Will Jane Spahr rally gays in San Jose?
John H. Adams, The Layman, May 27, 2008
Lesbian activist Jane Adams Spahr, now honorably retired as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), has been doing a brisk business in conducting “marriage” services for same-gender couples.
She told The Layman that she recently conducted a service in New York, has another scheduled in Las Vegas and will probably repeat several services in California. The reruns are for couples who want to take advantage of the California Supreme Court’s ruling that the state must recognize the marriages of gay couples.
Photo by Evan Silverstein
The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr (right) and her attorney, Sara Taylor, during Spahr’s March 2006 trial on charges of performing same-sex marriages. Spahr called the California decision “thrilling.” In her own case, the decision by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, which overruled a rebuke by a synod court, was “sad.”
The PCUSA’s highest court said the rebuke was not appropriate because there’s no such thing as a “marriage” between two people of the same gender. “It makes me so sad to hear it’s not a marriage,” she told The Layman. “What else is it? Now to think that the government has gone ahead of the church!”
She said she’s weary of describing what she does as “blessings, unions and celebrations.” Spahr said the terminology is important. Without having the church designate their unions as marriages, she said, homosexual couples are being depicted as second-class citizens. She argued that the PCUSA is condoning the possibility of violence toward those couples.
The California case and Spahr’s Presbyterian trial will be in the mix for the meeting of the 218th General Assembly in San Jose June 21-28. Spahr first said she wouldn’t attend the General Assembly, but later hinted that she may.
She is reluctant to go to San Jose because she recently retired as the staff leader of That All May Freely Serve, a gay activist group. She said she preferred to skip the General Assembly out of deference to her successor, Lisa Larges, also a gay activist.
Like Spahr, Larges is no shrinking violet. At the behest of Rick Ufford-Chase, then moderator of the General Assembly, Larges was invited to the podium to lead the commissioners in prayer during the 2004 General Assembly. Her prayer was mostly a political statement. “Let us not be the church that continues violence, because it would be better to close the doors, take out the pews and tear down the pulpits,” said Larges, who was denied ordination to the office of minister of Word and sacrament by San Francisco Presbytery. Recently, the presbytery accepted her as a candidate for ordination despite the constitutional prohibition against ordaining self-avowed lesbians.
But when Spahr was asked about the convergence of her case, the California ruling and a Baltimore overture that asks the General Assembly to rewrite the Book of Order to allow Presbyterian ministers to conduct wedding services for gay couples, she modified her “definitely not” to a “we’ll see.”
Spahr would be a magnet for demonstrations and lobbying for the Baltimore overture in a region of the nation where the homosexual population is high and its politics is aggressive and effective. Census figures estimate that there are more than 106,000 couples who have registered in the state as “domestic partners,” which gives them all the rights and privileges of marriage except the word itself.
For sure, there are many more California couples who haven’t signed up for legal recognition, so the total tally for interest in state law and Presbyterian law is in the hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, factor in the PCUSA’s own lobbyists against traditional standards for sexual behavior – including many of the staff members who will be in San Jose – and it’s virtually guaranteed that there’ll be a welcome mat for gay activists.
In sum, there’s a lot of kindling for what could become a huge theological and legal conflagration. And Ms. Spahr loves that kind of clamor. Her California friends would hold her up as a poster-pastor, the lady who dared to marry couples while her own denomination declared she did no such thing.
They’ll be there to demonstrate, cheer, and shower the denomination’s traditionalists with their usual perjoratives: homophobes, racists, misogynists.
Also, they’ll claim a theological lever: Micah 6:8, the theme verse for the meeting. “What does the Lord require of you but to love justice, do mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Of course, it’ll be taken out of context, just as previous appeals by the homosexual activists in the denomination have done with other Scripture: “Judge not, lest you be judged,” etc.
Spahr has been in this battle many times. She was married in 1964, ordained by the United Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1974, divorced in 1978. She publicly declared that she was a lesbian in 1985. In 1992, the denomination’s highest court rejected her call to serve as the associate pastor of a Rochester, N.Y., congregation. She was not qualified, the court said, because she was in a sexual relationship with another woman. When asked once if she was a “practicing lesbian,” she retorted, “No, I’m good at it.”
Finally, there’s the Baltimore overture, which could well be dubbed the “California overture” or the “Spahr overture.” The overture calls for rewriting W-9001 in the Book of Order. This is how it would change:
- “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract covenant between a woman and a man two people and according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman two people are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
Does that proposal, which would have to be ratified by the PCUSA’s presbyteries in a national referendum, have a snowball’s chance in San Jose? Who knows? General Assemblies are tilting leftward, that’s for sure. This one could go further after it hears from Spahr and her friends. But if the commissioners leap over the marriage cliff, they’ll merely speed up the vanishing act of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
But Spahr doesn’t seem to be worried about the impact on the denomination.
“If they could meet the couples and see who they are … I want the church to come with us and see who we are … Some of these couples have been together for 30 years. I want the people to see the harm they can do … What are the myths we can explode?”
The biggest myth, she says, is that marriage is a union between only a man and a woman.