CARROLLWOOD — What began three years ago as a complaint about the marriage of a lesbian couple has put a Carrollwood Presbyterian pastor into the national spotlight.
It was 2005 when the Rev. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister, married Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole in Pittsburgh. James C. Yearsley, who then served in Pittsburgh as well, learned of the ceremony in a newspaper interview Edwards had given.
"I was offended," said Yearsley, now the pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Carrollwood Village. "What she did in marrying two people of the same sex was a complete violation of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, and she knew that, but she intentionally violated the constitution."
Yearsley filed an accusation with the Pittsburgh Presbytery, and a one-year investigation ensued to determine if Edwards violated church doctrine and if she should be brought to a trial. The ramifications were dramatic, with many in the denomination around the country taking sides. A trial was ordered, then put off because of the Presbytery had mistakenly missed a deadline.
For those unfamiliar with the trial process: Charges are brought against the accused, who stands before an ecclesiastical court that determines guilt or innocence. The court is called a Permanent Judicial Commission and is composed of ministers and elders elected from within the judicatory having jurisdiction (in this case, the Pittsburgh Presbytery). The panel sits in place of a judge, and there is counsel for the accused.
Yearsley said he could have walked away, but his orthodox convictions led him to re-file the charges, this time with 13 other ministers. Once again there was a yearlong review, which culminated in March with a decision to bring Edwards to trial. All parties are now waiting to hear when the Presbytery will set a trial date.
Yearsley acknowledges that the Presbyterian Church has changed and evolved over hundreds of years. The organization now ordains women, for example. But he insists that the ruling enforcing marriage between only one man and one woman must always remain intact.
"There's a difference between ordaining women and the idea of God's plan for all of humanity," he said. "It's become a cultural issue. But for us, this about the authoritative word of God, which you can't change to make your desire appropriate."
Since the announcement last month, Edwards has entered into reflective prayer and would not speak directly with the media. She did release a statement through her spokeswomen, Ashley Harness, saying, "The Presbyterian Book of Order instructs the church to 'give full expression to the rich diversity within its membership,' and I believe marriage between two women or two men is consistent with this call to inclusiveness, diversity and openness within the church. It is also clear to me that marriage between two men or two women can have all of the characteristics of marriage envisioned in Scripture: fidelity, love, progeny, family, community, companionship and mutual support."
Edwards could be dismissed from the ministry. Whatever the result, Yearsley said he will be satisfied that the church pursued the allegations. He said he harbors no ill feelings toward Edwards.
"Janet has a wonderful gift for mediation, and a very compassionate pastoral heart," Yearsley said. "I just believe theologically what she did was wrong as she damaged the body of Christ."
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