Janie Spahr GAPJC Appeal Notes
Since there is no transmission allowed from today’s General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission session I’m taking notes. These would otherwise be livetweet and Facebook updates, so I’ll just post — without any editing. :-)
[Of course I have plenty of opinion (and snark) but I’ll share those separately.]
Rules, parties and charges have been explained beginning promptly at 1:30. Up to two hours has been allowed. GAPJC = General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (denominational “supreme court”) Members are introducing themselves. Each synod (regional governing body) has one commissioner; there are 17 synods. One is absent, and no one has recused him- or herself.
Janie’s first co-counsel Sara Taylor* is up first. She’s talking about this case compared to the earlier one against Janie: the previous case involved holy unions, this time it includes legal civil marriages.
Reference to John Calvin Marriage Covenant of 1542, laying out the modern definition of marriage as background.
Sara served as counsel for the Rev. Jean Southard when she had similar charges filed against her.
In describing the marriages, Sara is introducing the couples who are here — and they are standing — and are telling the commission what marriage means to each of them.
Sara is now reminding the commission that the denomination has led the way in so many historical issues. So far this has not been the case with marriage. She is talking about the freedom of Teaching Elders to perform the duties of their roles as they are led by the Spirit.
We cannot legislate into being a standard based on a precident with completely different circumstances.
Co-counsel Scott Clark steps to the podium to continue. Describing the California Supreme Court decision in 2008 throwing out the prohibition of same sex couples to marry.
Couples wanting to marry legally turned to Janie as their pastor to officiate at their weddings. It was far more than the ceremony, but incorporating the pastor into this critical life transition time. Scott continues, outlining the mixed and “anguished decision” by Redwoods Presbytery in their verdict – that Janie did the right thing, but that it was narrowly against the Book of Order (church constitution). He describes the inconsistencies in the BoO.
Now Scott is talking about the movement in the civil realm, with seven states now having legal marriage and more to come, and how pastors are being prohibited from performing their pastoral duties to same sex couples.
Next up is JoAn Blackstone, counsel for the anonymous party who brought the charges against Janie. [Note: in listening to her in the past trials, I find her hard to follow.]
Blackstone holds that the version of the BoO that was in effect at the time of the “infraction” is what should be used in the commission’s discernment.
She next outlines an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) issued in which ministers are prohibited from participating in ceremonies purporting that holy unions, etc are substantively the same as marriages.
She continues to say that the prior Spahr decision can and should be used as a precident. She says that nothing has been changed by two General Assemblies since the 2008 Spahr decision, so it should hold.
We are bound by AIs until they are otherwise rescinded. We agree in our polity to go through the process of changing AIs. There is no restrictions on membership of LGBT people. However, this does not mean that everyone has access to everything in the church.
These were clearly ecclesiastical marriages in Rev. Spahr’s mind, but they were prohibited under the rules of our denomination. She is not free to perform the duties of a Teaching Elder as she perceives it and her conscience; she must follow the rules.
Scott Clark had only 15 seconds for rebuttal. :-)
Time for Q&A.
Commissioner asks about marriage under California law and clergy standing. No disagreement that these are “absolutely legal” marriages.
Another commissioner asks about if Janie had participated in the services but not signed the certificates, would that be allowed. Blackstone says it depends on the kind of participation. Clark says it’s problematic: ecclesiastical marriage including pre-marital counseling, use of church property, etc, has been interpreted to be “the same as” but there is no clear-cut written standard. He refers to Janie’s requirement of a full year of premarital counseling as a faithful act. Taylor reminds the commission about the definition of Authoritative Interpretations in the Book of Order. Discussion of AIs, the constitution, and the fluidity of civil law.
Another commissioner asks Blackstone if there is any circumstance under which a PCUSA pastor could officiate at a marriage of a same sex couples. Not under the current definition. [Expansion that I lost. Sorry.]
Commissioner asks about marriages and man-and-woman language. Scott Clark refers them back to Blackstone’s argument. He continues that this section of the constitution is a beautiful theological narrative, not a legal, regulatory standard. The language was written before the current circumstances. Historically changes begin with church court decisions, and subsequently conversations and decisions take place at the General Assembly itself.
Question if the GAPJC can make a decision one way, why can’t they then decide another way? Blackstone says it’s possible but inconsistent.
Constitution vests discretion with the pastor, says Taylor.
Was there such a prohibition prior to the 2008 Spahr decision? Blackstone: no express prohibition.
Hearing is concluded with prayer by the moderator at 3:05pm.
The commission must deliberate on this and the other two cases they heard and render a decision. It gets mailed out, which means it will go out on Tuesday (Monday being Presidents Day). We will likely know on Wednesday.
Your faithful servant,
* Sara and her wife Sherry are one of the couples who were married by the Rev. Janie Spahr.