"Maybe We’re Talking About A Different God" is the story of the Reverend Jane Adams Spahr, a Presbyterian minister and a lesbian, who was called to serve as pastor of a large metropolitan church in Rochester, New York. Although ninety percent of the congregation voted to approve her as their minister, other Presbyterian churches in the area vehemently protested the appointment and her case was brought before an ecclesiastical court. In documenting that trial, this film reveals the struggle of ordinary people to come to terms with their own difficulties around homosexuality.
Reviewed by Ellen Greenblatt, Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver
"This provocative film examines the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s stance on homosexuality within the context of one lesbian's struggle to serve as a minister. The Rev. Jane Spahr, who was ordained by the Church in 1974 and came out as a lesbian four years later, was hired (or in Church parlance "called") to serve as one of four co-pastors of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY in 1991. One month after she started, a group of ministers and elders from other congregations protested her appointment based on her sexual orientation.
Court battles ensued. The court case hinged on a document produced by the General Assembly (the Church's policy-making body) four years after Spahr's ordination that barred "unrepentant" gays and lesbians from leadership positions in the Church. Spahr won the first two rounds, but ultimately the Church's Permanent Judicial Commission declared that Spahr's call to serve the Rochester congregation violated official church policy because she lived her life openly (and unrepentantly) as a lesbian.
In a 1993 article in the journal, Christianity and Crisis (1/4/93, p. 423), Spahr addresses the significance of her struggle: "I follow the One who challenged the religious people and rules of his time because the law had become more important than people. When the law becomes more important than loving our own children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, and neighbors - for that is who lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are - as Christians we must protest."
Perhaps the most moving aspect of the film is its exploration of the growing understanding of Spahr's congregants as they confront their own homophobia and come to accept and support Spahr as minister. In fact, Spahr had the backing of 90 per cent of her congregation.
The production of the video itself emerged out of controversy. Originally intended to air on ABC television, when that network decided to cut footage in which Rev. Spahr expresses her love for her partner, Coni, filmmakers Ann Macksoud and John Ankele withdrew in protest from the ABC project and independently produced the current video.
The ongoing debate among the various Church factions, the testimonies of Spahr's congregants, and the chilling arguments of the attorneys all combine to create a stimulating and inspiring film - an excellent resource for group discussion. In fact, the distributor has included a several questions to help foster such a discussion. The production values of the film mirror the excellence of its content. Highly recommended!
Postscript: Spahr now serves as an evangelist for "That All May Freely Serve," (TAMFS) a ministry that works to promote full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and bisexual people into the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. TAMFS is mission project of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester, New York and the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Tiburon, California. Controversy continues to surround Spahr. In 1999, the steering committee of the National Ministries Division Committee of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. overturned her selection as one of three recipients of the denomination's Women of Faith awards. The General Assembly Council later reversed that decision in the face of a huge protest."
Maybe We're Talking About A Different God: Homosexuality and the Church (1994)
Duration: 28 minutes
Directed by Anne Macksoud & John Ankele
"Maybe We're Talking About A Different God? Homosexuality and the Church" is part of a three-film series "Family Values?" offering transformative resources for healing and reconciliation in our relationships with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Other films in the series are "Your Mom's A Lesbian. Here's Your Lunch. Have A Good Day at School" and "Eve's Daughters".
". . . a moving, non-threatening, tremendously powerful story that speaks truthfully on behalf of lesbian and gay people.”
— Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Ph.D., Writer, Theologian, Teacher
"The filmmakers, with great sensitivity, take us into the hearts and lives of people, regardless of sexual orientation, as they struggle for new understanding. This film offers the opportunity to liberate all of us from our ignorance and fear . . . No matter what your perspective, something in this film will make you feel better about yourself."
— Dr. Georgeann Wilcoxson, Educator Broadcasts