courage, and to remind the Presbyterian Church USA that it includes gay people, and that those gay people participate in the life of the church.

It was a joy to hear the testimonies of several veterans of struggles for full inclusion of LGBT folk in the church.  Lisa Larges’s first words were “The title of my talk this morning is ‘The Church, Marriage, two patriarchal institutions that we want to be included in, we don’t know why” — oh, joy!  And joy was Larges’s main point, that the God who liberates is a God of joy, and that the church needs the lives and stories and the joy that is brought by the marginalized, the excluded, though whether the marginalized and excluded need the church (at present) is far less clear.  But of course, we’re not talking about inclusion in unchanged institutions.  Both the Church, and marriage, need to change — to realize their potential to liberate, to be sites of joy and celebration.  God, in Larges’s presentation, is a God of radical joy and abundance, and that joy needs to fill the church, and [by implication] change the world.

Jim Rigby talked about the abandonment of privilege, the road to learning from those who have been pushed to the margins, and in the process being under indictment or on charges within the church “a lot – all the time.”  But again, this process is something that’s called for in a church that tries to follow God who is leading from the future into the future, a future that does not simply look identical to the past.

Jane related some of the history of her movement from new pastor, learning to preach, in a church in Pennsylvania that had accepted two women pastors because “no one else would take it,” and that church’s becoming a place of healing and joy; talked about discovering herself as a lesbian, and the joy that brought her; talked about reveling in being an evangelist – a person who spreads good news; and talked above all of the significance of the presence of the prophetic voices of LGBT folk in the church, who continue to speak out for justice even when in spite of the disregard of the untransformed church. 

That church has problems, according to Jane Spahr.  It reduces LGBT identity to “a behavior,” and then tries to treat that behavior the way it treats so much other sexual behavior.  Visible, vocal LGBT people become the confessors of others who harbor sexual secrets that are unmentioned and unwelcomed in the church context, like rape, abuse, harassment.  It expects LGBT people to stick to “their issue” – as if LGBT folk don’t have ideas about money, the environment, immigration, prayer . . . as other people do.  That church turns its back on what the ministry and the presence of LGBT people offers it, brings to it as gift, through these people, of God.  

We talked about marriage, what marriage means, what it might mean for the church and our communities to accept gay marriage.  A high point was when several couples who have been married by Jane Spahr over the years shared their experiences of finding one another, and marrying, and what that has meant in their lives.    

We enjoyed beautiful worship!!  Johanna Bos read her moving translation of Isaiah 56.  Debra Mumford reflected on the eunuchs, what that conflicted identity meant then, what the message of it’s inclusion might mean for us now – like the ability to worship, and to love ourselves, because God loves us, as we are.  Johanna Bos reflected on the foreigner, who is not to be “separated, yes separated” from God’s people, but rather whose worship God will accept and take delight in, because what God seeks is faithfulness to God, and because God’s temple is to be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 

We ate lunch, we met each other, we wished each other well, we had a wonderful time, we were blessed beyond measure.  Thank you, Jane Spahr, for coming and spending time with us, and all of this group.  Thank you for bringing us this beautiful wedding of justice and love, joy and hope, words and wisdom, in our faith community!

Last edited 3/11/09.

Silent Witness and Prayer

Rev. Jane Spahr visits LouisvilleRev. Jane Spahr is in Louisville for the hearing of the final appeal in a disciplinary case against her for performing LGBT marriages as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA.  A number of events cluster around her visit, including a silent witness this afternoon, 4 p.m., in front of the Presbyterian Center at 100 Witherspoon Street, with worship following at Central Presbyterian Church.

Tomorrow morning, Friday, beginning at 8:45 a.m., the Women’s Center will be open for prayer around and during the hearing of the appeal. 

We will be praying in particular for the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through the hearing, the deliberations of the Permanent Judicial Commission, and the events surrounding this.  I think I learned in Presbyterian Heritage that the conviction that the Holy Spirit does, indeed, move in and through the interactions of the faithful is one of the characteristic features of Reformed faith and polity.  This means, among other things, that Presbyterians are not ones to shrink from conflict, whether it be theological, exegetical, political, cultural, or all of the above.  Rather, conflict becomes an occasion for discernment, and even, by the grace of God, encounter with God.  At a minimum, conflict is an occasion for encounter with the neighbor, made in the image of God.

