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.


Reverend Janet

7 Responses
  • Janet L. Bohren on September 3, 2010

    I have been feeling ashamed for the PC(USA) ever since the verdict — also very angry that the Redwoods PJC could not see the logic of Scott Clark’s closing statements and find Janie innocent. Rev. Janet thank you for putting this shame into words so clearly.

    A note to anyone reading your blog who has a visual impairment – Safari (on Mac cptrs) now has a “reader” button at the right end of the URL bar which puts the text of your blog in black letters on a white background and enlarges the text for easy reading (and printing). I have some macular degeneration and I find this “reader” makes your blog easier to read. Thought this note might be helpful to your readers.

  • Janet Edwards on September 3, 2010

    Dear Janet,

    You are very welcome!

    So, Janet, anger is also a prayer. I experience anger as a cry from the heart that something is very wrong here and please, God, make it right. And I think some of the Redwoods PJC might have felt this anger too.

    What they missed was the crucial truth that God will make it right through us, not by flying in from the side with some kind of miraculous something. It is as simple as the mixim, “We are the change we have been waiting for.” This was such an opportunity to make it right and it was lost.

    Thanks for your comments, Janet. Peace be with you, Janet

  • Donna on September 3, 2010

    The only thing that prevents someone who has the ability to act on their beliefs is fear, and some would say, cowardice…

  • Janet Edwards on September 4, 2010

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks for opening up a whole world of reflection by your comment, Donna.

    You remind me that fear is a feeling and therefore a prayer, as I see it. Fear is feeling that I am in over my head and is a cry for help to be saved from what, at least, feels like a very dangerous place.

    You lead me to ponder upon cowardice which seems to me to be a fixed state of fear, feeling in over one’s head all the time and paralyzed by that fear. Perhaps that explains the paralysis of our church that Moderator Cindy Bolbach named so honestly at the General Assembly.

    You also remind me of one of the central statements on fear in our faith, 1 John 3:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I see that in a new light after your comment. Perhaps you do too.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 5, 2010

    Dear Janet,

    Upon re-reading it, I know my statement doesn’t seem to be one that would spur healing, as you call for in your last paragraph, and I would like to apologize for that.

    Maybe the better way is to ask a question: what is the church afraid of? What were the PJC who voted against Janie Spahr afraid of?

    In any case, you are right: it is so true that perfect love casts out all fear.


  • Jeananne Stine on September 5, 2010

    Thanks, Janet, for framing these emotions as an opportunity for prayer.
    That is something we can all work with!

  • Janet Edwards on September 6, 2010

    Dear Jeananne and Donna,

    Thank you both for joining in and, Jeananne, you are very welcome. Processing emotions in this way has been a rich and freeing new aspect of my spiritual life and life in general.

    So from Donna’s questions, let’s see how we can work with this perspective in connection with the church. If the church is afraid or at least some of us in it, this means we feel that we are in over our heads and need help. So how are we in over our heads?

    For one thing, I take to heart Scripture saying that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom which means to me that, in connection with God, we are always in over our heads. And it is God’s love for us that offers us the help we cry out for and calms our fears.

    For another thing, we in the church, and in society as well, feel way in over our heads with the speed of change in our world in such a variety of ways. Only one example is the opening of our understanding to the reality that God created a diversity of sexual orientations and mix of gender identities so that predictable categories no longer hold. We need help to grasp this. And that is only one example. I am sure you can think of others.

    Thanks again for your comments. I really appreciate them! Peace, Janet

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