A Presbytery Gone Rogue

May 15, 2012

Today, the presbytery neighboring mine, Redwoods Presbytery, took an action that hit a new low in Presbyterian life. It officially refused the direct order of the GAPJC to rebuke Janie Spahr for conducting same-sex weddings. The following motion was passed by a 74 to 18 vote:

The Presbytery opposes imposition of the rebuke as set forth in the decision of the Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission, dated August 27, 2010 (which was stayed by its terms until the present day), by declaring and resolving as follows:

WHEREAS, our primary ordination vow as Ruling and Teaching Elders is to be obedient to Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him, (F-1.02; W-4.4003 (a);

WHEREAS, the love of God in Jesus Christ is for all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

WHEREAS, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the constitution require that full inclusion and pastoral care be extended to all members of the church;

WHEREAS,  this Presbytery called the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr to a ministry in outreach to- and in community among and with – lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

WHEREAS, the 38-year ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr has been faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to her calling;

WHEREAS, the decision of the August 27, 2010, by its terms, acknowledges and apologizes (1) that the rules of the church “are against the Gospel,” and (2) that the decision and rebuke continue the grievous harm “that has been, and continues to be, done” by the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people “in the name of Jesus Christ”;

Be it RESOLVED that the Presbytery of the Redwoods opposes imposition of the rebuke set forth in the decision dated August 27, 2010, as inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the faithful life of ministry lived out in this Presbytery.

A little history (taken from GAPJC Decision and Order 220-08):

On April 28, 2008, this Commission issued its Decision and Order in the case of Jane Adams Spahr v. Presbytery of the Redwoods. That decision stated that a same-sex ceremony is not a marriage and that officers of the PC(USA) shall not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage. On May 17, 2008, the Supreme Court of California ruled that same-sex marriages were legal under California law. Same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the State of California from June 20, 2008, through November 4, 2008. During that time period Spahr performed wedding ceremonies for approximately sixteen same-sex couples.

In 2010, a prosecuting committee of the Presbytery brought charges against Spahr for officiating at these ceremonies and a three-day trial was held before the PPJC in August 2010. At the conclusion of the trial the PPJC found her guilty of three of the four charges, issued a Rebuke, and enjoined her “to avoid such offenses in the future.” The PPJC also declared that the “rebuke and injunction shall not be imposed” until any appeals were complete. Spahr appealed to the SPJC, which affirmed the decision of the PPJC on March 25, 2011. That ruling was appealed by Spahr, and on February 20, 2012, the GAPJC sided with the Synod to say that the change in state law had no effect on the church’s definition of marriage that can be authorized by the PC(USA).

So what was supposed to happen at today’s meeting of Redwoods Presbytery was for the body to carry out the original order of its PJC, affirmed now by both the Synod and GA PJCs, and to rebuke Jane Spahr. Instead, the motion above was presented with no notice to the Presbytery. Several “secular” press reporters were present, three filming the proceedings, and four representatives of San Francisco Presbytery made themselves known. Two, recognized as corresponding members, were given voice and spoke in support of defying the judicial rebuke. Though a written ballot was requested by a member, the Clerk put it to a vote which could not sustain the request, so presbyters had to stand up to be counted. This after one San Francisco representative shamed the body by saying, “I know there are a few people in this room who are against me on this. If you vote ‘No,’ you might as well just spit in my face, because that is what you are doing.”

I cannot recall in almost 25 years as an ordained minister ever witnessing open defiance of a direct PJC order. My own presbytery in November 2009 knew darn well it was violating the constitution in approving the ordination of Lisa Larges despite a synod PJC admonition. But defying a binding, precedent-setting Decision and Order of the GAPJC? No. This is a new low. I see several problems, which I will simply list now and expand upon later:

1. Unconstitutionality of the decision—a violation of ordination vows

2. The lack of notice, and failure by the chair to refer the motion as “new business”

3. The presence of press to aid the ambush and intimidate presbyters. The presbyters did not get the courtesy of advanced notice of such a folly, but the press obviously were notified so they could be there for the spectacle.

4. The diatribes, the shaming, the intimidation of presbyters by personal attacks

5. The participation of non-voting members in the debate—Redwoods didn’t have enough proponents to make their own case for defiance? Did the members of San Francisco Presbytery just want to share the guilt of their northern neighbors?

6. One more example of open defiance—how does this show “mutual forbearance” while the fundamental issue is being worked out? Good grief, the presbytery need wait only six more weeks for the GA to discuss the definition of marriage.

This is a presbytery gone rogue. How is this method of ambush consistent with the peace, unity, and purity of the church? How did it protect the right of the minority to be heard and respected? How is this a movement of the Holy Spirit, as was claimed, or an expression of the true gospel of Jesus Christ? How can the church allow an entire Presbytery to violate its members’ vows to abide by the polity of the church?

There are no good answers to these questions, but if this situation is left unchallenged, Presbyterians have further proof that decency and order have been abandoned and brazen acts of defiance are acceptable.


15 Responses to “A Presbytery Gone Rogue”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Except for the work of Christ among his people there doesn’t seem to be any decency and order anywhere in the Northern part of California as far as the PCUSA is concerned.. Perhaps we all need to slip south. One church in Sacramento Presbytery has voted to move to Stockton Presbytery. There are options.

  2. charles francis Says:

    why are you surprised? the denomination went rogue a long time ago.

  3. Ken Ironside Says:

    And so we are back to the Book of Judges. There is no king and everyone does what is right in his own eyes. And this is called “progressive.”

