Marriage Equality & Pastoral Care on trial again in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rev Janie SpahMore Light Presbyterians Celebrate Love & stand in solidarity with Rev. Janie Spahr and Marriage Equality

 The National Board of Directors and national staff of More Light Presbyterians stand in solidarity and prayer with Rev. Janie Spahr and her faithful support for marriage equality and pastoral care.  The inspired and loving ministry of our beloved friend and colleague in ministry, Rev. Janie Spahr, is so much a faithful witness to a loving and just Church and society for all of God’s people that she has been charged once again for being a responsible and caring pastor by officiating at legal marriages of same gender loving couples.  "We rejoice in the faithful pastoral ministry of Janie Spahr.  There is no prohibition against same-sex marriage in Scripture or the Book of Order.  God created all of us for love and companionship, not just some of us," Rev. Janet Edwards, Co-Moderator. 

 "The growing support for marriage equality within the USA and around the world reveal a remarkable shift in the recognition of same-sex love and relationships.  Love is not restricted by gender any more than it is by race, ethnicity or religion.  One needs only look around to recognize the changing face of relationships within our families, congregations and world.  Love makes a family," Michael J. Adee, Executive Director & Field Organizer.

 We call all Presbyterians to join us in celebrating Love and praying for Janie and her trial on August 24 at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Napa, CA.  "Please join us in praying for the commission of Redwoods Presbytery.  We celebrate the love and commitment of the same-sex couples who will testify at the trial.  It is our hope and prayer that the conscience and the call to pastoral care for Presbyterian ministers will be recognized and honored in the decision of this commission.  In addition to Janie’s ministry being on trial, so is marriage equality and pastoral care.  We are grateful for Janie and all Presbyterian ministers who follow their heart, conscience and call to ministry by caring for same-sex couples and their families, too.  Together we are building a Church for all God’s people," Trice Gibbons, Co-Moderator.

 Rev. Janet Edwards and Trice Gibbons, Co-Moderators, More Light Presbyterians
Michael J. Adee, Executive Director & Field Organizer, and the National Board of Directors and Staff, More Light Presbyterians, www.mlp.org

Soulforce action covered by The Presbyterian Outlook

Soulforce’s actions at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s recent General Assembly were covered The Presybterian Outlook.

Arrest at the PC(USA) general assemblyAbout 20 protesters from a group called Soulforce disrupted the plenary of the 219th General Assembly tonight (July 9), and some were arrested by the Minneapolis Police Department.

A group of protesters entered the plenary hall shortly before 5 p.m., and silently moved as a group to the front of the plenary hall, carrying signs protesting the policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding ordination standards; Christian marriage and same-gender unions; and pension benefits.

Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the assembly, immediately called a recess. She said during a news conference later that she didn’t know whether any of the protesters were Presbyterian, but said "I think they’re angry because this discussion (on ordination standards) has been going on in the church for quite a long time." Bolbach said one protestor told her she was a former Presbyterian who had left the church; some were gays or lesbians, or have children who are gay and lesbian.

Photo by Erin Dunigan

Read the full article at The Presbyterian Outlook

11 arrested at Presbyterian convention

Participants in an action at the PC(USA) General Assembly hold signs before being arrestedToday, participants at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly entered the convention center holding signs that read "Prayer: Ordination, Marriage,Pension" to remind attendees that justice delayed is justice denied in the wake of a vote to avoid any discussion, debate, or vote regarding marriage equality within the church. Eleven were arrested.

KARE 11 covered the event and you can read more on their website.
KSTP has video coverage on their website

Photo: KARE 11

Breaking News! 219th General Assembly votes for Ordination Equality

We are overjoyed and grateful to announce that the 219th General Assembly voted for Ordination Equality moments ago.  The Assembly approved by 53 to 46% the majority report from the Church Orders Committee which sent the "Revise-B" Ordination Overture from the Presbytery of Western Reserve to the Assembly for consideration.

This Ordination Overture offers our Church one ordination standard for all people in the Presbyterian Church (USA) regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and any other human condition. 

We are grateful to God for this pro-LGBT victory.  We are grateful to all of the Sessions, congregations and presbyteries that sent Ordination Equality Overtures to this Assembly. 

We are grateful to all those who support More Light Presbyterians and our allies who made this historic moment possible.  We are grateful for your financial and spiritual support that makes possible a "MLP GA Team" working here on the ground in Minneapolis.

We certainly celebrate and savor this joyous moment.  And, because this is an Overture calling for a change in the Book of Order it will need to be ratified by a simple majority of our 173 Presbyteries. 

