DIVERSITY IS HERE. WE ARE FOR INCLUSION.
With the creation of the Jane Adams Spahr Reconciliation Project, SFTS joins the work of the Spirit in creating truly inclusive faith and spiritual communities. Together, we help these communities live into their promise of inclusion by opening up opportunities for congregations to experience the many ways LGBTQ people of faith and spiritual practice are called to serve, and to recognize even more deeply the full dignity and humanity of all families.
The work of reconciliation is not unique to LGBTQ people and there are many persons and groups who experience injustice. This work stands alongside recognition of the sacred creation, worth and gifts of all persons with respect to all human differences: gender, racial identity, ethnicity, economic class, age and ability. We are a cohort of LGBTQ and ally faith and spiritual leaders who celebrate the beautiful, sacred diversity of Godʼs creation. As one of our guiding principles, the Spahr Reconciliation Project recognizes the intersectionality of all faith and justice issues. We are all children of God and one human family. The goal is the creation of healthy, thriving, authentic communities of faith.
A Statement and Call from the Jane A. Spahr Reconciliation Initiative to the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), June 16 - 23, 2018
Analysis and Recommendations for the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA): Committee 11 – Affirming and Supporting All God’s People in both Church and Society
As the the 23rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meets in St. Louis, the Jane A. Spahr Reconciliation Initiative of the Center for Innovation in Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, CA is holding this assembly in our prayers. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meets biennially in even-numbered years. The General Assembly consists of commissioners elected by each of its 173 presbyteries. The General Assembly is full of activities: daily worship services, committee meetings, business sessions, an exhibit hall, events for seminaries and other institutions and mission tours sponsored by the Committee on Local Arrangements in St. Louis.
We are grateful that the General Assembly has acted to remove the barriers to LGBTQ people from full particiation, leadership and service in the Church with regard to ordination. Moreover, we are also grateful that the General Assembly has acted to allow ministers and local congregations the opportunity of the blessing of same-sex relationships within both church and society. Both of these changes were ratified by a majority of presbyteries — for LGBTQ ordination in 2011 and marriage equality in 2015. The work of policy to practice with the changes of heart, mind and action continues beyond changes in polity, therefore we commend the prayerful consideration and adoption of three overtures that affect LGBTQ people and their families in both church and society.
These three overtures are part of the Assembly Committee on Social Justice Issues (#11). These overtures are part of a number of important matters that affect the church’s life together and its witness to equality, fairness and wholeness. This committee is focused upon God’s call to faith and justice, therefore it is a natural place for overtures 11-12 and 11-13 which affirm the dignity of people of all gender identities and celebrate the gifts of LGBTQ+ people in the life, ministry and witness of the church.
Affirming the Dignity of People of All Gender Identities
We strongly support Item 11-12, an overture affirming the dignity of people of all gender identities. While the Presbyterian Church (USA) has never constitutionally prohibited transgender people from membership, participation or ordination, we have also made no theological statements specifically affirming the place of persons with diverse gender identities in the body of Christ.
Transgender people and their families experience misunderstanding, discrimination and injustice at every turn. We live in a time when the US president has called for the intentional and systematic exclusion of transgender people from military service, when many states have sought to permit discrimination against transgender people, and where the US government has challenged in court the inclusion of diverse gender identities among the qualifications for existing legal protections. As a denomination committed to social justice, surely the Presbyterian Church (USA) should be able to bear witness on behalf of transgender and gender nonconforming persons and their families.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) historically has been silent about transgender and gender nonconforming persons in society and also within the life and ministry of the church. While some congregations have offered safe, welcoming and affirming spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming children, youth, adults, elders and their families, we have quite a journey toward full inclusion and participation. This overture would invite our local congregations, presbyteries and church agencies into the work of reconciliation, education, ministry and social justice advocacy.
Celebrating the Gifts of LGBTQ+ People
We strongly support Item 11-13, an overture celebrating the gifts of LGBTQ+ people in the church. Since the ordination policy change for LGBTQ Presbyterians was ratified in 2011, we know that LGBTQ ministers, elders and deacons have begun serving or rather, serving more openly in all types of ministry settings across the country. We also recognize that this current generation of LGBTQ ministers, elders and deacons stand on the shoulders of the many who have gone before, who served, openly or in silence, in the decades before ordination policy change.
This overture simply declares that these LGBTQ persons, serving alongside their heterosexual church members and leaders, are faithful servants, not merely allowed to serve, but affirmed in their ministry and service to God and to the church. This overtures calls on the church to creatively seek ways to celebrate and empower these ministries which build up the body of Christ and expand God’s hospitality to all.
Reclaiming the True Meaning of “Religious Liberty”
We believe it is critical that the Assembly approve Items 11-04 and 11-15, that clarify and strengthen the church’s stand on “religious liberty” or “religious freedom.” Even prior to our nation’s founding, Presbyterians have stood against any effort to discriminate on the basis of religion. But today, a growing number of Christians and those using religion as a instrument of prejudice invoke “religious liberty” as a license to discriminate, particularly against LGBTQ people, which is the very opposite of what that term has historically meant and what we as a church have stood for.
