Synod PJC upholds Spahr’s conviction on same-sex wedding charge

Court says guidelines are needed where same-sex marriage is legal

March 31, 2011


The Synod of the Pacific’s Permanent Judicial Commission (SPJC) has upheld the Redwoods Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission’s (PPJC) decision to rebuke the Rev. Janie Spahr for performing state-sanctioned same-sex marriages in California.

The synod court’s decision was issued March 25. 

Spahr presided over at least 16 same-gender marriage ceremonies between June and November of 2008, during the time they were legally recognized by the State of California. More than 18,000 same-gender couples married during that time.

Spahr was consequently charged with violating the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as interpreted through a previous General Assembly PJC decision (Spahr, 2008) stating that “…officers of the PC(USA) authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.”

Spahr was also convicted and rebuked (the court’s mildest sanction) by the Redwoods PJC for a persistent pattern of disobedience and a failure to be governed by the polity of the PC(USA) ― a violation of her ordination vows.

Spahr appealed the decision to the Synod PJC, arguing that a single sentence in a GAPJC decision did not have the same standing as “… the authority of the Gospel, the witness of Scripture, and the plain language of the Constitution.”

Spahr argued that she had acted in good faith with both Scripture and the Constitution by offering pastoral services, including celebration of legal marriages, without discrimination.

After hearing testimony here on March 24, the Synod PJC used two recent GAPJC decisions, (Spahr, 2008) and (Southard, 2011)) to guide its decision. Those decisions declared that civil same-sex marriages cannot be represented as ecclesiastical marriages as defined by the PC(USA).

The Synod PJC further declared that the constitutional interpretations voiced in the Spahr and Southard decisions are not inconsistent with The Book of Order “…when read as whole.”

The synod court also noted the need for clear guidelines for clergy who wish to officiate at a civil same-sex wedding. “What would a minister need to do to faithfully perform a civil wedding while conforming to PCUSA polity regarding ecclesiastical weddings,” the SPJC asked. 

The 219th General Assembly (2010) declined to change the PC(USA)’s constitutional definition of marriage from “a woman and a man” to “two people.” The Assembly chose instead to ask the church to study the issue further.

“The church was not yet ready to make a decision,” 219th  GA Moderator  Cindy Bolbach, said at the time. 

“In a time when increasing numbers of states permit same-gender weddings and civil unions,” the SPJC wrote, “it is important for the church to clarify how its clergy might pastorally participate in such secular occasions while honoring the PC(USA)’s definition of Christian marriage.

Scott Clark, a member of Spahr’s defense team, made clear Spahr’s intention to appeal the ruling to the General Assembly PJC. “The SPJC failed to honor Rev. Spahr’s thirty-five years of faithfulness,” he said. “They convicted her for something we don’t think is precluded in the Book of Order at all.

“The problem is that Rev. Spahr has not been charged with violating either the Constitution or Scripture,” Clark said, “but with a single sentence in a GAPJC decision. We will be asking the GAPJC to make it clear that they did not intend to, nor constitutionally could they have … directly amended the constitution of the PC(USA) to add a new sentence of limitations.”

The sad thing about the Synod PJC decision, Clark added, “is that it leaves gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people without a pastor. When folks were coming to their pastors in 2008, the synod suggests they should have been turned away from the church. That’s inconsistent with what Christ taught.”

Anitra Kitts is a free-lance writer in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a candidate for the ministry under the care of Cascades Presbytery.

  1. Take care in judgement, as it is not ours. Interpretation is limited, yet application broad - not convenient to us. Love must be extended to all - as God has loved the world, but tolerance must be limited by teaching truth. Grace abounds in faith in Christ, but sin clothes us in self-rightousness, blindness and death. Let not the sinner fall into darkness, nor the saved hover in the shadows. Be wise in your search for light and not follow the wolf of deciet. Pray for humble submission and courage found in God's will.

    by Jeff Moore

    April 25, 2011

  2. A Berean, Amen. Sadly many folks in our denomination do not have renewed minds and they out the Holy Word of God under their opinion. They forget that our opinions come from our hear which is utterly depraved. I pray for all of those in this denomination and others such as the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, The Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church; that we all get back to proclaiming the Gospel of Repentance and Faith in Christ Alone as the Apostles, Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and many lay people have for 2,000 years! Christ is coming back and we need to get ready. He is coming back for a church following His word. Amen.