So, let us all celebrate and give thanks to God for this moment of justice and love.  And, the ratification work begins now….

With hope and grace,
Michael

 PS — Please keep praying for the Assembly — the Marriage Equality Votesare set for tonight!  For more news and stories, check out the blog at http://www.ga219.org/

 Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Executive Director & Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians, 369 Montezuma Avenue # 447, Santa Fe, NM 87501 USA (505) 577-0086, michael@aol.com, www.mlp.org

Update on PC (USA) Events

Events To Consider at PC USA

Covenant Network dinner                 July 2   F          6;30-8:30 PM
PVJ Orientation                               July 3   Sa        7:00-8:30 AM
MLP reception                                 July 3               4:00-5:00 PM
(no registration required)
MLP dinner                                     July 3               5:00-6:45 PM
PVJ awards                                     July 4   Su        noon-2:30 PM
Covenant Network lunch                  July 5   M         noon-1:30 PM
Voices of Sophia breakfast               July 6   Tu         7:00-8:15 AM
MLP Educational lunch                     July 6               noon-2:00 PM
MLP worship celebration                   July 6               7:00-9:30 PM
(no registration required)
Witherspoon dance                          July 6               9:00 PM – 1:00 AM

 GA wide picnic July 4   5:30-10:30 PM

            
TAMFS training for their youth is all day July 1-2
            Covenant Network training/overview is on July 2
            MLP hospitality suite open in evenings @7:30 PM July 3-8
           
Observer at Meetings Opposing LGBT inclusion
            Presbyterian Lay Committee
            One by One (ex-gay type group) Lunch on July 6                                      

These events do not overlap with the Pray In.

PC(USA) General Assembly Hotel Accommodations

COMFORT SUITES – Downtown Minneapolis
7 blocks to Convention Center
2 blocks to light rail station
Minneapolis
COMFORT SUITES – Downtown Minneapolis
425 South 7th Street
Minneapolis, MN US 55415
Phone: (612) 333-3111
Fax: (612) 333-7425
Comfort Suites Minneapolis website

 RATE:  $69.00/nite (king or double – 2 persons) + $9.50 tax
Parking: $12/day
Rates available: July 4 thru 15, 2010
Amenities: Suite room with cook to order omelette breakfast
CUT OFF DATE:  June 24, 2010
GROP NAME: Soulforce
Call 612 333 3111 for reservations
Cancellation: 4 pm date of arrival

Can take Minneapolis Light Rail from airport to Government Plaza Station ($1.50-2.00 depending on time)
Rooms are blocked on upper floors (updated rooms)

Anyone seeking roommates for your stay in Minneapolis, please send an email to kara@soulforce.org.  Kara will collect and share this information.

Soulforce at the PC(USA) General Assembly

Our schedule and promotional materials for the event

Dear Friend,

MinneapolisYou are invited to join Soulforce in a historic moment of speaking truth to power at a mass Pray In at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis, July 7-10.

Please make your plans now to join other Soulforce volunteers and staff team members as we bear witness to the Presbyterian community and the world.

At the Pray In, we will tell the members of the GA that religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people and our allies must end.

We will call upon the General Assembly to repent of policies and practices that encourage spiritual violence. We will tell them that we have suffered too long, and that the suffering must end. If you will not be with us in person, we invite you to send testimonials, reflections, meditations, and prayer requests to Cindi Love (cindi@soulforce.org) which will take with us to the General Assembly actions.

Our best information tells us to expect the votes on our issues on Thursday July 8, Friday July 9, & Saturday July 10.  On these days, we will assemble in mass prayer, not blocking and not provoking, but in a highly visible process that encourages the members of the PC(USA) GA to do what needs to be done.  Whatever action the GA takes, we plan a powerful conclusion to the assembly that we pray can be a celebration of justice and love. If there is no cause to celebrate, we will be there in the words and spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, to demonstrate: "…to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired — tired of being segregated and humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression…We have no alternative but to protest."

If possible, please plan to attend the pre-Pray In training on Wednesday evening July 7, 2010 and the post-event de-brief on July 10, 2010.

