Catching up with religion news

I’m back.

My family went down to suburban Atlanta to visit my parents, who retired down there. I purposely avoided religion news all week — we all have to clear our heads — but couldn’t help craning my neck to see all the churches.

newhopebaptist.jpgThey have the big non-denominational churches off the highways, and little Baptist churches (like the one in the picture) that were there long before the suburbs grew around them. Pretty much wherever you are, there’s a church close by.

I started off my week this morning with a visit to a Christian Science family in New City. I’m working on a feature about how Christian Science parents raise their kids in the suburbs without doctors. It seems to me that the Burbs are increasingly pediatrician-centric — with all the vaccinations, school physicals, worries about ear-infections and allergies, etc., etc. — so I wanted to see how Christian Scientists live their lives.

I think their stories will make for a real interesting feature.

Having gone through a few hundreds emails so far, I see that the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA) did indeed approve an amendment to church law that would remove the controversial “fidelity and chastity” requirement for ordination. (I really didn’t read religion news all week…)

Now the denomination’s 173 presbyteries have to each vote on the change. A majority will have to support it for the amendment to hit the books.

Twice — in 1997 and 2000 — General Assemblies have approved proposals to remove the “fidelity and chastity” requirement, which makes gays and lesbians ineligible for ordination. But both times, not enough presbyteries supported the move.

We know that the gay-friendly Hudson River Presbytery, which includes PCUSA churches in the Hudson Valley (thus the name), will approve the change by an overwhelming margin.

For a local summary of the GA, you can read the Rev. Chris Shelton’s blog here.

When is a same-sex ceremony a marriage?

There was an interesting decision this week in a Presbyterian Church (USA) case involving a retired California minister who has married several same-sex couples.

PCUSA’s highest court cleared the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr of charges that she violated the denomination’s constitution by marrying two gay couples. The reason was that same-sex couples can’t be married, so Spahr could not be “found guilty of doing that which, by definition, cannot be done.”

Talk about a technicality.

08d3501bf5694718918d7fd44d258d8f.jpgA lower court had found Spahr guilty. Her case has received tremendous attention within PCUSA, which has been tying itself in knots for decades over homosexuality.

PCUSA courts had previously ruled that there are no constitutional prohibitions against same-sex ceremonies that are distinct from marriages. The latest decision maintained that distinction.

“The PJC’s decision reaffirms what our directory of worship says, that marriage is between a man and woman and that no officer should present a same-sex union as a marriage,” said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the PCUSA’s General Assembly. “At the same time the decision recognizes the importance of pastoral care and the appropriateness of same-sex blessing services as long as they are not presented as marriage ceremonies.”

The court said that Spahr did not describe the ceremonies she performed as marriages. But Spahr, who is a lesbian herself, said after the decision that she would continue to perform same-sex marriages, not wanting to perform an alternative rite that is “separate but unequal.”

Interestingly, the court noted that Spahr may feel that she is acting as a “prophet” to the church.

“Prophecy contains risk and uncertainty both for those who would speak and for those who listen,” the court said.

Of course, Pope Benedict, when at the ecumenical service in NYC, warned of “so-called prophetic actions” that are splintering Christian traditions. He didn’t name those actions.

Not that many Presbyterians who favor same-sex marriage (or unions that are different from marriage) care all that much what the pope says…