Monday, June 18, 2012

Presbytery of the Redwoods, dissents from rebuke of Janie Spahr, Reverend who performs same-sex marriages

Jane Spahr, public Lesbian Minister who is subject of the Rebuke and subsequent protest and dissent.

For the first time a Presbytery in the Presbyterian Church USA has failed to respect a judgment of its own court in its own Presbytery. As well, it has decided to protest through dissent and a vote of refusal to follow the decision in Judgment of the National Presbyterian Church. In the memory of those contacted, this is the only time known of for such an unusual, if not disobedient action of dissent.
Done ostensibly out of deep commitment to the homosexual movement in the Church, support for homosexual marriage, and in particular the ministry of one clergywoman in their own Presbytery called The Reverend Janie Spahr, the regional group formally continues to validate her years long ministry of marrying homosexuals in the Church. In fact, one reliable source said she was ordained for this very reason, because of her own personal sexual orientation as a Lesbian, but more so because of her commitment and even conscientious campaign to marry homosexuals in the Presbyterian Church. The local paper in one county editorialized in favor of homosexual marriage and the stance by Redwoods Presbytery in their action. In fact, for The Marin Independent Journal, an award winning California paper, the editorial lauded their action and position.

Surprisingly, though rebuked by the national church in a formal manner, the progressive Redwoods Presbytery, one that stretches from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border in the great Northwest of the United States, continues to seek their progressive program and remains pleased with themselves by their overwhelming actions. A press release written by Anitra Kitts and distributed by Presbyterian News Service reads as its headline:

Redwood Presbytery votes to oppose GAPJC decision rebuking Spahr for performing same-gender marriages
Copy Court’s ruling ‘inconsistent with faithful life of ministry lived out in this presbytery’

Filed by this reporter as “Rebuke,” the first three paragraphs of the press release tell the surprising news. Laid out plainly by Anitra Kitts who was on the scene where the matter was decided at First Presbyterian Church, San Anselmo, California (Marin County), the writer Kitts says:

First Presbyterian Church at a time different from the meeting of Redwoods Presbytery
San anselmo, Calif. — In a standing 74-18 vote at its May 15 meeting, the Presbytery of the Redwoods stated its opposition to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission’s decision to “rebuke” the Rev. Janie Adams Spahr, who had been convicted of performing same-gender weddings.
During a five-month period in 2008 when same-gender marriages were legally recognized by the State of California, Spahr celebrated 16 weddings for same-gendered couples.
In August of 2010, she was charged and convicted by the Redwoods Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission for violating the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s constitutional prohibition of such services.

Ruth and Naomi,
Biblical theme in stained glass
from Marin County
Presbyterian Church, located
Presbytery of the Redwoods.
In an effort to find someone in the National Presbyterian Church to comment on the protest action, this reporter attempted to contact higher ups and hoped for some quotes. An email from the Presbyterian News Service gave hope to this probability at one point during the research on this Redwoods Presbytery action held on a Tuesday, May 15, 2012. That email reads:
I think Andrew Black and Laurie Griffith in our Office of the General Assembly would be the best sources for you. If not, I’m sure they can direct you to the right people.

Andrew is director of OGA’s Department of Constitutional Services. Email:

Laurie is manager for judicial process and social witness.

Hope this helps!

Somewhere along the later line, another email was received, showing the National Presbyterian Church desired a different response:
1. The PCUSA General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission has the power to authoritatively interpret the PC(USA) Constitution as found in the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions. The PC(USA) disciplinary procedure is found in the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Order. Each council of membership has the jurisdiction to discipline their members through judicial process. An offense is any action contrary to the Scriptures and the PCUSA Constitution. When a person has been found guilty of an offense by the Permanent Judicial Commission with jurisdiction, that Permanent Judicial Commission issues a Censure. The Censures range from Public Rebuke, Public Rebuke with Supervised Rehabilitation, Temporary Removal from Office and Removal from Office or Membership.

The Presbytery of Redwoods Permanent Judicial Commission found Rev. Spahr guilty of three offenses and issued a Censure of Rebuke in August of 2010. The censure was not imposed until any appeals were complete. The decision and censure were appealed to the Synod PJC which upheld the Presbytery PJC in March 2011 and then to the GAPJC which upheld the Synod PJC in February 2012.

There was no “trial” before the GAPJC. There was a “trial” before the Presbytery PJC. The decision and censure of the Presbytery PJC were appealed and after a “hearing” on the questions of appeal, the GAPJC found that it was not a constitutional error for the Presbytery PJC to both find Rev. Spahr guilty of the three offenses and issue a censure of Rebuke.

2. The Redwoods Presbytery refused to accept its own Permanent Judicial Commission’s Censure. The Presbytery will have to report to the General Assembly in a Compliance Report its actions complying with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission Decision. Any member of the Presbytery may be able to challenge the action of the Presbytery through a Remedial Complaint, however, ordinarily Remedial Complaints may not challenge the process of Disciplinary procedure.