Follow Soulforce in real time during the PC(USA) General Assembly: http://twitter.com/SoulforceOrg
Promote the PC(USA) General Assembly via Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=130936533607436&ref=mf

In addition, a core group of Soulforce Presbyterians will assist 5 Presbyterian groups already working on LGBTQ equality issues (Covenant Network, More Light Presbyterians, Presbyterian Promise, Presbyterian Welcome, and That All May Freely Serve). 
Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians need volunteers to:

  • Staff exhibit hall booths and hospitality suites at the Convention Center
  • Set up for their dinners and luncheons (Fri/Sat/Mon/Tue)
  • Witness at opening worship on Sun (July 4) & MLP worship service Tue evening (July 6).
  • Knit or crochet one or more of 1500 rainbow scarves to be distributed as witness to God’s radically extravagant love.  Instructions and yarn type and color can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/256or4s

In addition to the Soulforce signup (below) we highly recommend that you review the schedule for the General Assembly at the PC(USA) GA website.  For lodging, you may avail yourself of one of the GA hotels ($104-125 + tax) within walking distance of the Convention Center by registering at their website before June 1.  Or you can stay at the official Soulforce hotel, the Comfort Suites – Downtown Minneapolis ($69 + tax, walking distance to Convention Center and the light rail line), by following this link for information about the hotel and how to make your reservations directly with the hotel. More information on how to register with Soulforce’s group rate.

Dr. Stephen Sprinkle at Brite Divinity School likes to say that we are "walking systemic interventions" when we enter into dialogue face-to-face with those who discriminate against us. Don’t miss this moment in time to stand for your own liberation and be part of changing the world for our community!

Soulforce is attending the 219th PCUSA General Assembly and Seeking Presbyterians to Join the Effort!

The Presbyterian Church (USA) established a “Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage” at its 218th General Assembly and charged it to answer the question, “What is the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community?” The committee has met and filed a preliminary report and requested feedback from Presbyterians at large.

And, the Presbytery of Detroit voted to send an overture to the 219th General Assembly meeting in Minneapolis in July that removes barriers to the ordination of LGBT members as elders, deacons, or ministers.

And, More Light Presbyterians, individual members and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the full life of the Church, is planning its strategy for continuing its work at the upcoming General Assembly. MLP declares that “Spiritual equality, ordination equality and marriage equality inspire our work, outreach and legislative organizing for the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), July 3 – 10, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

In this setting, SOULFORCE is planning to attend the 219th PC(USA) General Assembly and bring our unique witness for truth and justice to the voting members and other attendees. And, we’re looking for a few good Presbyterians who are interested in helping plan and participate in our SOULFORCE witness. If you’ve been involved in SOULFORCE actions in the past, maybe even the 2000 Soulforce action at the PCUSA General Assembly in Long Beach, CA, and you’re passionate about giving the Presbyterian Church a hand with its confusion about the wholeness and goodness of the LGBTQ members of its denomination, then please send a note to us at info@soulforce.org and let us know about yourself and about your interest in being involved in this exciting direct action.

SOULFORCE, guided by the spirit of truth and empowered by the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, works to end the religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people. Join us as we join the effort to end this oppression within the Presbyterian Church.

Statement by Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken to Presbytery of Cincinnati – June 16, 2003

Madame Moderator, Members of the Presbytery, Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We are here to decide not just whether I have broken a rule. You are being asked not just whether I have disobeyed the orders of the Permanent Judicial Committee. The real question before you is whether I have acted in obedience to Jesus Christ.

There is a collective wisdom in our Book of Order that we should honor and respect. The authority of our church government needs to be obeyed. However, there are rare circumstances when the decisions of the governing bodies of the church may conflict with the spirit of Christ.

As Presbyterians we always acknowledge this possibility, since we are aware of human depravity and our total reliance upon grace. As good as our rules are, they are not perfect. We know that there will be occasions when our rules inevitably conflict with the word of God. For the ultimate jurisdiction is Christ, and Christ alone.

If it is possible that I am following the call of Christ in my heart, then I have not renounced the jurisdiction of the Church. Indeed, I would be following the Church’s highest authority.

This is a very sad day. I grieve for my congregation, for this Presbytery and for our denomination. I wish that I were not here before you, and many of you do not want to be here, as well. We are caught up in something much larger than ourselves. This is not just about a pastor not following a rule. This is about a deep theological division in our church, a division with which we have been struggling for years. Simple majority votes have not resolved the issue of homosexuality and biblical interpretation. We need to acknowledge this.

It is an amazing contrast that earlier last week the Episcopal Church elected its first openly gay bishop and Canada now legally recognizes same-sex marriages! How can we say that this issue is settled?

Judicial and administrative actions such as the one before us tonight are premature. For this issue is far from settled in our church. Instead, these punitive actions will only exacerbate our pain and open the wounds in our body even more. Clearly, this is one example of when "the letter of the law kills." Tonight I urge us to seek the "spirit, which gives life."

