Missing words make a difference

hugged a prestEarlier this week, a regional church court heard a case in which a Presbyterian pastor from Pittsburgh was accused of performing a same-sex wedding ceremony in violation of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). While the trial was ongoing, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had a weak story with a confusing and erroneous headline:

State court backs Presbyterian minister

Actually, it was a former state Superior Court judge who told church officials that the Rev. Janet Edwards did not violate the constitution of the Presbyterian Church when she officiated a wedding between two women in June 2005. Ugh. I hope the headline writer was simply drunk.

The ruling came down on Thursday and it was unanimous. They cleared Edwards, they said, because there's no such thing as same-sex marriage according to either the Presbyterian constitution or Pennsylvania law. The court said she couldn't have done what she was accused of -- performing a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained a bit about how the prosecution lost its case, even if Edwards never denied she did what she was accused of:

The testimony at The Priory, a North Side hotel, was lopsided on the side of the defense. The prosecution called one witness, a church official who had told her 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. 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," the Rev. Pollock said.

Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal had some helpful background on how the decision fits into other rulings:

The ruling from the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Pittsburgh Presbytery echoed one made earlier this year by the top court in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

That court refused to find California minister Janie Spahr guilty of performing same-sex marriages on the grounds that the church constitution defines marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman. Thus, Spahr couldn't have performed same-sex marriages because there is no such legal thing, even though she called the ceremonies marriages.

"One cannot characterize same- sex ceremonies as marriages for the purpose of disciplining a minister of the Word and Sacrament and at the same time declare that such ceremonies are not marriages for legal or ecclesiastical purposes," the top court said in a complex and mixed ruling.

The GA Junkie has more on the ruling and its implications for the future of Presbyterian doctrine on marriage. But kudos to the papers who did cover this important trial and the interesting ruling that came out of it.

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