Bil Browning

Liveblog: Presbyterian Church lesbian court case

Filed By Bil Browning | March 20, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: church trial, lesbian minister, Lisa Larges, openly gay minister, Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, seminary

Lisa Larges, a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, was blocked from ordination in 1992 by a court decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) because she was honest about being a lesbian. Larges has continued seeking ordination and today - starting at noon - a hearing will decide if Larges' ordination will move forward or be appealed to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, the highest church court. A decision is likely to be announced the weekend after the hearing.

Although the ban against gay and lesbian ordination stands, a change in the church's national policy allows individual exceptions if a candidate submits a statement of conscience against the prohibition. Larges was the first to submit a statement of conscience and was approved to move forward in the ordination process. The hearing on March 20 will rule on charges claiming that while persons can dissent to theological views about gays and lesbians, they cannot be ordained as open and "practicing" unrepentant gays or lesbians.

After the jump, a few special correspondent Projectors will be liveblogging the church hearing for us. Updates will appear at the top of the page. Full Disclosure: I am a Presbyterian.

Anne Purdy - 9:56ET The hearing is adjourned!

Please watch here, and follow #tamfs on twitter to get word of the decision.


Jaime Donahue - 9:43ET Jaime Donahue: Closing arguments have concluded. Nothing we can do now but pray.

Richard Lindsay - 8:53ET The Commission has ruled that Lisa's testimony is not relevant to the case, and she will therefore not be allowed to testify. The councils are moving into their closing arguments.

Jaime Donahue - 8:23ET They are still debating whether it is relevant for Lisa to testify. Now, is a good time for prayer.

Then again, anytime is a good time for prayer.

Anne Purdy - 8:12ET A short break now... Lisa has been out in the lobbying visiting with folks. Derrick just sang her a beautiful gospel him "what god has for me is for me." We are nearing the end of a long day!

Richard Lindsay - 8:01ET Break in trial.

Next up, apparently a re-debate over whether or not it is relevant for Lisa to testify, which she is more than willing to do.

Anne Purdy - 7:49ET We're down to the last witness... Robin Crawford, a minister and attorney. He is currently being questioned by the Permanent Judicial Commission.

After we expect just a few minutes for each closing argument. We might actually wrap this up by 5:30/6.

Will McGarvey - 7:40ET Carrie Buckner talked about the full process Jan 15th as moderator. The protest, not hearing about misunderstandings. There is a strategy among the complainents to say that the Jan 15th vote would be the last examination on Lisa's departure. Rather than certifying her so that she can be examined about a call and then her trials of ordination - the lawsuit has precluded.

Anne Purdy - 7:15ET Carrie Buckner, a pastor and chaplain, who ran the meeting in January as the moderator is still on the stand. She is doing a great job responding to the complainants questioning.

Anne Purdy - 7:06ET with twittering shut down, is the only place to follow the hearing. we're outside in the lobby, getting updates from people as they leave or enter the hearing room.

Anne Purdy - 7:05ET Moderator of Presbytery on stand

Anne Purdy - 6:52ET The complainant has rested.

First witness for for the respondents: Lauren Chan, member of PUP discernment team. The PUP report was working towards transparency in the departure process so that members of the Presbytery would know what was going on. PUP stands for Peace, Unity and Purity.

Richard Lindsay - 6:40ET As has become standard at hearings involving LGBT issues and the San Francisco Presbytery and Synod of the Pacific, media has been banned from the supposedly public meetings. Several observers have been asked not to text or twitter updates during the course of the trial. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a complex but well-designed polity system which is based on open dialogue and could be a witness to society about how to deal with controversial issues in a civil manner. Unfortunately, church bodies often prefer to conduct their proceedings with all the secrecy of the college of Cardinals.

Anne Purdy - 6:24ET Rev. Scott Palmbush from the Presbytery of San Francisco is currently testifying.

Anne Purdy - 5:58ET Each side was given two and half hours for their arguments. We just got word that each side has 70 minutes left. Looks like we definitely
will finish the hearing today.

Anne Purdy - 5:49ET After over 4 hours on the stand, Mary Naegle has finished her testimony.

We're on a short break now... The complainants have another hour to present their case, then the rest of the afternoon will be for the respondents.

Jaime Donahue - 5:10ET I don't understand how some view this situation as not personal. We're talking about people's lives and faith.

The semantic argument volleys back and forth like a well oiled machine - so mechanical. Yet in my polity class at San Francisco Theological Seminary we emphasized so greatly that an important point of Presbyterian polity is that our polity reflects our theology. How can we systematize a conscience? Especially one that we claim that God alone is Lord of? This discussion is so delicate and so dangerous. I pray that we remember to live out the words of the prophet Micah and seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Will McGarvey - 5:06ET It seems that Rev. Naegli is arguing that since G-6.0106b remains in the BOO there is a blanket prohibition against ordaining anyone who offers a departure on it, despite the PUP report and the change of Authoritative interpretation - in contradiction of the intention of those more recent changes.

