Case dismissed against pastor in lesbian marriage ceremony
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The Presbyterian Church's charges against a minister for performing a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple last year were dismissed yesterday.
That's what the Rev. Janet Edwards wanted, but she had hoped it would be for a different reason.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
The Rev. Janet Edwards, right, who conducted the 2005 marriage ceremony for Brenda Cole, left, and Nancy McConn, speaks with reporters after yesterday's decision.
Click photo for larger image.
The charges were dismissed on a technicality: They were filed four days after the one-year statute of limitations ran out. Therefore, the permanent judicial commission, the church body that would try the case, couldn't hear any evidence on the issue at all.
"This constitutes neither a vindication of the accused, nor any position on the charges," said Kears Pollock, the vice moderator, as he read the commission's 8-0 decision.
And that means the issue of gay marriage within the Pittsburgh Presbytery will remain unresolved.
"I am relieved I am no longer subject to discipline," Ms. Edwards said. "The church must engage in this dialogue about the place of God's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children."
Her position all along has been that the Presbyterian Church does not forbid gay marriage.
The 1991 authoritative interpretation that currently governs the church says same-sex marriage will not be sanctioned and is not proper.
"It's not a prohibition," Ms. Edwards said. "It's a caution -- something that should be discussed."
She said she took six months to consider the request of Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole, and then another eight months to prepare the service. She believed that their relationship should be honored by a wedding ceremony, which she conducted in June 2005.
"Scripture teaches us that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment between the partners," she said.
Ms. McConn and Ms. Cole, who live about 10 miles outside of Wheeling, W.Va., said they had mixed feelings about yesterday's non-decision.
They were pleased that Ms. Edwards, a 13-year parish associate at the interdenominational Community of Reconciliation, in Oakland, will be able to continue to minister. But they are also disappointed that they can't share their love for each other with the world.
"We didn't get to help people understand how loving our relationship is, how important marriage is," Ms. Cole said. "We are both very spiritual people."
Their marriage, like others, holds them to a higher level of responsibility, they said, not just with each other, but with their community, their families and God.
After hearing brief argument on whether the charges against Ms. Edwards had been filed in a timely manner, the eight-member panel left the Grand Hall at the Priory -- the North Side facility where the trial was to occur -- to deliberate that singular issue. During the 90 minutes they were gone, the couple of hundred people in attendance mingled and shared in humming the traditional hymn, "Love Divine, All Love Excelling."
The vast majority of the crowd, it appeared, was there to support either Ms. Edwards as an individual, or the cause in its entirety. She had invited 346 people to attend the trial and a worship celebration at the Pittsburgh Golf Club afterward.
"Rev. Edwards has done a wonderful job putting our feet to the fire -- raising up the people who have been pushed to the side and shut out," said John Rhodes, of Toronto, Ontario, who follows such cases in the Presbyterian Church.
"This is a good trial -- about convictions, love and justice," said the Rev Wayne Peck, the pastor at Community House Presbyterian Church on the North Side. "She was witnessing an act of love. It's ironic you'd go on trial for that."
He believes having a dialogue on same-sex marriage is essential.
"Anything that furthers that conversation in the bounds of love and the bounds of God is a good thing," Mr. Peck said.
Some in the crowd were disappointed by the lack of a decision on the matter.
"It won't move us forward as a more loving, accepting society," said Cheryl Lowitzer, of the North Side.
But others thought the result was a necessary one.
"I don't think they had any other choice," said Sara Taylor, a lawyer who represented a California minister charged and cleared of the same allegations last year. "They're stuck with the [church] constitution."
"This issue can't be settled," said the Rev. Robert Humes, a semi-retired pastor of Moon Run Presbyterian Church in Robinson. "This is an issue that would prevail no matter whether she's judged or not."
Instead, it's just something that the church will have to continue to discuss, he said, under its motto of "Reformed, always reforming."
That is something Ms. Edwards reiterated. The essence of the Presbyterian Church, she said, is one where disagreement is necessary, so that its members can "discern God's will."
First Published November 16, 2006 12:00 am