On Saturday morning, we will have further opportunity for encounter, as we will be hearing from Rev. Spahr, and from others involved in the effort to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians as legitimate participants in every aspect of the ritual life of the church at the panel “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities,” 9:00 a.m. – noon, Hundley Hall of Gardencourt on the Seminary campus.

A Statement From Jim Rigby

Rev. Jim Rigby performs symbolic marriage at gay rights rally -- from Daily Texan onlineRev. Jim Rigby, Pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas, has a statement addressing specific theological and polity issues often raised by Presbyterians who oppose ordained Ministers of the Word and Sacrament performing marriages for gay people.  The full text of the statement is available here: (“Our Unbroken Vows”). The main point of the statement — if it’s at all fair to summarize a densely-argued 6-page commentary on the Presbyterian Book of Order and Reformed theology in a sentence — is that the actions of these clergy men and women are fully in accord with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Reformed tradition going back to the 16th century, and responsible Scriptural exegesis.

Pastor Jim’s church has long been associated with this position. See, for example, the text of St. Andrew’s Covenant of Dissent, dedicated on Pentecost, 1997, in response to the adoption of then-new paragraph 6.0106 into the denomination’s Book of Order (here).

We will have an opportunity to hear from Rev. Jim Rigby on Saturday morning, along with Lisa Larges and Rev. Jane Spahr, at the “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities” event in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt, 9:00 a.m. – Noon. We hope many will take advantage of this opportunity to attend, listen, and consider the meaning of marriage, and gay marriage, in the context of the church of Jesus Christ.

Chris Elwood and Sue Garrett on “Homosexuality and the Church”

I am going to be on I-71, returning from a short trip to Dayton, Ohio, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 20 (that’s tomorrow!) — which is only of general interest because of what I would be doing if I weren’t:  going to the Christian Sexuality Forum that’s going to be held at that time in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt.  Professors Chris Elwood and Sue Garrett will moderate this forum. 

Organizers Gail Monsma and Karin Wright say “Many of us are struggling with how to think and talk about sexuality from a biblical and theological stance and also how to prepare ourselves to address this in pastoral ways.  We need a place to discuss our views and listen to each other.”  Sunday’s forum is meant to be such a safe place for discussion and learning.

There can’t be too many safe places for discussion and learning, especially about issues that are squarely facing the church and the world.  We hope many members of the community will take advantage of this opportunity to think about the way same-gender relationships look from various vantage points within the Christian Biblical and theological tradition. 

Then, we hope that many of those members will continue that process by coming to the discussion of gay marriage next Saturday, April 26, “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities,” with Lisa LargesJim Rigby, Jane Spahr, and others, 9 a.m. to noon, also in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt

That discussion is part of a set of events that clusters around the hearing of Jane Spahr’s appeal on disciplinary charges in the denomination (more info here).  Which maybe just shows how much we have needed those safe spaces for discussion and learning, and for how long.

Lisa Larges et al. on Faithfulness

Lisa Larges, candidate and signatory of Open Letter to PC(USA)About a month ago, we received a copy of a letter written by 28 LGBT candidates for ministry in the Presbyterian denomination, responding to a ruling by the Permanent Judicial Commission regarding consideration of openly gay candidates in the ordination process. 

The full text of the letter can be found here at the website of That All May Freely Serve, and here, on at the blog PresbyterianWelcome.

One of the main points of this letter, it seems to me, is that faithfulness to the Holy Spirit, and the call to serve the church, with the integrity of a whole person, conflicts with standards of faithfulness being articulated by those who oppose the affirmation of gay integrity, along with the ordination of gay Presbyterians to church office, and the performance of gay marriages.  The issue of what faithfulness entails, to what Christians are called to be faithful, and how that faithfulness must be lived out is at the heart of the ongoing controversies about what it means, concretely, for the church to be the church of LGBT as well as straight.

This issue will be much on our minds in the coming week, as we prepare for the visit of Rev. Jane Spahr to Louisville.

Lisa Larges will be speaking, along with others, in the testimonies and discussion that will take place on the Seminary campus Saturday morning, April 26, 9 a.m. – noon, in Hundley Hall.