On the GAPJC’s Spahr (2012) Decision

On February 20, 2012, a deeply-divided GAPJC affirmed the rebuke of the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr for having performed marriages for same-gender couples.  We stand in solidarity with Rev. Spahr, and with all teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders who desire to extend the church’s celebration, recognition, and nurture to same-gender couples just as they do to heterosexual couples in civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage is authorized.

Though pastors have considerable latitude in officiating same gender unions, this most recent decision re-emphasizes that pastors must not represent that same gender unions are marriages recognized by the PCUSA, even when they are civil legal marriages.   As we have long advised, the GAPJC’s authoritative interpretations going back to 2000 require pastors to make clear the union’s status under PCUSA polity.  A pastor could provide this clarification as a statement of solidarity rather than a legalistic disclaimer. For example, the pastor might declare at the beginning of the service that “While we lament that the Presbyterian Church does not regard this relationship as a marriage, we pledge to support and nurture this couple in their commitment just as we support all whom we marry,” and/or add similar language to the bulletin.

Of course, each state is different in its requirements, and officiants need to focus carefully on the secular (as well as ecclesiastical) rules in deciding how to proceed. Covenant Network stands ready to support clergy who are requested to preside over services that bless these relationships in states where such marriages are legal.

Our church’s highest court has been forced to confront the issue of same-gender marriage services at least four times over the past 10 years, producing many dissenting and concurring opinions.  Thus, even at the highest levels of the PCUSA, there is persistent disagreement – compelling evidence that the current Constitution can be, and is, interpreted very differently.  While some have challenged authoritative interpretation as a legitimate means of proceeding, and have argued that only a constitutional amendment would be proper, this case makes clear that authoritative interpretation of our Constitution’s provisions is a proper means of addressing these pressing issues.

We thus urge the 220th General Assembly (2012) to issue an authoritative interpretation making clear that teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders may perform same sex marriages, where civil law provides for those, without fear of discipline.

Mary Lynn Tobin and David Van Dyke, Co-Moderators
Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Comments

  1. Ted Coppock says:

    I personally fully agree with Covenant Networks position and will advocate for an AI in Pittsburg this summer. Presbytery of Des Moines showed their support by over 60% positive vote to support the AI

  2. Jeff Winter says:

    I will be working overtime at GA to prevent pastors and elders being allowed to officiate same-sex weddings. I live in a stare that allows for same-sex marriage. I have been asked on several occasions to marry either a gay or lesbian couple. I say no because the Word of God says no to such unions plus my denominaiton says no.

  3. Shame on the GAPJC for putting polity above Christ. While I will also support those who journey to Pittsburgh to work for change at the GA, we all know the real work is at the congregation level. As teaching and ruling elders realize how this decision attempts to bind their conscience, I pray more will move to ecclesiastical disobedience. I will also pray for Jeff Winter. Someday he will discover to his everlasting shame the cruelty of his position. May God have mercy on his conscience.

  4. Janice Van Derbur says:

    Bravo Covenant Network! Nice part of the Presbyterian Church doing as Jesus commanded – loving one another and not judging others.

  5. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says:

    What about Jesus’ discussion of “since the beginning” a man shall leave his family and be united with his wife? Mark 10:
    1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
    2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

    3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

    4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

    5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

    Seems like a different command from the one listed above.

  6. Culley Parris says:

    It seems that many have forgotten that scripture calls us to recognize sin as real – and that we are ALL sinners. Recognizing sin as clearly defined by scripture is not rejecting, unloving, mean, or bigoted. It is only those things if it is abused by man. We are not called to distort or stretch the univalent witness of scripture to more comfortably include choices or behaviors that are clearly called sin in the direct reading of scripture.

    To do otherwise is to determine ourselves what is “the word”, thereby executing, by our own arrogance, The Word – which is light and life as I think John would put it.
    When we lose our grip on scripture as The Word, then I am convinced the gospel is in great peril.

  7. Thank you, Mr. Fultz for your thoughtful and scriptural response. The wonderful thing is that this emphasis on male and female in the Bible is not a side issue as some would assert, but is actually the heart of the good news. What, after all, do we see in Isaiah 53 and 54? a man (Isaiah 53), the Lord Jesus Anointed, making a woman (Isaiah 54) “Lady” Zion, gloriously happy, “for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left.” In all other cultures, except perhaps the Egyptian, women were sidelined, they were “the old ball and chain,” only good to produce children, but in the Bible, things are completely different. Even Adam and Eve are only a preview of the romance between God and Lady Zion found in those crucial chapters. How crucial the scholars have yet to acknowledge, but it seems that even Morna Hooker (who forced us to stop being so awfully lazy about the Servant Songs) is now cheerfully admitting that Isaiah 53 is found in Paul. We shall hope for even more in the years to come! God bless!

Comments will go through moderation before they are posted. Those wishing to leave a comment must include their full name and a working email address, and all comments must be respectful and civil. Personal, ad hominem, or anonymous comments will not be allowed.