Notebook > Religion

Conscience clears

Religion | "Lesbian evangelist" wins ruling in California regional church court

Issue: "Broken promises," March 25, 2006

A regional church court cleared self-proclaimed "lesbian evangelist" Jane Spahr, 63, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister and former denominational official, of charges she improperly conducted the weddings of two female couples.

The panel, which handles judicial matters for the 50-church Redwoods Presbytery in northern California, issued its ruling in a 6-1 vote at the end of a two-day trial in Santa Rosa this month. It said that same-sex marriage is not "outside of, or contrary to, the essentials" of Christian faith. Ms. Spahr acted "within her right of conscience," it said, implying that conscience trumps almost everything else when it comes to church rules-a position that may be enshrined as church policy in a tight vote at the PCUSA general assembly in mid-June.

The decision is contrary to both the PCUSA's constitution and a 2000 precedent ruling by the denomination's highest court that PCUSA pastors are prohibited from officiating at wedding services for homosexual couples. The high court did conclude that nothing in the church constitution bars ministers from blessing same-sex couples. However, it said such services could not resemble a wedding and must not sanction homosexual behavior.

Faith alone

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Well-known preachers Jerry Falwell of Lynchburg, Va., and John Hagee of San Antonio rushed to put down a firestorm this month. It all began following a Feb. 7 closed meeting called by Mr. Hagee to discuss the proposed launch of a new organization called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Its limited purpose: to lobby federal officials on behalf of the Jewish state. Some 300 evangelical leaders or their representatives attended.

One of Mr. Hagee's long-time friends, local rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, informed the Jerusalem Post about CUFI. He said he'd found a strong consensus among attendees-including Rev. Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson-that CUFI should not proselytize Jews; that wasn't its purpose.

Early this month, the Post published a story about CUFI, saying, among other things, that Mr. Hagee and Mr. Falwell believed in a "dual covenant" theology: Conversion is not necessary, because God arranges for Jews to go to heaven apart from belief in Christ.

As the story circulated and Christian leaders across the country expressed shock and dismay, Mr. Falwell denied he had changed his position: All must receive Christ to enter heaven, he emphasized in a statement. Mr. Hagee indicated he takes a low-key approach to evangelism when among Jews: If asked about the Christian faith, he explains the Bible's teaching about redemption. He said he doesn't adhere to a "dual covenant" salvation theory.

Rabbi Scheinberg denied he had talked about a dual covenant theology with the Post.

Bulletin Board

A week-long outreach in Costa Rica this month attracted record throngs to hear and see evangelist Luis Palau, 71. Organizers reported a cumulative attendance of more than 400,000. More than 800 churches worked for a year to plan the outreach, and they fielded more than 18,000 volunteer counselors and other workers. Live broadcasts from the festival carried the music and messages to radio listeners in neighboring countries as well.

The Church of England's investment advisory group voted unanimously this month not to divest from Caterpillar. The action repudiated a vote last month by the church's General Synod to divest from Caterpillar and other companies whose products are used by the Israeli government against Palestinians. The advisory group said it found "no compelling evidence that Caterpillar is or has been complicit in human rights abuses."

James E. Andrews, who served as top executive of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 23 years, was struck by a car and killed on March 7 while walking near his home in Decatur, Ga.; he was 77. He helped to broker the reunion of the southern and northern Presbyterians into one denomination, the PCUSA, in 1983.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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