A retired Presbyterian minister was found guilty Friday by a church tribunal of presiding at the marriage of same-sex couples in 2008 and will be censured, pending an appeal.
The six-member panel announced its verdict in the case of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr, of San Francisco, who was accused of violating church law by performing 16 gay and lesbian ceremonies.
After a four-day church trial that was equal parts Scripture lesson and celebration of marriage, a panel of church leaders from the Presbytery of the Redwoods voted 4-2 that Spahr should be censured because she “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience.”
But the six-person panel voted unanimously that the 68-year-old lesbian’s actions did not disrupt the “peace, unity and purity of the church” and praised her “faithful compassion” and her 35-year ministry to gays and lesbians throughout the country.
In its ruling, the panel called upon the church to re-examine its “fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“In the reality in which we live today, marriage can be between same-gender as well as opposite-gender persons, and we, as a church, need to be able to respond to this reality as Dr. Jane Spahr has done with faithfulness and compassion,” the panel noted.
The trial at Convenant Presbyterian Church in Napa was a difficult test for the national denomination, which has been split for years over whether to allow ordination of gay ministers and to permit ministers to sanction same-sex marriages.
The church’s highest court has previously held that Presbyterian ministers may bless same-sex unions as long as they do “not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage.”