Presbyterian Panel Convicts Rev. Spahr

Rev. Jane Spahr, a retired Presbyterian minister who legally married 16 same-sex couples before Proposition 8 was passed banning same-sex marriage, has been convicted of violating church law.

A Presbyterian Judicial Council at the Presbytery of the Redwoods, handed down guilty verdicts in three of the four charges lodged against Rev. Spahr for performing the ceremonies. Two charges that she violated the Presbyterian Book of Order, that forbids PCUSA clergy from representing that “a same sex ceremony is a marriage,” by performing the ceremonies, and another charge that she violated her ordination vows by failing “to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church,” were sustained by 4-2 votes. A fourth charge, that she “failed to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church,” was unanimously rejected by the six-member panel.

Rev. Spahr could have been defrocked for the violations, but the council heeded the request of prosecutor JoAn Blackstone who asked that the penalty be censure. The panel has stayed its formal rebuke, however, until Rev. Spahr can appeal to higher authority within the church.

While the verdict is heartbreaking for Rev. Spahr, who has been before the panel twice before and been acquitted, the judgment against her is both bitter and sweet as the panel used its decision to take the larger church to task for failing see the validity of same-sex marriages, and for failing to extend grace to all who seek it from the church.

Here are some excerpts from the decision:

” … we call upon the church to reexamine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“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,’ and has sought to redress ‘wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples in the church, in this nation, and in the world.'”

” … 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 one of the most powerful passages of the decision, the panel begs forgiveness for the couples that Rev. Spahr legally married back in 2008. Eleven of them had testified on her behalf before the panel.

“As a commission, we give thanks for the courageous and heartrending testimonies of the married couples who shared with us their great hurt through the policies of our church. We also thank them for the joy in marriage they shared with us that that has brought healing in their lives and in their families through the ministry of Dr. Spahr. On behalf of the church, we ask for their forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be, done to them in the name of Jesus Christ.”

And, perhaps in the strongest rebuke to the church on this issue – the panel refused to convict Rev. Spahr of failing to “further the peace, unity and purity of the church.” Instead, they chose to commend Rev. Spahr “for helping us realize that peace without justice is no peace.”

Let those who have ears, hear.