Monday, October 06, 2008

Acquitted: Rev. Edwards found not guilty for performing gay marriage ceremony

Here's some good news from the Presbyterian Denomination:

Presbyterian court says minister did not violate Scripture or church law by officiating at wedding of two women.
by Evan Silverstein
Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian
minister in Pittsburgh, was found not guilty Thursday (Oct.
2) following a trial on charges that she violated Scripture
and the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
when she presided at the marriage of two women.

The nine-member Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of
Pittsburgh Presbytery unanimously ruled that the
constitutions of the PC(USA) and the state of Pennsylvania
define marriage as an act between a man and a woman.
Therefore, judges said, the ceremony could not have been a
wedding ceremony.

“It can’t be an offense to the constitution to attempt to
do the impossible,” said the decision, read by the Rev.
Stewart Pollock, the PJC’s chairman, according to the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Edwards, a parish associate at the interdenominational
Community of Reconciliation, never denied officiating at
the June 2005 marriage ceremony of Brenda Cole and Nancy
McConn, who reside near Wheeling, WV.

Edwards has steadfastly argued that there is no prohibition
on same-sex wedding ceremonies in the PC(USA) because the
courts have said clergy “should not” conduct them —
language she believes is advisory, not binding.

“I am blessed to serve Christ in the Presbyterian Church of
the Reformed tradition, which welcomes the fact that change
is part of God’s good plan,” Edwards said in a statement.
“I pray that the dialogue sparked by this trial will
provide another step along the path as we seek to reconcile
our church with the fine future for marriage God has in
store for us.”

This week’s trial was the second time Edwards faced church
legal action for performing the ceremony.

Pittsburgh Presbytery officials dismissed a similar
complaint during a trial in November 2006 on a
technicality. The presbytery PJC ruled that an
investigating committee filed charges against Edwards after
its deadline for doing so. Edwards’ accusers then filed new
accusations last year resulting in the latest trial.

Edwards, a direct descendant of legendary Puritan
theologian Jonathan Edwards, could have faced a number of
punishments, including removal from ordained ministry, if
she had been convicted.

According to the Post-Gazette the testimony during the
two-day trial at a hotel on Pittsburgh’s north side was
lopsided on the side of the defense. The prosecution called
one witness, a church official who had told Edwards that
she could bless a gay couple, but not marry them.

The defense presented three biblical scholars and
theologians who testified that her acceptance of same-sex
marriage was within the Presbyterian tradition of
interpreting Scripture in its cultural context, the
newspaper reported. They also called an authority on church
law who said that it did not prohibit same-sex marriage.

The prosecution “offered no evidence that the accused
violated [eight Bible passages it cited] or any other
Scripture passages,” Pollock said, according to the

Pittsburgh Presbytery has 45 days to file an appeal.

Edwards said she was pleased the trial furthered discussion
of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the

“If the conversations it has inspired become part of the
dialogue on how our church can fully embrace its gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, I believe this
trial can be a blessing to us all,” she said in the

McConn and Cole, the couple whose wedding Edwards
performed, were present at the trial.

Even if the court called their marriage impossible, “it was
the happiest day of my life. I’m so grateful that Janet was
courageous and compassionate,” McConn told the

McConn, a longtime Presbyterian and former member of Dallas
Presbyterian Church in Dallas, WV, currently worships at a
Unitarian congregation. Cole was raised Methodist but now
is a practicing Buddhist.

“We know no other word except ‘marriage’ that fully
describes what we share,” Cole told the Pittsburgh
Tribune-Review. “It’s a covenant between us and God.”

The Rev. James C. Yearsley, a Presbyterian minister who is
currently serving in Florida, filed a complaint against
Edwards shortly after the lesbian marriage, only to see the
charges against Edwards dismissed on the technicality in

Yearsley submitted a new grievance against Edwards in
February 2007. Seven other PC(USA) ministers and six elders
from Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania and
Washington state signed on to the new complaint, joining
Yearsley as “co-accusers.”

A Pittsburgh native, Yearsley has been pastor of Village
Presbyterian Church in Tampa, FL, since February 2006. When
he filed his original complaint against Edwards he was
serving as pastor at Mt. Hope Community Church, a
Presbyterian congregation in suburban Pittsburgh.

Yearsley attended this week’s trial but flew back to Tampa
before the verdict. Before leaving, he said an acquittal
would signal collapse of church discipline, the
Post-Gazette reported. But he said he would not push for an
appeal or leave the denomination.

“This is the church I was called to serve,” Yearsley told
the newspaper. “I'm a Presbyterian and I'm going to stay
and contend for what I think the church should be.”

Yearsley told the Tribune-Review, “I’m not frustrated; this
decision does not surprise me. This is the direction of our
denomination, and it is accelerating. But it’s the wrong
decision for the wrong reasons. It’s a further attempt to
accommodate culture at the expense of scriptural authority
and belief.”

He described Edwards as “a very gracious, kind soul,” the
Tribune-Review reported.

The Rev. Bob Anderson, interim pastor to Pittsburgh
Presbytery, said he knew some local Presbyterians would be
disappointed in the verdict.

“It’s a very sensitive issue,” he told the Post-Gazette.
“We in the presbytery offices are very sensitive to those
concerns and we will keep this as a matter of prayer as we
go into the future.”

Thursday’s PJC ruling follows a similar church court ruling
earlier this year involving the marriage of same-sex
couples. The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, a Presbyterian lesbian
activist from San Rafael, CA, was found not-guilty of
misconduct in April after a trial on charges that she
violated the PC(USA)’s constitution by performing weddings
for two lesbian couples.

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly
(GAPJC), the PC(USA)’s highest court, found that Spahr did
not violate denominational law when she officiated at the
weddings in 2004 and 2005. Like the Pittsburgh ruling, the
GAPJC found that the ceremonies Spahr performed were not
marriages, so she did not violate the church’s
constitution, the high court ruled.

The six ministers who joined Yearsley in signing his most
recent complaint were: the Rev. David Perry of Coastal
Carolina Presbytery; the Rev. James Coone of Grace
Presbytery; the Rev. Robert Kopp of Blackhawk Presbytery;
the Rev. Jim Tilley of Blackhawk Presbytery; the Rev. Toby
Brown of Mission Presbytery; and the Rev. Mark Hughey of
Blackhawk Presbytery.

One of the co-accusers, the Rev. L. Russ Howard, eventually
withdrew his name from the complaint after the congregation
where he’s a pastor left the PC(USA) for the Evangelical
Presbyterian Church.

The six elders who signed the complaint were: Sarah Beard
of Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Marysville, WA;
Everett Worrell of First Presbyterian Church in Belvidere,
IL; Mark Rouleau of Westminster Presbyterian Church in
Rockford, IL; Robert Gagnon of Eastminster Presbyterian
Church of Pittsburgh; Pamela Easton of Bethany Presbyterian
Church in Loves Park, IL; and Virginia Worrell of First
Presbyterian Church in Belvidere, IL.

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