  4. revbobsblog Says:

    The ‘Two Minutes Hate’ of ‘1984’ comes to mind. These are dark times indeed.

  5. […] interesting example (via: Mary Naegli). The Presbytery of Redwoods (PCUSA) has refused to carry out a lawful order by a higher court, the […]

  6. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    Even In the account of the judges there were those whom God chose to lift up His banner and move forward.
    When these sad unbelievable things happen, when Redwood disobeys the courts mandate and Scriptural mandates, it just makes us draw closer to God for consolation and power to move in the right direction. Jesus is the way, truth and the life
    but Redwood Presbytery has not only rejected the courts they can see and hear but also rejected the word of God and the courts they cannot see and hear in heaven.

    Let us draw nearer to God, seek God, understand His purpose
    as He does work all things together. How can these things bring about God’s will? Maybe God is separating
    out a ” valiant three hundred” for the battle ahead as He did
    for Gideon in Judges. May we be among them and know we can trust God’s way to bring about what He ordains.
    Evangelicals are being pushed by the forces on the ground, but let us follow our commander as He leads.
    It is events like Redwood’s that will make the direction clearer.

  7. Joe Duffus Says:

    The email address for the Redwoods Presbytery is pbyrw@pacbell.net I sent them the following letter…

    To the Redwoods Presbytery,

    your recent resolution, discussed here: https://wordtolife.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/a-presbytery-gone-rogue/ is unconscionable. It is a violation of your own ordination vows to be governed by the Book of Order. The case against Rev. Spahr was decided, the decision of your own PJC affirmed, and the action of rebuke was “in good order.” Your resolution to ignore it violates the spirit and letter of the Book of Order.

    The manner in which this resolution was presented was not in good order, either. It’s clear from the record that you allowed yourselves to be bullied by your choice of the setting in which this resolution was offered, by the ambushing nature of the vote you held and by the intimidation tactics you allowed to take place at the meeting.

    While I understand that you may believe yourselves to be on some sort of mission to impose your beliefs upon the wider denomination about whether Presbyterian ministers may officiate at a same-sex wedding, you undercut your own case by flouting the procedures and rules of the denomination you claim to belong to.

    The PC(USA) as a denomination is not long for this world. The center cannot hold and it is at precisely that point of disunion that Abraham Lincoln described when he made his “House Divided” speech. By thumbing your noses at even the tepid ruling of the GAPJC, you are in reality doing the work of the conservatives that are successfully making the case that the denomination is spinning into entropy. If that was your real intention, then, well done!


    Joseph Duffus
    Gainesville, Va.

  8. If an elder or deacon persists in work disapproved by the council under which they serve, the council can conclude that the officer has renounced jurisdiction of the church. Is the same true when a whole presbytery, or at least a portion of its members, vote or act in defiance of their council (or a commission acting with the authority of that council)? That seems to be a logical line of thinking if the authority of the higher council/commission is to be preserved as valid.

  9. Jim Yearsley Says:

    I suggest that the synod empanel an Administrative Commission to assume original jurisdiction over Redwoods, dismiss the council, suspend their Manual, and terminate all paid employees. Then begin the work of rebuilding to the marks of the True Church. Every person who voted to support this horrific defiance is in violation of their ordination vows and has irreparably damaged the peace unity and purity of the church.

  10. Renee Says:

    As a member of Redwoods Presbytery, I would like to note that all we did was to vote to declare our opposition to the reading of the rebuke. It was a collective dissent to the PJC, and our model of polity is one that allows for dissent.

    I would note that churches and pastors that decline to pay per capita, threaten to leave the denomination when they don’t get their way on votes are ‘guilty’ of violating the peace, unity and purity of the church in substantial ways. Pot. Kettle. Black.

  11. charles francis Says:

    i didnt threaten to leave….i did that a year ago……..i like to keep tabs on the PCUSA…..its like watching a bad marx brothers movie..heresy coupled with self importance and all welded together with dishonesty,….the PCUSA is all yours.

  12. Harry Says:

    So Renee, was the Rebuke imposed after the majority of your Presbytery voted in favor of opposing the imposition? If the Rebuke was not imposed then you voted to prevent it, and you did not vote to register a dissent. Our polity permits those who lost a vote to register their dissent with the Stated Clerk and it does not take a vote. You actually refused to accept the decision of the highest court in our denomination and there is no part of our polity aparrt from the appeals process that permits what your Presbytery did.

  13. Please keep publishing about this. The whole church needs to hear how lawless some members have become. Defying a GAPJC order should be equal to renouncing jurisdiction and result in a release from ordained service by all involved! If we refuse to abide by our polity we have broken fellowship and no longer deserve membership in this church.

  14. dweidlich Says:

    I was a member of this presbytery from 2004 until their Feb. 2012 meeting in which they kicked me out (in the Clerk’s language – “presumed I renounced jurisdiction”) and can confirm that this presbytery has indeed gone rogue. The rules don’t matter. The presbytery is run by people who do not have congregations to account to. Their concerns have little to do with worship, making disciples of Jesus, healing the broken-hearted – whether straight or gay.
    The evangelicals are in hiding – going along to get along. But how can they now? They’re being called out.
    Accountability is called for, but the process will be long and will only continue this media circus Janie Spahr and her supporters have begun.
    I’m out and I don’t want back in.

  15. dweidlich Says:

    By the way, The Covelo church has requested dismissal from the presbytery of the redwoods to the EPC. It was to be voted on May 15. I haven’t heard how it was resolved.

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