Friday, August 27, 2010

Presbyterians: Modern Day Pharisees

Today, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of the Redwoods voted to rebuke Rev. Janie Spahr for offering the same pastoral care to all couples she marries. The commission noted the ministry of compassion and justice of Rev. Spahr, recognizing the "conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel." Part of the Book of Order describes marriage as "a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family." W-4.9001. That sentence is followed by an untrue statement, "Marriage is a civil contract between and woman and a man." While the commission recognizes that this is a cultural standard, and differs from marriage in the Bible which describes marriage as a transfer of women (plural) from one man to another.

In narrowly following the rationale of the Authoritative Interpretation on W-4.9001, they continue to perpetuate a definition of marriage that is not true in six (6) states and the District of Columbia. In doing so, they perpetuate the second class citizenship of LGBTQ church members in those jurisdictions and those states which have not yet recognized the inherent dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ person - despite PC (USA) policies elsewhere calling for the full and equal civil rights for all people. The easiest way for such equality is for federal marriage equality to be enacted.

Asking the forgiveness of the couples who testified while censuring the Minister of Word and Sacrament who has been the face of Jesus and the expression of God's kingdom to them effectively places keeping the inconsistent rules of the denomination above the pastoral care, equality, and justice of the people involved in these legal weddings. Because the GAPJC didn't address this issue directly in 2008, exonerating Rev. Spahr by saying the weddings she performed previously weren't real, legal marriages, the issue that the weddings being considered in this PJC were legal weddings remains. Ministers in these seven jurisdictions remain in the unenviable position of having to choose between following those parts of the Book of Order which compel them to offer the same pastoral care to all people, including pre-marital counseling and the performance of legal weddings, or adhering to the biases of other parts of the Book of Order mentioned above which discriminate against LGBTQ members.

I can't see Rev. Janie refraining from performing marriages in the future. What I do forsee, however, is a growing number of Ministers in the PC (USA) who will no longer participate in such discrimination, despite the potential results. I for one, will no longer do so. I won't be a Pharisee any longer. I will live out the Gospel by doing those acts that point to the full humanity of all people, including performing marriages for all those couples who will take the time to prepare for the most important partnership in their life. Only this will allow me to keep all of the ordination vows I made in July 2004 when I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC (USA).

I helped write and offer to you the Minneapolis Declaration of Conscience. Perhaps you are ready to sign on:


There was some amazing analysis on the unscriptural nature of such questions offered on the Presbyterian Outlooks Blogs. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the biblical faith and follow Jesus into challenging all of those interpretations of scripture that tell sisters and brothers to wait for the kindom of God in their midst.

tomegg's Blog on the Presbyterian Outlook:
Description:I'm currently an interim at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles. I was ordained January 27, 1970, and that seems a long time ago. I've been all over the map with the Presbyterian Church, and these days, love it more than ever, though love, if it's real, is never blind! I'm married to a lovely lady who's never been afraid to challenge me, which makes her my best friend. I have two fascinating adult children with big hearts and much skill. I am blessed for sure!

As I read today's note in the LA Times about Jane Spahr to be tried by the PCUSA, I couldn't help but think of the text for this past Sunday, Luke 13:10-17, Jesus setting a woman free from 18 years of affliction, and doing so on the Sabbath, to make a point (he and the lady could have waited 24 hours) - healing is what the Sabbath is all about.

And then the synagogue leader weighs in - scolding folks, "Hey, we've got six days for work, and if you want healing, come on those days, but the Sabbath is for rest - keep it holy - no work!"

And that's when Jesus lays into the leader and his gang, "You hypocrites. You wouldn't treat an ox or donkey this way - you lead them to water on the Sabbath, so why deny the water of life to this woman on the Sabbath? What better day is there for revealing the love of God and the freedom therein?"

While Jesus stood on the intent of the law, the leader clung to the letter of the law. And according to the law, the leader was right and Jesus was wrong.

So, here we go again, arguing about our laws.

And missing the point of the kingdom of God.

Jane Spahr is technically wrong, if that's the tact we wish to take. Jesus was wrong, too, and someone might have told him, "Wait 24 hours. Then do your healing. No one will be offended, the law will be maintained and everyone will be happy."
But Jesus didn't wait, because love and mercy and forgiveness and hope can't wait.

So ... we'll drag Jane into the mud of our own foolish little world of rules - rules that keep people bound - hungering and thirsting for a better day.

We wouldn't treat a dog this way.

But people?

Yeah, keep 'em tied up, and tie 'em up all the more with rules upon rules, until no one knows which way is up.
Sure, I am what I am - a supporter of marriage equality, comfortable with the biblical work done by Jack Rogers and others.
And I've been called an apostate, a heretic and a servant of Satan.

No one has the final word, and I surely don't claim that, but with prayer and study, I've made my decision some years ago to no longer wait, and just to keep myself honest, I continue to study and think about these things.

But I write this note with a certain conviction, that Jane Spahr is pointing the way ahead, reminding us what the church and our faith is all about - setting people free. While the charges fly and the legal briefs are prepared, the PCUSA finds itself in the uncomfortable place of the synagogue leader.

That's how I see it these days.

August 24, 2010Posted by tomegg | Sabbath, PCUSA, Ordination for GLBT persons, Jane Spahr, GLBT Concerns | Comment (2)

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