Those who have followed the trials of Jane Adams Spahr know that this weekend was to mark the end of a very long process. She had been found guilty for performing same sex unions in the Presbyterian Church and was to be officially rebuked at the meeting yesterday of Redwoods Presbytery in California. Instead, something very strange happened. Scott Clark, one of her attorneys, rose to ask the Presbytery not to rebuke her. In other words, he was asking them to be civilly disobedient within the Presbyterian Church.
Redwoods Presbytery is one of the most liberal in the denomination, but because same sex marriage is prohibited by the denomination, their support has been limited. If they were going to fit comfortably in the structure, they had to say one thing and do another.
To refuse to issue the rebuke was a very brave and difficult thing for a Presbytery to do. If they refused, someone would almost certainly file charges against the Presbytery for not obeying the rules. It would cost the Presbytery untold tens of thousands of dollars and years of stress.
There were speeches on both sides, but the ones recommending that the Presbytery refuse to co-operate had a basic theme. The body was asked to place scripture ahead of the book of Rules, and loyalty to Jesus ahead of their loyalty to a denomination. There was also a concern for those who opposed the decision. The Presbytery Exec assured them if the motion passed that they could express their opinions in a minority report.
As the speeches show up on the web I’ll try to post them somewhere. This was mine as best I can remember:
“I am Jim Rigby from Mission Presbytery. I have come from Texas to implore you not to participate in this rebuke. Redwood Presbytery has been a lighthouse to this denomination for years. You are the Presbytery that first said clearly that it is time for justice for GLBT people. You are the first who said, through your PJC, that Janie’s hospitality to all persons is what Jesus calls us to do.
But there comes a day when words are not enough. There comes a day when as Gandhi said we must become the change we wish to see in the world. There comes a day when verbal support is not enough and we must be willing to cross the line and to suffer for the people we say we love and for the Jesus we say we follow.
We are not helpless. We do not have the right to be a cog in the machine of someone else’s oppression. As the Westminster Confession says you do not have the right to surrender our conscience to any human council. We are responsible before Christ for how we treat every human being.
This rebuke will be an act of violence against your GLBT brothers and sisters, and it will be an act of violence against your own conscience. I implore you to cross the line and do what you know to be right.”
When the time came to vote, the Presbytery voted overwhelmingly not to rebuke Rev. Spahr. Then there was a moment of slightly stunned silence as the body realized what they had just done. They knew they had possibly just headed into a storm. Lunch afterward was strangely quiet. People did not seem to divide up by political position but both sides seemed to seek out a time of communion. A relief seemed to settle over the group. It was the peace of mind felt by those who have determined that they will follow their principles at any cost.