There has never been a more important moment for the church to stand up for our historic understanding. The US Supreme Court, Congress and state governments will decide again and again in the coming years about the boundaries of religious liberty, and “religious” voices will be cited to justify all manner of attacks on the dignity and rights of those already oppressed. Believing that “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” we must strengthen the church’s position, reinforcing that it is never acceptable to justify discrimination on the basis of religion, while lifting up God’s call to justice, hospitality and love.
Naming and Combating Racism as a ‘Transformative Church’
The Jane A. Spahr Initiative is committed to interconnectivity as it recognizes the connections among social justice issues. We stand against sexism, racism, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia and other prejudices that are counter to the sacred worth of God’s creation. Therefore, we call on the Assembly to approve Item 11-11, calling the PCUSA to be a “transformative church in this intercultural era.” We support this important effort to name and combat racism along with the misuse of power and privilege.
As the Jane A, Spahr Reconciliation Initiative of the Center for Innovation in Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary, we are holding this 223rd General Assembly in our prayers. We are grateful for all of the commissioners, delegates and observers who will be together in St. Louis. We hope and pray that the radically inclusive love of God guides this Assembly in its worship, work and decisions.
The Jane A. Spahr Reconciliation Initiative
OUR CALL FOR COMPASSIONATE ACTION
This work of recognition of sacred creation and reconciliation creates the space for liberation and revitalization of communities of faith and spiritual practice. This revitalization and liberation process is central to the intersection of faith and justice issues. Faithfully and lovingly done, a meaningful process of truth and reconciliation empowers people of faith and spiritual practice to offer an authentic, vibrant witness to the fullness of God’s welcome. The Jane Spahr Reconciliation Project initiates and invites others into a truth and reconciliation process intended to lead people of faith and spiritual practice to an even deeper experience of relationship and reconciliation. This process is structured toward two objectives:
1) To open up spaces for faith communities to hear the stories of those who have been silenced or excluded, and
2) To lead communities of faith and spiritual practice into reconciliation conversations and actions.
Experience teaches that change happens when real people meet and share their stories and their faith. We are coordinating a cohort of gifted LGBTQ ministers and educators reaching out to congregations and other faith communities for the purposes of preaching, leading worship and educational offerings. We are also engaging campus ministries, non-profit organizations and church governing bodies regarding inclusion and interconnectivity.
ONLINE STORY TELLING
Inspired by Storycorps.org in which stories of all peoples and backgrounds are recorded for posterity, members of the LGBTQ community can express themselves openly to archive their experiences in their faith and spiritual communities.
"SHIFTS HAPPEN" LECTURE SERIES
Shifts Happen, the Centerʼs free lecture series, features intriguing panel discussions which also include local community leaders. The forums, all experienced in person or live-streamed through SFTS, consider how faith communities can respond and provide value to cultural and spiritual shifts. Issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and environmentalism are deeply interconnected from a spiritual perspective, and we highlight the role faith and spiritual communities have in working across justice lines.
WATCH THE VIDEO
ABOUT REV. DR. JANIE SPAHR
The Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr is a Presbyterian minister who advocates and educates for an inclusive church, pursuing justice and seeking answers to challenges for the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender Christians in our community. Janie seeks to heal the divide, even after many years of significant challenge based upon her sexual orientation.
After five years of serving as an ordained Presbyterian minister, Spahr was encouraged to resign as Executive Director of Oakland Council of Presbyterian Churches when she came out as a lesbian. That was 1980. Two years later, she was called to serve as the Minister of Pastoral Care in the Castro area of Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco, when her own Presbyterian denomination did not allow her to serve. Spahr spent the next decade facing similar barriers in church policies at the highest levels.
Meanwhile, Janie’s light and dynamism for inclusion found its way in spite of such institutional discouragement. She was among the founding members of the Ministry of Light, which then became the Spectrum Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns in Marin County, California. As their Executive Director for more than 10 years, this ministry became the leading LGBTQ center where innovative and inclusive programs such as youth groups, parent groups, PFLAG, support groups, family camps, and an AIDS Ministry could take root and thrive. Janie then focused her efforts on an outreach educational and advocacy ministry called That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) to develop a regional network within the PC(USA) to educate and advocate for a just and inclusive church.
Throughout her ministry, Janie had to face church prosecution for her inclusive ministry. But even when the church insisted that Janie should say no, she always said yes—specifically by celebrating the marriages of same gender couples and recognizing the full dignity of their families. Even as she faced prosecution, Janie built a broad community of advocacy, compassion and protest—dramatically embodied in that moment on May 16, 2012 when the Presbytery of the Redwoods refused to censure Janie Spahr, as decreed by the Presbyterian Supreme Court. Instead, the Presbytery of the Redwoods voted 74-18 to support her, forging a new path of inclusion.
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