Richard Lindsay - 5:05ET This trial comes at an important time for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The national governing body of the denomination (General Assembly) voted in June 2008 to change the church constitution regarding rules for ordination of LGBT candidates for ministry. The vote, which would allow presbyteries the discretion to ordain openly-LGBT ministers, has to be ratified by a majority vote of the presbyteries (smaller regional bodies -- like a diocese).

Presbyteries are currently in the process of debating and voting on this change. Upcoming votes include Boston, 3/23; Philadelphia, 03/28; New York City, 03/28; and San Francisco, 04/21. If you are Presbyterian, check with That All May Freely Serve to see when your presbytery is voting. It is not known how the vote will affect the outcome of Lisa's case.

Heather Grantham - 4:36 is there a difference between celibacy and chastity? doug nave is saying there is since the GA decided against using the word 'celibacy' in g6106b. plus the heidelberg catechism states that married people should be chaste. this just shows how problematic g6106b is AND that it needs to change.

Anne Purdy - 4:28ET current debate: is there a difference between chastity and celibacy?

Will McGarvey - 4:16ET I am Rev. Will McGarvey, pastor at Community Presbyterian in Pittsburgh and a member of the Presbytery of San Francisco.

Most of the rational so far presented has been centered on trying to establish a strong link between the church constitution as a standard that cannot be interpreted apart from a more literal interpretation of the Bible. The complainants are arguing that conscience can only be understood as an individual's freedom which is subject to the church's discipline - rather than a part of a communal discernment in which departures such as Lisa's are received and discerned as essential to not an essential of the Reformed tradition. 'A biblical informed conscience is informed by the word of God.' It seems she means the Bible, rather than the living word: Jesus. Bound or guided by the Confessions? That is the question.

Anne Purdy - 4:09ET Hearing started again promptly at 1pm.

Derrock McQueen - 3:53ET My dear friends,

A big thank you to God for the discernment to the 20 presbyteries that have changed their votes from No to Yes in replacing Amendment G-6.0106B! The vote as of March 17th is 47 Yes, 75 No. A great thanks to our friends at Covenant Network for their updated vote tally. But an even greater thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit continues to guide this process with the love and grace commanded by Christ.

That All May Freely Serve writes to you today asking that you all lift up a prayer for the San Francisco Presbytery as it prepares to defend its decision to move Candidate Lisa Larges forward for examination. What exactly does that mean? In the process to become a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, the presbytery is asked to do a personal assessment of the candidate. The examination process is simply an opportunity for the Committee on Preparation on Ministry to meet with the candidate, review their statement of faith, their life and ministry as a whole. Lisa has been a candidate for ministry for many, many years. Please go to our website,, to get more details about the case.

But on a more personal note, I must say thank you to That All May Freely Serve for allowing me be in San Francisco to support Lisa Larges and the San Francisco Presbytery as they work to defend God's call on God's servant. Heather Ishimaru of KGO-TV News asked Lisa how she personally felt as the trial proceeds. Lisa answered, "The feeling of serenity is starting to sink in." As I reflected upon this, it is the footsteps poster all over again--when we feel like we are walking alone, those are the times that God carries us.

As we move forward with this trial let this be our prayer; that we know and feel that God is always with us. Let us be the witness we wish to bring to the world.

Richard Lindsay - 3:23ET SF Presbytery council Doug Nave compared Lisa to the Reformers, who acted according to conscience, even if church law was not always in their favor.

Let's remember the Reformers were sexual reformers as well, as Luther, as a priest, married his wife despite church celibacy rules.

Anne Purdy - 3:12ETMary Naegle has testified for 1/12 hours and will continue for approximately another hour after lunch. Then the plaintiff has 5 more witnesses to go...

It is sounding like we'll be here til 5.

Anne Purdy - 3:05ET Lunch break! Trial will reconvene in 45 minutes.

Richard Lindsay - 2:50ET Doug Nave, counsel for the SF Presbytery is cross-examining complaintant Mary Naegle.

Derrick McQueen - 2:43ET Here I sit, Derrick McQueen, a board member of TAMFS listening intently as the witnesses discuss exactly what the interpretations are of all of these rules and regulations of the church! One of things that I'm feeling right now is a sense of clarity, strangely enough, about what this case is really about. The complainants have just laid out a case that after 3 hours of discussion a group of over 300 folks didn't know what they voted on. It is becoming clear the vote to move Lisa forward was simply a vote to move her forward for examination by her Presbytery. It was a vote to allow her to be in conversation with the folks she's been in relationship with during her candidacy. After working closely with an author of the PUP (Peace Unity and Purity) report, it seems (without going into detail) that the San Francisco did exactly what that report modeled; encouraging people to come together to discuss differences all with the common understanding of loving this church we work in. I am confident as I go back into the trial that this building of relationship is in keeping with Jesus way of loving folk, by getting to know them and letting the word be spread that grace is a gift from God. Hope to give you more soon--keep praying. Oh at 12:34 say a word of prayer or be in silence. Why 12:34? Because the next logical number is 5-the next logical step is to move Lisa forward for examination/conversation with her presbytery!