3. We do not know of any presbytery that has refused to report the censure issued by its own Permanent Judicial Commission.

This statement from a Press Officer from the National office of the Presbyterian Church is very clear. Sent by Sharon Youngs by email, she, Sharon K. Youngs, Assistant Stated Clerk, Communications Coordinator, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provided a fair representation and statement, to say the least.. But let us look to find out some of the reasons and rational made by participants at that Redwoods Presbytery meeting in the town of San Anselmo, California in Northern California.

The gathering entered into the controversy and their protest in full knowledge of this definition of Presbyterian Church: The constitution’s ‘Directory for Worship’ defines marriage as between “a man and a woman,” and the GAPJC has ruled that Presbyterian ministers cannot conduct services that represent themselves to be marriage ceremonies or could be construed as such.” The progressives voted 74-18 in the May 2012 meeting, probably with hopes to begin a change in the Church.

If not a change, the “golden” opportunity to assert through their disobedience a protest and also a dissent from the policy by their represented 6,000 Church members in Redwoods Presbytery. One participant who was an ecclesial attorney for opposing the rebuke, The Reverend Beverly Brewster who is moved considerably so, in a way of conscience, Biblical belief, and theological position to greet and proselytize policy of allowing homosexual marriage in the Church. In an email, she states:

Three ministers known popularly
as Chaplain Scott, Reverend Bev,
and Janie Spahr.
There is great Biblical scholarship on all the scripture passages which are used to discriminate against gay people and it shows convincingly that the passages which appear to be condemning homosexuality, when put in context, are talking about exploitative relationships, not loving consensual relationships.

I have studied Mark 10 in its context and am convinced that Jesus is speaking to protect women, who were treated as disposable property instead of beloved children of God, in divorce in 1st century Palestine. I believe it is a misuse of the Gospel to use it to marginalize gay people.
I feel strongly that the definition of marriage in the PCUSA constitution is a descriptive statement, and not a proper basis for a disciplinary action against a minister.
I have studied scripture and the constitution faithfully and seriously.
Thank you very much,
Rev. Beverly Brewster
Temporary Pastor, Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church

She is not alone in her progressive Christian hope for the Presbyterian Church. Reverend Bev, as she is affectionately known, was previously employed by San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, where the student body and faculty passed a resolution of a similar kind more than sympathetic to the homosexual cause, but also proselytizing the popular and current theological concept of “inclusion.” The statement itself is here. It says in part:
SFTS seeks to do this by advocating the full inclusion and participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the Church universal and the World community, by using education, compassion, and storytelling to transform homophobia and injustice in our Seminary, our Church, and our World, and by celebrating the faithful contributions of LGBT individuals to the Church and the World. SFTS strives for this by:

• Equipping our Students
Including LGBT writers, queer theologies, and alternative sexualities’ perspectives in our curriculum. SFTS prepares leaders for the whole Church.

• Supporting our Graduates
While SFTS celebrates the accomplishments of all of its graduates, it makes a
concerted effort to affirm the otherwise mitigated ministries of our LGBT alumni and alumnae.

• Transforming our World
By beginning within our Seminary community and going out into the world, SFTS aims to work against sexual and/or gender injustice and inequality. We welcome those who would join us in our celebration of God’s expansive light.
That resolution demonstrates the importance of the issue and its related subjects to the seminary students The Board made no comment… A press officer for the Seminary wrote in an email,
As our press release mentions, the Inclusive Community Statement was presented to the Board of Trustees for final review on May 3, 2011. There was no vote; there was no endorsement. The statement was presented, and that’s it. .)
If this document and seminary statement helps to recognize the progressive nature of the area, and even as expressed in the more moderate way by the seminary, the following statement regarding the issues adds to the profile made here. In this instance, The Reverend Doctor Mary Holder Naegeli said by phone, “It is important for progressives to know that conservative/orthodox people like me are not hard-hearted. The people I work with are some of the most patient, gracious ministers around. They do not avoid ministering to gays by holding the theological positions they do. We are all sinners. Whatever our prevailing sins are, we are trying to live lives that make our repentance visible and the transformative gospel real.”

