For Downtown United Presbyterian Church, the situation was fairly straightforward. The Rochester, New York congregation was looking for a co-pastor, and members felt Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was the most qualified candidate.
The case has become anything but simple. Conservatives in Downtown Church's presbytery filed a complaint against the validity of Spahr's call to the pulpit, claiming that her sexuality—she openly acknowledges that she is in a committed relationship with another woman—prevents her from serving as a pastor.
Even on the narrow grounds of Presbyterian church law, Spahr's case is far from open and shut. Last summer the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) failed to accept a report on human sexuality that called for, among other things, the ordination of gays and lesbians. And a 1978 church policy expressly prohibits ordaining homosexuals. But when the policy was passed, a clause was added to explicitly forbid the use of the regulation "to affect negatively the ordination rights" of those ordained before 1978. Spahr became a minister in 1974.
Regardless of the result of Spahr's May 19 hearing, her case—and the issue of the role of homosexuals in the church—will likely reverberate through the denomination for some time to come; the expected appeal process could take as long as a year. In addition, this summer's general assembly will consider a proposal to discipline "More Light" congregations that have come out in support of gay and lesbian people, an overture to altogether ban homosexuals from the church, and a report from the denomination's theology and worship committee on how the Presbyterian church should proceed on the issue of sexuality.