The Presbyterian Church is caught in a terrible bind. Many, if not most, of its members believe that homosexuality per se is not sinful. But it is saddled with unjust laws that are based on the false premise that homosexuality is sinful. The Presbyterian Church is faced with enforcing laws it doesn’t wholeheartedly believe or want.

Because of this, the PC (USA) has settled on the unofficial practice of "don’t ask, don’t tell." And it appears that my offense is not what I have done; holy unions that are the same as marriages are being done all the time. No, it appears that my offense and the offense of my congregation is that we simply have been open and honest about what we have done. I am here because I’ve freely told others what I’ve done.

Some will view this as arrogance, an intentional flouting of the law. I assure you this is not the case. I have suffered greatly in all this, as have my family and congregation. I do not welcome an uncertain and harsh future. But for me, this is a matter of honor and integrity. I would feel dishonest not to tell. I really do believe that we should be truthful and let our "yes" be yes and our "no" be no, even if that should put us at personal risk.

Many of us in the church have found that we can’t live any other way. "Don’t ask, don’t tell" is a crushing, suffocating weight upon us. If I kept my actions secret simply to stay out of trouble, I would find it difficult to face myself in the mirror. To me, hiding these actions would be a form of lying, a sin of omission, that I could not bear.

Some have said that I have only brought this upon myself by being open about my actions and that I am disrupting the peace and unity of the church. But the peace from an imposed silence is false and superficial.

Performing same-sex Christian Marriage services is only our attempt to be truthful. This Presbytery’s PJC told me that we should be satisfied with holy unions for same-sex couples. However, according to the Benton decision of the General Assembly’s PJC in 2000, both same-sex marriage and holy unions that are considered to be the equivalent of marriage are prohibited. Currently in the PC (USA) holy unions are not only second-class, they aren’t even in the same league as Christian marriage. With Benton the Presbyterian Church told gay and lesbian members to "get to the back of the bus."

If we are honest, even if we were to use the term "holy union" for our ceremonies, we would still be in violation of church law, because we consider them to be the equivalent of a marriage ceremony. The issue has not been about just what we call our same-sex ceremonies. It is what we believe them to be and how we communicate this belief.

We at Mt. Auburn Church have always seen same-sex ceremonies as the same or the equivalent as marriage. Years before our "Statement on Inclusive Marriage," our practice, initiated by the former pastor, was not to distinguish between holy unions and marriages but list them all together in the Session minutes under the single category of "marital unions." We have always seen them as essentially the same, and this is why we cannot pretend to do the kind of holy unions that are allowed by Benton.

In Benton it says,

If a same sex ceremony were considered to the equivalent of a marriage ceremony between two persons of the same sex, it would be sanctioned under the Book of Order.

…it would not be proper for a minister of the Word and Sacrament to perform a same sex ceremony that the minister determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony.

But it would simply be dishonest to say that we don’t view them as the same. The PJC of Cincinnati ordered me to pretend that the two ceremonies are not the same. I can’t do that.

The Benton decision is explicitly based upon the premise that homosexual practice is sinful. Any ceremonies or pastoral care that we offer out of this context is shallow and damaging. In my heart, it would be contrary to the spirit of Christ. I quote again from the decision:

Such a same sex ceremony does not bless any specific act, and this decision should not be construed as an endorsement of homosexual conjugal practice proscribed by the General Assembly.

We have always considered these services to be equivalent of Christian marriage in every important way, including the blessing of sexual intimacy between the couple. Again, the primary issue before us is the ability and desire to be open and honest. We cannot hide the fact that when we do same-sex ceremonies, all the parties involved — the pastor, the couple and the Session — understand that we are celebrating Christian marriage.

The Benton decision states that there needs to be a theological and liturgical distinction between same-sex ceremonies and services of Christian marriage and one cannot confuse the two. It says,

Ministers should not appropriate specific liturgical forms from services of Christian marriage… in the conduct of such ceremonies.

But when we do same-sex ceremonies the liturgy is identical with that of Christian marriage — the same vows, the same exchange of rings, the same pronouncement. And so our congregation issued its "Statement on Inclusive Marriage" as a direct response to Benton and in an effort to be clear about what we believe these services to be.

Today, I am facing the removal of my ordination because I have implemented this policy of my congregation and performed Christian marriages my Session has approved. I am faithfully fulfilling my role as their Pastor.

