Time to Drink Our Shame to the Dregs
Shame, like all feelings, is a prayer. Shame is a prayer that says, “I am bad in my innermost being; please, God, heal me.”
I was reminded of this last Friday as I read the Redwoods Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) decision in the disciplinary case against Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr for presiding at the weddings of the beautiful lesbian and gay couples who testified on her behalf.
I love Janie Spahr and her long, faithful ministry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the church — a ministry that offers everyone the same message of God’s all-embracing love. If you read the decision of the PJC, you would think they do, too.
Yet they convicted Dr. Spahr on three of four counts, including the violation of her ordination vows, failing miserably to embody the very values that they claim to admire in her.
Their decision also had the audacity to ask the married same-gender couples for “forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be, done to them in the name of Jesus Christ,” as if they were not repeating that exact same harm in rebuking their pastor for presiding at their weddings.
I am ashamed of my church right now, at the failure of these Presbyterians to live by the logic of their own words. As our historic principles say, “Truth is in order to goodness.” If they see goodness in Janie’s ministry, as they say, goodness in the marriages of these couples, and goodness required in the Constitution of the PCUSA — all of which the PJC acknowledged — then rule for that truth. Yet they convicted Janie Spahr.
I am ashamed that this PJC could not see the hurt their decision inflamed. We hurt and demean lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and we do not know it.
We need God to heal us. Scott Clark, Janie’s legal defender, spoke of this in his closing statement when he referenced the healing on the Sabbath story in Mark 3 and suggested that the church is the man with the withered hand that needs to be healed. And our Moderator Cindy Bolbach said it clearly at the General Assembly in Minneapolis: the church is paralyzed — we all know it — and, like the friends in Mark 2, we need to get the church to Jesus to be healed.
The terribly sobering fact is that the church is the Body of Christ in the world. Because we are Jesus’ arms and legs in this world, it is crucial that we get this right in the church. God will heal us only through us, through our courage to do the right and truthful thing.
The PJC recognized that “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.” Yet they did not act upon that truth. They spoke with admiration of Dr. Spahr’s ministry and then ruled against it. And in doing so, like the priests in the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, they ruled against God’s gifts of healing and love.
Now it is up to each and every one of us to help heal the hurt inflicted with this conviction of Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr. And the first step toward that healing is to drink our shame to the dregs that our church would say, “No,” where Jesus says, “Yes.” Feel this shame with me, and join me in prayer that God use us to heal our church.