Lesbian reverend at heart of Presbyterian same-sex marriage quandary

Reuters file photoReverend Jane Spahr is seen in San Antonio

Reuters file photoReverend Jane Spahr is seen in San Antonio

As the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s legislative body considers this week whether to allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages, Reverend Jane Spahr will not be present. But in some ways she will be at the center of the proceedings.

Spahr, a 69-year-old lesbian evangelist who has defied the church and been rebuked by a church court for performing same-sex weddings in California, has been an outspoken advocate for liberalizing church policy on weddings.

The Presbyterian Church allows ministers to bless same-sex unions but prohibits them from solemnizing such civil nuptials. But at its biennial convention, which is being held in Spahr's native Pittsburgh, church leaders are debating whether to change that and may reach a decision this week.

One proposal is to change how church doctrine defines marriage. Another would interpret the constitution's language on marriage as descriptive, rather than prohibitive, and allow pastors in states where gay marriage is legal to immediately begin performing same-sex weddings.

Both measures would allow ministers to officiate at gay weddings but would not compel pastors to perform the ceremonies.

“I'm hoping that the General Assembly will be touched by the spirit, and they will see our marriages not as second class but as equal with our brothers and sisters,” Spahr said from San Francisco, where she lives.

The gay-marriage question highlights deep divisions within the Presbyterian Church and its 1.9 million members, as congregants increasingly ask ministers to bless same-sex marriages. Civil gay marriage is now legal in six U.S. states.

Reform Jews, Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings. The United Methodist Church, the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, forbids it.

The Episcopal Church, which will hold its own convention this month, is divided over the question.

Spahr has twice stood trial in Presbyterian Church courts for performing same-sex weddings. In a 9-6 ruling in February, the denomination's highest court upheld the ecclesiastical rebuke of her for officiating at 16 gay and lesbian weddings in California and ordered her censured.

The dissenters called on those assembled in Pittsburgh this week to reconcile what they described as a conflict between same-sex matrimony and the Bible's directive for the church to welcome everyone.

The dissenters wrote that Spahr's censure perpetuates the notion that gay couples “are children of a lesser God.”

The effort has angered some in the church.

“Any departure from that standard by the church is evidence that the church is not living subject to the authority of the Bible,” Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee.

newsUS

Just Posted

San Franciscans are likely to have the opportunity to vote in four different elections in 2022. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Electionpalooza: SF school board recall will kick off a flurry of local races

‘It’s going to be a lot of elections and a lot of decisions for voters to make’

Four young politicos were elected to various city councils on the Peninsula in 2020. From left: Redwood City councilmember Michael Smith; South San Francisco councilmember James Coleman; Redwood City councilmember Lissette Espinoza-Garnica; and East Palo Alto councilmember Antonio Lopez. (Examiner Illustration/Courtesy Photos)
Progressive politicians rise to power on the Peninsula. Will redistricting reverse the trend?

‘There’s this wave of young people really trying to shake things up’

The fate of San Francisco nicotine giant Juul remains to be seen, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether to allow certain flavored vape products on the market. <ins>(Jeenah Moon/New York Times)</ins>
How the vape king of teen nicotine addiction rose and fell in San Francisco

‘Hey, Juul, don’t let the door hit you on the way out’

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

The Nudge is a startup that points users who sign up for text notifications to fun experiences and buzzworthy places. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
The ‘anti-startup’ aims to get people off their phones and into the world

‘I realized actually doing things made me happy’

Most Read