She wrote in a statement regarding the issue of homosexual marriage:

The Reverend Doctor Mary Holder Naegeli

There are three facets to the biblical claim that marriage is between a man and a woman and not between two people of the same sex:
1) Throughout Scripture, there is the clear prescription and the ongoing presumption of a male-female prerequisite for marriage. Marriage was designed and intended by God as a complementary covenant between a man and a woman. The biblical roots of this claim go right to the beginning, the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1:27-28, ³So God created humankind in his image; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ³Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .² In Genesis 2:18-24, ³Then the LORD God said, ³It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner. . . . And [the Lord] brought [the woman] to the man, who said,
³This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.² Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.² Jesus (Matt. 19:5) and the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5:31) quoted these verses indicating their ongoing truth and authority to define God¹s design for humanity.
2) There is no direct biblical justification or approval of same-sex relations anywhere.
3) There is repeated and univocal witness throughout Scripture that homosexual relations are contrary to the will of God. This prohibition of same-sex practice is made in Old and New Testaments and is expressed in the strongest of terms. Levitical law (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), Paul¹s letters (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10), as well as the practice of the Early Church (Acts 15:29) codify the proscription.

When you put these clear prohibitions alongside the joyful celebration of heterosexual marriage, it is impossible to approve‹from a biblical standpoint‹ any sexual option other than faithful heterosexual marriage or sexual abstinence…
The Rev. Dr. Mary Holder Naegeli

The Reverend Doctor is Executive Director of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and was part of the research for this article, just as The Reverend Kelsey Ingalls, a family minister who was present at the event, a voting member of the Redwoods Presbytery writes this statement about what happened:
At our quarterly Redwoods Presbytery meeting (gathering of teaching and ruling elders from the north coast area) we were to read a rebuke towards one of our ministers who had violated the PC(USA)’s Book of Order, the constitution and ruling documents of our denomination.

Before the rebuke was read there was a motion on the floor to descent as a Presbytery and not have the rebuke read. Many people got up to speak in favor of this motion. They felt very strongly that the rebuke was harmful to the LGBT community and to the church as a whole.

As this went on I realized that there was a minority voice in the church that was not being heard. I don’t know much about this issue, but I felt strongly that the silent voice of many people in the church needed to be represented.

So I spoke out against the motion, pointing out that to dissent against the rebuke was to go against our Book of Order, which we as Presbyterians see as a representation of Scripture. As a national church, over hundreds of years, we have shaped our constitution, the Book of Order, to follow scripture, Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Order is to guide us as we minister and live in community as the body of Christ. It is not Scripture, but it represents the standards and beliefs we find in the scriptures to be true and important.
Many people in our congregations will see this descent as going against the Book of Order and going against what is found in the Bible. That voice was not being heard as the motion was being discussed, so I got up and said how hurtful and oppressive this motion would be to these people.

In the end the motion carried by an overwhelming majority and the rebuke wasn’t read. There may or may not be repercussions for our actions as a Presbytery by the national governing body of our church. Time will tell. This was not how I expected my day to go when I got up that morning to go to a routine Presbytery meeting, but this is part of what we do as a governing body.

I would like to say that in reality it is a very small part of what we do. We strive to follow the Lord and minister to all of God’s people through the guidance of Scripture, the grace and salvation of Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. If you want a real story about what the churches in our denomination are up to come check out all the hard work that goes into our rummage sale, which supports our mission trips, or our Youth Sunday this week as children lead us in worshiping the Lord. That is the real focus of my week, and I am looking forward to getting back to it.

Reverend who wasn’t happy with the proceeding results, Reverend Ingalls, family minister
Reverend Ingalls was a voting individual who was present and certainly held a minority view, considering the overwhelming support for the protest of the rebuke judgment against The Reverend Jane Spahr. Reverend Ingalls was interviewed by phone, and responded by email. The Reverend Jane Spahr did not want to talk with this Religion Writer, so was learned through a spokesman. That press officer wrote in an email:
Hi Peter, Thanks for your work on this. I have no further comment. Cordially, Richard Lindsay
On Tue, May 22, 2012 at 9:52 AM, Peter Menkin wrote:

Dear Richard:
I hope to finish this story’s research this week, latest. Please let me know if you want to talk by phone: also Reverend Janie.
Thank you,
Yours sincerely,
Peter Menkin

There is little doubt that the vote by Redwoods Presbytery was well thought out and planned. As Anitra Kitts writes in her Presbyterian News Service report:
Spahr was present, along with a large contingent of friends, family members, and several of the couples she married in 2010. After an extended and emotional discussion, the Rev. Scott Clark, Spahr’s co-counsel, introduced the prevailing motion to “oppose imposition of the rebuke as set forth in the original decision of the presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission, dated August 27, 2010, (which was stayed by its terms until the present day).”
Clark’s motion further stated that the 2010 decision was “…inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the faithful life of ministry lived out in this Presbytery.”

As this Religion Writer compiles some of the research from his reporting, it is important to note that the Chaplain at San Francisco Theological Seminary wrote the resolution that comprised the vote of protest. The Reverend Scott Clark, who is the second homosexual man to be ordained in The Presbyterian Church USA, was its author. He was ordained at the same Church where the meeting of Redwood Presbytery was held. News of his ordination can be found, among other places, here.
One report says, Joining in the massive laying on of hands as Clark was ordained was Rev. Dr. James L. McDonald, the new president at SFTS.