When it comes to marriages, I am more strict that most of my colleagues. I usually only do them for active members, since I insist that a Christian faith commitment be evident. I require several premarital counseling sessions, using a professional inventory, which I became certified to administer. I take this pastoral role very seriously. I’m actually quite old-fashioned in this regard. I believe that sexual intimacy should occur within the covenant of marriage and that the bond of matrimony is something that couples need for the health of their relationship. As a pastor, I discourage casual cohabitation, and I encourage faithful, committed, permanent relationships. And as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have an obligation to declare, celebrate, proclaim and bless these same-sex relationships as Christian marriages.

Again, the issue before us is much larger than whether a single pastor has disobeyed a rule. It is about whether there is room in the Presbyterian Church for interpretations of the Bible that do not regard the practice of homosexuality as sinful.

From a biblical perspective, if we can ordain women, we can marry same-sex couples. It is exactly the same process of interpretation; it is the same logic. The Bible clearly says that women are not to teach or have authority over men, and in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 an elder "must be the husband of one wife," an elder must be male. When the Presbyterian Church decided to move beyond the literal level of those passages and ordain women, it didn’t call that ordination by a different name. It didn’t use a second-class ceremony.

What happened? The words of the Bible didn’t change, but our understanding of the world and women changed the way we interpret those words. Women were considered less than men. They had lower status and derived their identity from the male to whom they were attached. They were the property, the possession of the man. They were second-class. But that view has changed and so has our biblical interpretation.

In the same way, the Bible refers to marriage as something between a man and woman, and many feel it is time to move beyond the literal level of those verses. Just as women were considered second-class, so were same-sex relationships. There is a growing understanding today that the love between two women or two men can be just as real, just as true, just as good as the love between a man and a woman. It is not second-class, but it is fully blessed by God.

As a Christian, as a Pastor, as a Presbyterian, I pray for the freedom to proclaim this.

Stephen Van Kuiken (allotted 10 minutes to speak)
June 16, 2003

Presbyterian Minister Faces Punishment by Cincinnati Presbytery on Monday, June 16, 2003

Soulforce Supporters will stand vigil outside meeting in support of Rev. Van Kuiken who faces possible defrocking and expulsion for performing same-sex marriage ceremonies

Soulforce Press Release, June 13, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-278-0592 email:soulforcemedia@aol.com

Cincinnati – On Monday, June 16, Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, minister of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, faces possible defrocking and expulsion from the Presbyterian Church (USA) for performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.

A special meeting of the Cincinnati Presbytery has been scheduled for Monday, June 16 at 7pm at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, 2690 Dixie Highway in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. The purpose of the meeting is to act and vote on the Committee on Ministry’s recommendation to “presume the Rev. A. Stephen Van Kuiken’s renunciation of jurisdiction." This recommendation is based on the fact that Rev. Van Kuiken was found guilty of having “performed and/or condoned and facilitated the performance by others of same-sex marriage ceremonies at the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church.”

"This meeting is not a judicial proceeding, and it circumvents the due process afforded by the church courts,” declared Rev. Van Kuiken. "I am facing removal because I have simply implemented my congregation’s policy and performed marriages our Session has approved. I feel I have done nothing wrong, and I believe I am being obedient to the teachings of Jesus. "

In April, Rev Van Kuiken was put on trial for performing a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple. As a result of the trial, he was rebuked and directed to “perform marriage ceremonies only for a man and a woman.” He recently performed another marriage ceremony despite this order, with the approval of his church’s governing body (Session).

“Even if we called a marriage ceremony a ‘holy union’, we would still be in violation. The church says that we are not even allowed to consider it equivalent to marriage, and we do,” continued Van Kuiken.

Soulforce, an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, stood vigil outside the trial in April in support of Rev. Van Kuiken. Soulforce representatives will also be present at Lakeside Presbyterian Church on Monday to vigil in support of Rev. Van Kuiken, beginning at 6pm.

After the meeting at Lakeside Presbyterian, Rev. Van Kuiken will move outside to make a statement and will be available to press for questions and answers. Additionally, members of Soulforce and That All May Freely Serve, an organization which advocates for equal rights for GLBT people in the Presbyterian Church, will be available for additional comments.

“We are trying to shed light on an issue the Presbyterian Church would rather keep in the dark – because we know that we are all equal in the eyes of God, even if the church hasn’t come to terms with it yet,” said Bill Carpenter, Soulforce Rapid Response Team Coordinator.

Soulforce is encouraging members of press and those in other denominations to come and be witness to this meeting, which has national implications in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

For more information, see www.soulforce.org. For media interviews, call 717-278-0592.

——————
Laura Montgomery Rutt
Director of Communications
Soulforce, Inc
Laura@soulforce.org
www.soulforce.org

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce employs the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.