Spahr plans to appeal same-sex marriage conviction

August 31, 2010


The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, rebuked by the Presbytery of the Redwoods Permanent Judicial Commission last week after being convicted on charges that she violated her ordination vows by marrying same-sex couples, says she will appeal the verdict.

“Who does the Presbyterian Church think we are?” said Spahr, who is a lesbian. “We are they, they are us.”

The Aug. 27 ruling rebuked Spahr for violating church policy on same-sex marriage by conducting marriage ceremonies for couples between June and November 2008. Same-sex marriage was legal in California at the time.

Despite its verdict, the court commended Spahr 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.’” The court called upon the PC(USA) “to re-examine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject … inclusiveness” and it noted that the denomination’s own rules offer “conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel.”

In an Aug. 29 interview with ENInews, Spahr said she was “stunned” by the verdict, and expected a different outcome given predictions that the commission might vote in her favor and because of what she called heart-felt testimonies by couples who testified on her behalf.

She said that being found guilty and then commended for her prophetic ministry shows the “church is in great conflict and playing it out on our lives.”

Spahr said the controversy over marriage is a power issue in which the church pays lip service to equality for gays and lesbians but then denies openly homosexual seminarians, clergy and laity the chance to fully serve the church. “These are people who are raised in the church, feel a call and then are told they can only go so far,” Spahr said.

At its most recent General Assembly, July 3-10 in Minneapolis, the PC(USA) voted to maintain its current constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

  1. I can understand that the PJC had to uphold the rules and Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as it is currently written. What I don't understand is how a church that baptized me, brought me to Christ, fed me on the Word of God in scripture, sermon, and sacrament can continue to deny my calling to ordained ministry when God is clearly calling me to ordained leadership and to a loving, monogamous, life-long committment to my partner. I am now faced with the difficult practical, emotional, and spiritual decision of finding a new church home where my gifts for ministry and my sexual orientation are not seen to be in conflict, but uplifted as gifts from God that make me a uniquely created and called Child of the Triune God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

    by Michael H.

    September 6, 2010

  2. Hi John, What strikes me as wrong with "the Picture" is that it likens homosexuality to a crime. Honestly, that type of an argument has never made any sense to me. However, I understand that some interpretations of Scripture might lead people there. Thankfully, our own polity affirms that there are different interpretations of Scripture that widen God's family rather than narrowing or degrading our membership in the Body of Christ. I have to say that it is a bit surreal, John, to read your comments as I sit here - as a minister of Word and Sacrament - and as a man who is gay - preparing for Sunday's worship, on my way to visit a patient with cancer at Sloane-Kettering (as they prepare for their first round of chemo), following a meeting with a person who is homeless and trying to understand why God has left her be so engaged in a call and with my sisters and brothers who are LGBT to be alluded to as "thieves..." It really seems sad. John, I would be happy to have a conversation with you or anyone else, not to change your mind, but to walk with you as a fellow Presbyterian so that you might better understand the picture that you have not painted. Perhaps that is what is most wrong with the one you have described. It is but a small piece of the landscape and from this view, much out of focus. My email is

    by Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, NY

    September 3, 2010

  3. Imagine, if you will: "I was born and raised in the PCUSA. I discovered in my teens that I like to steal things from other people. Maybe I was born this way - nobody can say for sure. I believe a lot of what the Bible says, but I see nothing wrong with what I do. Won't you accept me as the thief that i am? That would be the inclusive thing to do, you know." What's wrong with this picture?

    by John M

    September 2, 2010

  4. We are frequently challenged as to why we would want to be a part of a church that excludes us. AN odd question for me, at least. Many of us were baptized here, confirmed here, and continue to be faithful. Still the question is a fair one. I would answer it in two ways: first, the church cannot be whole without us. Second, if one asks of us why we would stay where we are excluded, I would ask why one would stay in a church that excludes others? Alternative organizations? In the Body of Christ? None of the advocates for inclusion that I know of have suggested that the answer is to exclude others or send them to alternative organizations. Together we can live out the mission and lives I believe God has given us to share. The answer is not further division. It is, in fact, finding ways to be faithful together. I would welcome conversations on this at any time...not to convince one another, just to get to know one another and our faith journeys. That, to me, is the discussion of the Mystery we share.

    by Rev. Ray Bagnuolo

    September 2, 2010

  5. 1. You can't depend on the mass media to get things right about Presbyterian Rules of Discipline. The person who made the allegations is not anonymous. There can be no investigation if there is no signature on the written allegations. However names of the person making the allegations and the person against whom the allegations are made are confidential. Neither are PJC trials normally open to the public without the permission of the defendent. The purpose is to protect both the one making the allegations and the one against whom the allegations are made. If the Rev. Dr. Spahr had not spoken about the case there would have been no mention of her name unless she was found guilty, all appeals sought were exhausted and the presbytery rebuked her on the floor of presbytery. 2. Given a recent Authoritative Interpretation by the General Assembly the prosecuting team can only appeal a case in which the defendant is found not guilty on procedural grounds. If Janie had been found not guilty the decision in her case would have been a precedent only in Redwoods Presbytery. If it now goes to the General Assembly PJC and she is found not guilty the case will be a precedent for the whole denomination. While I am sure she does not want to go through all of this again - the third time, I think - a national precedent would be better than a local precedent for those who want the PCUSA to approve marriage between two people of the same sex.

    by Pastor Bob

    September 1, 2010

  6. A refreshing and unexpected moment of clarity from the Presbytery PJC. That any ordained person should presume to act in a way that encourages institutionalized sin is a powerful indictment of the PC(USA). As we were reminded at the recent GA meeting, the spirit that guides the advocaes of homosexual sin cannot be the Spirit that inspired Scriptures.

    by Michael Neubert

    September 1, 2010

  7. The mystery continues as to why a person wants to be a member in an organization that disallows a certain behavior the person persists in exhibiting. Why not just create an alternative organization, and attract all like-minded people as members, instead of working so hard to thumb one's nose at the values of the existing organization? Such a person is being hateful, aren't they? Or are they just being irrrational? The mystery continues...

    by John M

    September 1, 2010

  8. That a charge like this could be brought anonymously is disturbing. Perhaps in cases of sexual abuse it makes sense, but here? I don't think so. The accuser needs to step up to the plate rather than hiding behind anonymity. Charges, other than sexual abuse, if brought anonymously, should be dismissed without a hearing. Sounds like Nazi Germany or Paris during the war, when folks could "anonymously" charge their neighbors with "crimes against the state." Anonymous charges have no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

    by Tom Eggebeen

    September 1, 2010

  9. This was one of the most hurtful and fearful decisions againt the LGBT members of our church that I have experienced. As an ordained minister who is gay, the inherent rejection of gay people and their lives is well-known to me and others; yet, this decision was stunning in its foundation and delivery. This commission reliquinshed an opportunity to truly make a difference and chose indifference, instead. To say they "loved us" as the decision was delivered sounded more like an excuse for what they were about to do. You cannot love us and reject us. You might as well just come out and say, "We want our confused rules, not you." It seems that whatever courage was in the room on that day left with those, once again, shown the door. How very sad. And if you don't believe fear was part of the whole process, think of the anonymous person who brought the charges. Anonymous. Imagine the courage that took.

    by Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, NYV

    September 1, 2010