The Cruel Winds of Our Long Judicial Season


I have written on the stalwart prophetic ministry of Lisa Larges before and I write again now. This week, the Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission gives judgment on Lisa’s presbytery, San Francisco Presbytery, which voted to ordain her as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

It will be a great new season for our beloved Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) when Lisa just goes about her business as a pastor in our midst. May this decision hasten that day.

The winds of this long judicial season have been cruel to Lisa. They’ve also been cruel to the PCUSA — threatening the very life of the church. They cannot end one second too soon.

One of the cruelties of this judicial season is that Lisa is never considered a party to these court proceedings even though they are about her and have immense consequences for her. The court case now and the ones in 1991 and 2009 were remedial challenges to Lisa’s presbytery for approving her for ordination. So it’s the presbytery speaking up in church court for its actions while Lisa sits in the back, listening to others argue about her as a person, a Christian and a servant of the church. How cruel to make any person an “It.”

The case against me was disciplinary. When the case was dismissed because the Investigating Committee filed their charges three days late, accusations were made again, initiating the process all over again. When the Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission unanimously acquitted me on all charges, there was no appeal. We had all suffered uncertainty and discord for three long years. Even today, while relieved by the outcome, I am very aware of still being highly vulnerable and subject to accusations by my colleagues in ministry just for saying out loud what we all know — that LGBT couples shine with all the qualities we all recognize as marriage.

It is the accusing party’s right to bring charges, according to the rules. However, it is not kind. And it is not love in Christ.

Unlike the seasons in nature, we have control over this judicial season. Bringing charges against presbyteries and against people is a choice Presbyterians are making.

We can end this cruel season by choosing to behave differently. Revising the ordination standards to allow a presbytery to affirm the faith, gifts and call of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender candidates like Lisa Larges is one choice we all have before us. And when this happens, I trust we will experience the joyful grace given by God to us through the ministries of LGBT Presbyterians. We will enter a season of the love to which Christ calls us all.

And when we enter this new season, I imagine the church will recognize its cruelty and ask Lisa Larges to forgive us for our treating her as an “It” for decades. As the prophet she is, how will she respond? May the day come swiftly when we will find out.


Reverend Janet

9 Responses
  • Janet L. Bohren on September 24, 2010

    Two improvements to the PC(USA) judicial system:
    1) no anonymous accusations will be accepted by any part of the PC(USA) judicial system
    2) accusations must come from those who are members of presbytery being accused
    I am sure there are many other improvements that could be made.

    I agree, the way you, Lisa, Janie and others have been treated by the PC(USA) judicial system is unChristlike, unnecessarily costly for all, and oppressive, besides being destructive of life and spirit.

    Maybe you could ask for suggestions for redesigning the PC(USA) judicial system. It would be interesting to see what some of our legal experts might suggest.

  • Jeananne Stine on September 25, 2010

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Janet, you, Lisa, Janie and Jean are my heroes. Also, Michael, Tony…..SO many brilliant, faithful people working to strengthen a Church that has attempted to make them outcasts!
    I pray constantly for you all to have the strength to keep going, for the peace to calm your hearts, and for the love that assures you how great and limitless God’s Love is for all of you.
    Thank you again and again.
    God bless you.

  • Donna on September 25, 2010

    The church accepts anonymous letters of complaint and uses them as grounds for charges? Are you kidding me?

  • Janet Edwards on September 25, 2010

    Dear Janet, Jeananne and Donna,

    Thanks to you all for your thoughts this week!

    We can go to the PCUSA website ( to read the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Order. Those bringing accusations against individuals and complaints against governing bodies need to have standing to do so which suggests to me that anonymous ones cannot get far. But I do not claim to be an expert on these rules and encourage you to look for yourselves.

    Jeananne, you are very welcome! Your prayers and those of countless others surely strengthen me. You remind me that there is a great cloud of witnesses whose love is a comforting conduit of Jesus’ love for us all. We are the present manifestation of the loving that Jesus initiated and that will go on far beyond when we are here no more. And you three are wonderful sisters in in this body of Christ.

    It is precious to me to be in this lovely world with you. Peace be with you all, Janet

  • Donna on September 26, 2010

    I don’t see how an anonymous accusation could even be considered because there would be no way to verify it or investigate it, according to the rules…

  • Janet Edwards on September 26, 2010

    Dear Donna,

    The only provision I see that an anonymous claim might start the judicial process is under the rule that a presbytery might receive anonymous information that would lead to it filing an accusation or a complaint which would then instigate an investigation.

    One of the good reasons to allow for this is the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse which has plagued the PCUSA just as much as other denominations. Both the freedom for members to bring accusations from anywhere in the church and some of the statute of limitations rules are the result of this serious concern.

    In our fallen world there are good reasons to have Rules of Discipline but challenging the approval of a saint like Lisa Larges is not one of them, in my view. I trust you agree.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 26, 2010

    Yes, I agree.

  • Janet L. Bohren on September 27, 2010

    Thank you for your very thoughtful and knowledgeable answers above. I agree that anonymity is necessary in cases of sexual abuse, but like you say, challenging saints like Lisa, Janie, yourself and others, is just wrong. I thought the most recent charge against Janie was started by an anonymous person. I may have been wrong on that.

    There has to be a better way for working with those who disagree on interpreting the Book of Order or dealing with unjust sections in it. Perhaps it is just to get the Book of Order changed. I pray that happens this next year. But such a long process this is and so much hurt and damage have been done to wonderful LGBT men and women and their allies in the church through church trials and in denial of their gifts to serve.

    My prayers are always with you and all others who are working so hard to make our PC(USA) churches more just places to serve God and express the love of Jesus Christ.

  • Janet Edwards on September 27, 2010

    Dear Donna and Janet,

    I am so grateful to you both for continuing this conversation about important things. It is always comforting when people agree.

    But the Reformed Church was born in a time of violent strife among Christians and much of our heritage was put in place to help those who disagree find harmony in the body of Christ. The summary of our tradition that I like is this one: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. Our failure in the past decades to live by this wisdom is one source of the sustained damage to people in our church and to the PCUSA, itself.

    There is way more that can be said. I do commend the exact wording of Amendment 10-A, the revision of G-6.0106b because I do think it offers the better way we all yearn for. For your prayerful consideration here is what it says:

    Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspect of life (G-1.000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W.4-4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

    Peace be with you both, Janet

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