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Top Presbyterian Court Mumbles Mixed Message

"Weak-kneed leadership and half-hearted discipline combine to produce a lukewarm, fuzzy message." -- Director of Presbyterian Action Jim Berkley

Contact: Loralei Coyle, 202-682-4131, 202-905-6852 cell, lcoyle@TheIRD.org; Radio Interviews: Jeff Walton, jwalton@TheIRD.org; both with the Institute on Religion and Democracy

WASHINGTON, April 30 /Christian Newswire/ -- An April 28 decision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) highest court ruled that "a same-sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage." The court then deduced that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Raphael, California, could not be "found ... guilty of doing that which by definition cannot be done." Thus, due to a technicality of the law, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission removed the disciplinary censure against Spahr for conducting same-sex marriages against church law.

At the same time, however, the court made it clear that "officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage." Indeed, "future noncompliance ... will be considered to be a disciplinable offense." The court noted that "freedom of conscience must be exercised within bounds... Submission to the current standards of the church may not always be comfortable, but it is not optional."

Jim Berkley, Director of IRD's Presbyterian Action Committee, commented:

"Spahr is being defiant, and unless lawlessness is what we desire, defiance must cease. Quibbling over a technicality has blunted the common-sense application of biblical morality. Presbyterians have consistently held that 'the practice of homosexuality is sin' and 'marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.'

"This ruling does not deny or change that theological reality. The decision says that since a same-sex union could never be a marriage, the Rev. Spahr could not have conducted a marriage ceremony. Yet Spahr has officiated at such bogus ceremonies and plans to continue doing so. She persists, defying the authority she once vowed to be 'governed by' and discipline she once vowed to 'abide by' at her ordination.

"What Presbyterians need is the courage to say unequivocally: 'sexual relations outside the marriage of man and woman is wrong. It is harmful. We will neither whitewash it nor encourage it within our church life and practices.'

"The Bible and our constitutional standards are clear, but weak-kneed leadership and half-hearted discipline combine to produce a lukewarm, fuzzy message that is as universally unpalatable as it is undecipherable. The world deserves a clearer trumpet at Presbyterian lips."