    by Caleb

    April 5, 2011

  3. Praise be to God for the brethern willing to follow the Word of God. For those of you offended by this decision I encourage you to renew your mind. Romans 12:2 NJKV "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." For those of you with the courage to come to this decision I congratulate you and ask you to take this one step further, as follows: Matthew 18:15-17 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. " Please comply with this standard and revoke all earned benefits until the sinner repents of their deeds and then restore them to faith. Failure to do so not only rewards the sinner but opens the gates to further challenges and future disagreements.

    by A Berean

    April 5, 2011

  4. Sola Scriptura! What does scripture say? Folks, that is our final answer. There is not many interpretations on issues such as this. God's Word does not change for God does not change. Amen.

    by Caleb

    April 5, 2011

  5. perhaps a little innoculation, before it gets used out of context again. In 7 John concerning the woman who was caught in adultry and brought before Jesus, after the mob left Jesus asked "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. (NIV) "Go now and sin no more." people always want to leave out that part.

    by Rick F

    April 4, 2011

  6. LKJ, you are right, all are welcome at God's Table; however you are forgetting the condition: Repentance and Faith in Jesus Christ. Tolerance of sin is sin. We need to take a firm stand for God's Word. Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone is an essential foundation of Christian Belief and a big pillar of Reformed and Presbyterian Church theologies. We cannot have unity with the unclean (unrepentant sinners). We are to be Holy, separate form the world. We need to preach the truth of Christ's Gospel to them. Jesus said, "Go Ye therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." The Gospel message is Repent and Trust Christ as your Saviour and LORD. Homosexuals can be saved just like anyone else. They must repent of their lifestyle. All have sinned and all must turn from sin, whatever it may be. Amen.

    by Caleb

    April 1, 2011

  7. Thank heavens for the decision that marrying homosexuals is against God's plan for us. But of course all us sinners are welcome in worship so that god can minister to us. Maybe there is hope for our denomination to make decisions that will not split us.

    by Gail Michael

    April 1, 2011

  8. Romans 12:2 covers this clearly. Are we going to totally capitulate to the secular world? The WORD is the same today as yesterday and will be the same tomorrow. I really hope I do NOT have to submit a rescission to my ordination and find a Christian church that maintains integrity with His word. The edge is very close.

    by Dana Gilmour

    April 1, 2011

  9. I hope all who read my comment will do so prayerfully. The scriptures, as far as I can tell, contains many Christianities, not just one. On the specific issue of gender in marriage scripture comes to the aid of either perspective. If I am correct in this respect we might do well to tolerate and compassionately embrace the various interpretations of its messagesas they have emerged up to the present time. If we insist on the presence of just one interpretation, we might lose the opportunity to listen to one another. Most of us surely know friends and family members on either side of the gender marriage issue.

    by Jim

    April 1, 2011

  10. Truthfully, I am not sure how I feel about this. I do know that it saddens me to read of yet another split or division. Personally, I don't want to address the issue. The only thing I want to say and live is this truth: All are welcome at God's table. No conditions. No exceptions. Peace.

    by LKJ

    April 1, 2011

  11. Michael, I feel your pain brother. Keep fighting the good fight of faith.

    by Caleb

    April 1, 2011

  12. just because gays are being forced upon society to be accepted... or else, so the laws seem to be heading, it is upsetting to see that mankind is defying God in so many ways. Marriage, God's creation, between 1 man and 1 woman, not to mention man with man and woman with woman which clearly states as a sin. I don't understand where and why things have been getting to where we are now. I understand that gays have some genetic disposition to feel as they do but it doesn't mean that it is okay. I think what is worse than this is that churches are beginning to accept gays and marry them to fill the pews and collection basket... defying God. shame on them all. I fear that this is a sign of the church age coming to a close should this continue and only brings us that much closer to the day of judgement. I do hope the PC (USA) does not head to money over God's word. I regret, should this happen, I will leave the church immediately...

    by Michael

    April 1, 2011

  13. I am so glad that the PC(USA) as stood up for Scripture. Rev. Spahr has not only violated our Church Constitution, but she has violated Holy Scripture, which is God's Standard, which by the way does not change. This woman lied when she said she would uphold scripture and abide by the constitution. She should have had her ordination taken on the spot. The people who sat under her were hearing an incorrect and false Gospel, not the Gospel of Christ as found in the scriptures. These people need proper spiritual nourishment. Now here is the question. Will the PC(USA) continue to hold that homosexuality is a sin and goes against God's perfect plan for families and human order, or will then give in to the Devil's lie and deception. I call all Presbyterians to pray with me that our church has a Holy Spirit renewal and we will uphold scripture once again. Amen. "Because He Lives, I Can Face Tomorrow."

    by Caleb

    March 31, 2011