Richard Lindsay - 2:43ET Lisa popped out briefly during a short break. She expressed thanks to everyone that is praying for her. She said "prayer is better than court." We have word that Lisa will be testifying this afternoon. There had to be a ruling on the part of the Synod (regional body that is conducting the trial) to allow her to testify.

Richard Lindsay - 2:31ET The trial is based on the arcane tenets of Presbyterian polity. Presbyterians generally separate issues of church governance from issues of theology and personal conscience. So Lisa is not "on trial" for her beliefs or even for being a lesbian. At issue is whether or not the San Francsico Presbytery erred in allowing her ordination process to move forward. The complaintants are members of the Presbytery who disagree with the majority decision. The idea is to give the minority sufficient opportunity to object or appeal decisions made by the Presbytery. Forming church polity is a highly deliberative and consensus-seeking process in this denomination.

In commenting on Lisa's understanding of Jesus, the complaintants are using her statements of conscience to attempt to disqualify Lisa from being ordained, even though it's not about Lisa per se but about what the polity will allow.

Richard Lindsay - 2:24ET From our person inside the trial:

"Witness declared that Lisa's understanding of Jesus is 'problematic.'"

This is absurd. Lisa is among the most faithful people I know in her
Christian faith. And beyond being a Christian, her understanding of Jesus is
100% Presbyterian.

Anne Purdy - 2:15ET The plaintiff is still questioning the witness, Mary Naegle. They'll will be recessing for lunch in about an hour.

Richard Lindsay - 2:01ET Janie Spahr, founding minister director of That All May Freely Serve came and spoke to KPFA Berkeley. With trademark enthusiasm and energy she told the reporter when she says the church is open to ALL, she wants that to mean ALL -- "No asterisk." She told us when she hears those opposing LGBT ordination, her heart cries out, "This is old thinking! Come over and join us in the new world!"

I also interviewed with CBS radio SF and ABC News as Lisa is busy in the trial.

Anne Purdy - 1:46ET Reverend Mary Naegle, witness for the plaintiff, is still speaking on the restrictions of conscience.

Anne Purdy - 1:17ET It's been a busy morning here at the Park Plaza Hotel. The hearing is in opening testimony. The issue being addressed is what
constitutes a biblically-formed conscience.The hearing has been closed to the media so journalists are lingering in the lobby, drinking Starbucks and frantically typing on their
laptops. It looks like there will be a break at around noon...

Richard Lindsay - 1:12ET Here was the news story on Lisa Larges from KGO Channel 7 broadcast Wednesday, March 18.

Anne Purdy - 12:24ET Lisa headed into the trial with high spirits. After an early morning interview with NBC 11, she took her place in the hearing room, surround by supporters, including Derrick McQueen, Rev. Jane Spahr and Sara Taylor.

Rev. Spahr was in the headlines the last few years, as the Presbyterian church put her on trial for marrying same sex couples. In May 2008, Rev. Spahr was cleared of the charges. Read more about her trial here:

Students from the San Francisco Theological Seminary are also here to support Lisa.

Opening statements have begun.

You can follow us here and on twitter with the key word #tamfs.

Anne Purdy - 12:08ET We are here at the Park Plaza Hotel in Oakland and the hearing that will decide Lisa Larges' ordination has just begun. For background on the hearing and Lisa's 20 year mission to be ordained a an out lesbian Presbyterian minister, please visit

We'll be live blogging all day to keep you updated on the hearing.

Stay tuned!

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Luke Williams | March 20, 2009 12:46 PM


We love you and support your prophetic work to change the church and change the world!

God blessed you Lisa with your humanity. I will pray that others will recognize that.

Heather Grantham | March 20, 2009 1:22 PM


We're behind you all the way!!!

Heather commented that they have asked for no twittering: is that true?

If so, has the liveblog been shut down too? If no to the latter, can you post more frequently?

Sorry Sonnie - part of that was my fault. I got stuck on a phone call and Anne sent in a couple of updates that I just got to post now.

From our e-mails, yes, they've asked that folks not use electronic devises in the courtroom. The bloggers have moved their equipment to the hallway outside and are running out to blog.

So much for transparency that the PUP report wanted if we can't even receive twitters and bloggers must run to the hallway.

Oops my link goes to someone else's blog.

Hey Bil ~~ Did we lose contact with the folks at the hearing? Thanks, Sonnie (on pins-and-needles at home)

Nope - they just slowed down on the updates. :)

The whole shebang is over now though. Keep Lisa in your prayers!

Hey Bil ~~ Did we lose contact with the folks at the hearing? Thanks, Sonnie (on pins-and-needles at home)

Thanks to all for the updates! Prayers are with you Lisa and for a just decision!