Presbyterians Struggle with Inclusion and Doctrine

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) today upheld the censure of Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr. The commission, which is made up of ministers and elders from within the church, gathered on Friday in San Antonio, Texas to decide whether or not to uphold the censure of Rev. Spahr, who officiated the weddings of 16 gay and lesbian couples when marriage equality was briefly legalized in California in 2008. She was previously censured by two lower church courts for presiding over the weddings, but was, at the same time, praised for her courage in ministering to LGBT members of the church. Despite changes to the church’s ordination policy last summer to officially welcome gay and lesbian ministers, the Presbyterian Church’s doctrine is not clear on the issue of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, stating both that marriage is “a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family” and that marriage is “a civil contract between a woman and a man.” This confusion opens the door to questions about the validity of Rev. Spahr’s censure.

In a press release released before Friday’s hearing, Rev. Spahr and her lawyers said:

Rev. Spahr hopes her appeal hearing will clarify how the denomination’s ministers can pastorally participate in such celebrations. “To send these couples away from the church would be going against what I believe about God and God’s welcome. It would go against my faith and my call,” she says. “I believe we are given a sacred responsibility to help be a part of a couple’s journey toward a life of deep loving and commitment.”

The commission’s decision was not unanimous. In one of two dissenting statements, the five members who voted against upholding the censure stated:

We cannot perpetuate the idea that LGBT couples are children of a lesser God. They are ethically and spiritually the equals of heterosexual couples in the eyes of our Lord. None of us can honestly declare to a committed couple that somehow heterosexuals reflect a more perfect image of the God we worship than they who view their gender differently. Our denomination has failed to do justice to the LGBT community while emphasizing the traditions of heterosexual marriage

A copy of the full decision (pdf) is available via the Presbyterian Church (USA) website.

Faith leaders continue to play a vital role in our efforts to ensure that all loving and committed couples are able to take care of and provide for the people they love, through marriage. GLAAD urges the media to fairly and accurately tell this story and encourages you to alert us of any problematic coverage.