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Presbyterian minister faces church panel in gay marriage dispute

  • San Francisco resident Rev. Jane Spahr, 67, a retired Presbyterian minister, is once again facing charges in a church tribunal for marrying same sex couples. (Press Democrat File photo)

NAPA — The definition of marriage is changing and the trial of a Presbyterian minister for allegedly violating church rules by marrying same-sex couples is part of the that process, a seminary dean and biblical scholar said Tuesday before a Presbyterian tribunal.

The Rev. Deborah Krause, who is academic dean of Eden Seminary in Missouri and a Presbyterian minister, said the definition of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman is a “culturally conditioned claim that is in the process of being reconsidered.”

“You all are on the front line of the church in responding to that,” Krause told a six-member panel of Presbyterian elders and pastors hearing the case against the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa.

Spahr, 68, was cleared by the church’s highest court two years ago of violating Presbyterian Church law by marrying gay and lesbian couples. But the verdict also said that “a same-sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage,” and she was back on trial for continuing to perform such ceremonies.

A retired Presbyterian minister and former “lesbian evangelist,” Spahr is accused of violating the Presbyterian Church constitution by marrying 16 same-sex couples, including two Santa Rosa men, while same-sex marriages were briefly legal in California in 2008.

Spahr, who lives with her son in San Francisco, admits marrying the gay and lesbian couples, calling it an act of conscience and contending that church law gives her that latitude.

“I plead not guilty,” Spahr said at the opening of Tuesday's session.

She is on trial before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of the Redwoods, which represents 54 congregations from Marin County to the Oregon border.

The same body, comprised of different members, acquitted Spahr on similar charges in a disciplinary action in 2006 at Presbyterian Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa. She was convicted on appeal to a mid-level church commission, then acquitted by the church's highest court in 2008.

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