Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D. will be the featured speaker at the 2017 GCN WomenConnect retreat, which will take place on the afternoon of January 5, immediately preceding the first general session of GCN’s 2017 Conference, “Stories Inspire.”
Janet was kind enough to provide a little of her story for readers of Where She Is prior to her appearance at GCN WomanConnect.
The following words are Janet’s.
My Christian story began, I’d say, with sitting beside my grandfather in the fifth row on the lectern side every Sunday morning in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian church my great-great grandparents had helped to build in Pittsburgh, PA. I loved church. I loved the organ and choir. I loved trying to figure out how the song in the hymnal worked. I liked Sunday school and I took the promises I made at confirmation seriously. I tried to love God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and to love my neighbor as myself.
Identification with and support of LGBTQ people began, I would say, with the effort to make sense of my uncle coming with Johnnie from their home in Southern California to enjoy the fall change of season and to visit family. Nothing was ever said except that this was his friend, Johnnie, and my grandmother loved them both. I was in college when I finally guessed they were probably gay. It was much later that I realized our Presbyterian family could have taught me some terrible things about them. I am grateful for their witness to love and their letting me figure things out myself.
I entered Yale Divinity School in the early seventies, when the arguments in the mainline churches were heating up around ordination of gay and lesbian believers. One of my dorm mates was Chris Glaser, who was already under the care of his presbytery for ordination and who came out as gay in our first semester. I knew Chris, a talented musician and preacher, was far more gifted than I was. Supporting Chris through this period, I was ordained in 1977. I participated in my presbytery’s debate about ordination of gays and lesbians that contributed to the 1978 General Assembly ruling against their ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
I served as pastor in three small churches in Pittsburgh until I was unable to balance a congregation with a physician husband who could be called to the hospital at any time and two small children. We joined the Community of Reconciliation, an intentionally interracial and ecumenical church founded in 1968. Over twenty-five years, I did almost everything at COR, from toddler Sunday school teacher to Interim Co-Pastor. Another choir member, also a Presbyterian pastor not serving a church, invited me to join the Presbytery Task Force on Ministry With Sexual Minorities.
I was eager at that time to do something that would show our sons—well before they wakened to their own sexual identities, whatever that might be—that my faith taught me to love everyone just as God made them. Service on this presbytery task force was an opportunity to do that. My family supported me through all that was to come. I think you will see where I stood became very clear.
Through task force involvement in pro-LGBTQ interfaith activities, I met Brenda, a serious Buddhist, whose partner Nancy is a life-long Presbyterian. When they got engaged, Nancy wanted a Presbyterian minister to preside at the wedding. They invited me to officiate and gave me several months to discern God’s call here. We were all very aware of the tensions in the PCUSA and the likelihood that charges would be brought against me in the church were my participation to become known. And Nancy and Brenda wanted a celebratory announcement in our local paper, the kind any married couple would have, with the name of the officiant included. I could, potentially, lose my ordination.
But my church, the PCUSA, was mired at that time in silent conflict where the only arena for consideration of the place of LGBTQ people in the eyes of God and the church was in the church courts.
Nancy and Brenda’s wedding was one of the spiritual high points of my life. It was truly a Pentecost moment, where I experienced the Spirit falling upon the gathered group. When we sat down to share our experience after their return from their honeymoon, they said the same. We marveled at what had happened. And within weeks of the wedding announcement and a newspaper story about it highlighting my being a descendant of the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, accusations were filed in the presbytery against me for violating Scripture and the Constitution of the PCUSA by presiding at the wedding.
There were actually two trials. The first ended in acquittal because the charges were filed beyond the statute of limitations. Within days, a second set of accusations was submitted, leading to another trial where I was again acquitted. The heart of the decision was that what I had done was impossible, but doing the impossible cannot violate Scripture or the PCUSA Constitution.
While this outcome was unkind to Nancy and Brenda, dismissing their marriage, it was a huge relief, of course. Through publicity around the trials, we had spread far and wide the message that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment between the partners, not their gender. One way we had done that was through a website. After the second trial ended, I decided to turn that site into a blog (originally TimetoEmbrace.com and later RevJanetEdwards.com) to continue to offer a Christian perspective on LGBTQ inclusion in the church and in God’s heart. That led to posting on Presbyterian Outlook, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Christian Century, and BelieveOutLoud.com.
In the same period as these investigations and trials, in 2006, I joined the board of More Light Presbyterians, the oldest pro-LGBTQ group in the PCUSA, co-moderating the board for 2009 to 2011. I was blessed to participate directly in the effort to move the PCUSA to allow ordination of LGBTQ people (adopted in 2011) and pastors to preside at weddings of two people (adopted in 2015).
All this came from wanting to love my neighbor as myself and to love my children as a mother. It’s amazing where love can take you, isn’t it?
Connect with Rev. Janet Edwards
Index of 2017 GCN Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today
Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to GCN WomenConnect Featured Speaker Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D.
Interview with Rev. Janet Edwards, Part 1
Interview with Rev. Janet Edwards, Part 2
Interview with Rev. Jan Edwards, Part 3
Reflection by Jennifer Kane — “A Most Inspiring Story”
Reflection by Elyse Kitrakis — “The Inspiration to Move Forward”
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