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Presbyterianism  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

In the first year after the new ordination standards were officially approved, about a dozen sexually active gay or lesbian clergy members were ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The other battle within the Presbyterian Church (USA) is over same-sex marriage. For many years Presbyterian clergy have been permitted to bless same-sex couples in church buildings. However, in 1991, the General Assembly adopted a report stating emphatically that "it is not proper for ministers to conduct ceremonies represented as marriages between persons of the same sex."

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While ministers are permitted to conduct blessings, they are urged to "instruct same-sex couples that the service to be conducted does not constitute a marriage ceremony and should not be held out as such." Moreover, "services where a same-gender union is blessed or performed should have a liturgical distinction from marriage services."

Marriage is defined in the PCUSA Book of Order as "a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman 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, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith."

Judicial rulings have established that Presbyterian clergy are prohibited from performing same-sex marriages and that church facilities may not be used for same-sex marriages.

Despite such rulings, more than a dozen Presbyterian clergy have nevertheless performed same-sex marriages, and in so doing have kept the debate about same-sex marriage in the PCUSA at the forefront.

Rev. Jane Spahr has been the most visible challenger to the denomination's prohibition against officiating at same-sex marriages. She has gone through several church trials and many appeals for having performed same-sex marriages and commitment services.

In 2006, Spahr was charged with having presided over a same-sex marriage. In 2007, she was convicted in a regional court, but in 2008 the charges were dismissed when the denomination's highest court ruled that the ceremony was not actually a marriage since it was not recognized by either church or state.

However, soon after that ruling was made, during the "window" in 2008 in which same-sex marriages were recognized in California, Spahr wed more than 16 gay and lesbian couples before Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in the golden state.

In 2010, Spahr stood trial before a northern California church court. During the three-day hearing, Spahr's attorneys argued that her actions were justified by Presbyterian teachings on diversity and inclusion. The commission ruled 4-2 that she had "persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience" and that she had broken her ordination vows. But most of the 2 ½ page ruling was devoted to praising her for her "prophetic ministry" and "faithful compassion." The commission assessed the most lenient sentence possible for the conviction, a public rebuke.

Despite the leniency of the sentence, Spahr appealed the conviction to the denomination's highest court, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Court, which in February 2012 upheld the conviction and sentence and also issued a warning that pastors should not represent the marriage of gay and lesbian couples as Presbyterian marriages. In response, Spahr announced that she would continue to marry same-sex couples.

Spahr's defiance was matched by that of the Presbytery of the Redwoods, which refused to carry out the sentence passed on her. In an action that may have been unprecedented in PCUSA history, the presbytery voted 74 to 18 to reject the Church's official denunciation and instead support Rev. Spahr.

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