‘This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it,’ said McDonald. ‘Scott’s ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a confirmation of his call and his wonderful gifts for ministry.’ Chaplain Scott is partnered to another man in marriage, the Chaplain says.

In the report by Presbyterian News Service, it is important to note The Reverend Robert Conover’s remarks: “The presbytery basically said, ‘We oppose this decision,’” said the Rev. Robert Conover, Redwoods Presbytery stated clerk, after the meeting. “As individuals, each member could have filled out a statement of dissent but instead the presbytery as whole made this statement.”

“Perhaps the majority, perhaps all of them, thought they had removed the rebuke but I don’t see how it is in the power of the presbytery to do that,” Conover said, adding that he had about 30 minutes notice on the Clark motion before the beginning of the meeting.

The Seminary was keen on having this ordination at a Church nearby, and the Seminary President laid hands on the new Reverend. It is also emphasized by The Reverend Robert Conover, stated clerk, that, “the presbytery as a whole made this statement” regarding their opposition to the decision of Rebuke. One wonders if this is another sign of the times of people not getting along, being in conflict and not in agreement. Our U.S. Congress practices this kind of thing. Apparently, though the progressive Redwoods Presbytery is also keen on their stand for homosexual marriage, and of course ordaining homosexual men and women in the Presbyterian Church USA. The second form of ordination was not in question at the gathering of delegates.

Daniel Christian.
St. Luke Presbyterian Church.
Progressive Minister,
Preaches pro Gay Marriage
from the Pulpit.
In discussing the matter of homosexual marriage, another clergyman of the Presbyterian Church (The Reverend Daniel Christian, St. Luke Presbyterian Church) in this progressive area gave this sermon in his Church, found here. Many players in the Redwoods Presbytery scenario chose not to comment, sometimes just refusing and others not being available. The Reverend Joanne Whitt, the pastor of the Church in San Anselmo where the event occurred, did not want to comment. She suggested this Religion Writer read her sermon on the subject of homosexual marriage, a statement in favor of same. Note The Reverend Joanne Whitt is a member of the Board of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Her sermon is here. An audio of her sermon, Even on Them, Even on Us, is here.

San Francisco Theological Seminary,
part of Graduate Theological Union.
This Presbyterian Seminary
located San Anselmo, California.
There is little doubt after hearing the audio version of one sermon, and reading another sermon, that one by The Reverend Joanne Whitt, and after the resolution by the Redwoods Presbytery, that they want to change Presbyterian Church USA. They want homosexual marriage, and they want inclusion, as defined by them by the statement by San Francisco Theological Seminary. Maybe a statement more moderate than some, it still makes its point, if even not an instrument of the Redwoods Presbytery. More representative is the resolution signed by Reverend Donovan and written by Chaplain Scott Clark. It is found at the beginning of this report. It is also found on this page.

In discussing the matter of homosexual marriage, another clergyman (The Reverend Daniel Christian) of the Presbyterian Church in this progressive area gave this sermon in his Church, found here. Many players in the Redwoods Presbytery scenario chose not to comment, sometimes just refusing and others not Brewster, and Sara Taylor. You might start with Scott, as he introduced the motion which the Presbytery voted on to oppose the rebuke of Rev. Spahr. Yours, Richard Lindsay
Sarah Taylor was not available. First said she would talk, then she went out of town and was not around. Beverly Brewster asked not to be mentioned in this report after sending in a statement of her making and commenting at length in background. Her reason for wanting to pull out was the report would be anti-Gay and unfair. Scott Clark wrote the motion that was passed.

More importantly, in a Press Release, Richard Lindsay wrote this as the section of the motion most important to his clients, and provided these remarks:

“…WHEREAS the love of God in Jesus Christ is for all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;
“WHEREAS, The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the constitution require that full inclusion and pastoral care be extended to all members of the church…
“…WHEREAS, the 38-year ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr has been faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to her calling…
“…Be it RESOLVED that the Presbytery of the Redwoods opposes imposition of the rebuke set forth in the decision dated August 27, 2010, as inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the faithful life of ministry lived out in this Presbytery.”

“Several of those in attendance stood up and spoke in favor of the motion. Three spoke against. “Rev. Jim Rigby, a visiting Presbyterian minister from Austin, Texas called on the Redwoods Presbytery, to be a “lighthouse to the nation.” Rigby challenged the Presbytery to, “Cross the line and suffer for the values which you hold. To participate with this rebuke will be an act of violence not only against LGBT people but against your own conscience.”

“Speaking on her own behalf, and on behalf of the couples she had married, Spahr stated, “This rebuke is not about me. I’m not afraid to be rebuked, but stop rebuking the love of these couples. If we stop this rebuke, we can help stop the violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the church.”

This article appeared originally Church of England Newspaper, London. To write the author, Peter Menkin, email: .

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