Conversation with Rev. Janie Spahr
This week, I traveled to California to give witness and support for my friend and colleague, Rev. Jane Adams Spahr – or Janie – who is being put on trial by the Redwoods Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this week for presiding at marriages of same-gender couples. Rev. Spahr has been a minister for over 36 years and is a lifelong advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion within the church. At the time of posting, we were still awaiting the verdict. You can follow trial updates here: http://Twitter.com/RevJaneSpahr.
What are you thinking about during these days of trial?
Every time a couple comes to me seeking to be married, gay or straight, I see it as a sacred trust. I see my job as giving as much support as possible for a healthy, loving, sustaining relationship. During our long time together, we get down into the deepest places of vulnerability where fears and hurts can be healed and love can be nurtured. Participating in this process has been a large part of my calling to be an evangelist, one who spreads the message of love to everyone.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
Life is a prayer. I try to go to a deep place inside and then come from that centered place as I go into the world.
Where I live, the ocean is very close. There is something calming and comforting in water. From where we live we can see the ocean in the distance.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
I remember Wanda, the leader in the first church I served, teaching me to open my hands when I pray. That was an important step toward my finally getting that both sexuality and spirituality are gifts given to us by God. This also informed a shift in my sense of call from a ministry being for others to my ministry being with them.
All that stayed with me as I served in ministry to HIV-AIDS sufferers and their families, witnessing so many friends die. And a conviction galvanized in me that the church must not mess with LGBT people any more. I will not allow the church to insult my friends any more.
Prior to retiring, you served as a lesbian evangelist for That All May Freely Serve. How has your personal journey to serving in this way strengthened or challenged your faith?
When we become who we are by integrating our sexuality and our spirituality, there is only strength, nothing but strength. As I traveled the country for so many years, I heard so many wonderful stories of LGBT people sharing their authenticity. And we inspire authenticity in those who listen by sharing our stories. Through these stories I have seen God; they have sustained and strengthened my faith.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
What comes to mind are many people — people like you, Janet, and Jim Rigby — who come to life from such a deep place in the soul. You interact with people with an intentionality to see Christ in others and to come from a Christ-like place in yourselves. You articulate the Gospel by truly inviting people to it. It is extraordinary for me to watch.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
From Isaiah, the prophet:
God promises a name better than sons and daughters.
Then, I know how often the words of Ruth to Naomi, one woman with another, are used in weddings (Ruth 1:16-17). The depth of the love between Jonathan and David cannot be denied (1 Samuel 20:12-17).
Jesus’ whole ministry was a challenge to those who would take away another person’s humanity; in other words, He challenged all oppression. In the Old Testament the same truth about God’s will is captured in Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
I certainly acknowledge that we all have the right to disagree. To be in dialogue in the midst of that disagreement requires that we have a table that is equal and accessible to all and that is still not the case in the PCUSA. If others are going to vote on my life, then I want to be at the table in conversation with them. I say, disagree with me all you want, but bring me to and keep me at the table to talk.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
I come to talk and I ask these kinds of questions: “What can we do together?” and “Why don’t we ask questions like ‘How can faith communities foster relationships’ or ‘How can we learn together from couples with strong relationships?’”
I have learned that an imbalance of power can block good people from being together with their differences. That power differential is the evil that needs to be challenged.
I sometimes begin in this way, “You may believe my sexuality is a sin. I believe it is a gift. Tell me about you? What is your passion and where do you see God at work?”