Rev. Janet Edwards, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania was invited by Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole to preside at their wedding in June, 2005. Knowing that this was likely to provoke disciplinary charges against her in her presbytery if this were to become known, they planned for the possible trial to become a platform for a positive Christian position on marriage equality.
During trials in both 2006 (a mistrial on a technicality) and 2008 (acquittal based on a conclusion that what Rev. Dr. Edwards did was impossible but doing the impossible cannot be a violation of Scripture or the PCUSA Constitution), there was extensive local print, radio and TV coverage. Outlets further afield took notice, as well, including The New York Times.
Rev. Edwards was able to repeat over and over her message: “The heart of marriage is the love and commitment between the partners and we know couples of two men or two women whose relationships have all the traits we recognize as marriage.” Her notoriety contributed to a shift in the narrative in the national debate on same-sex marriage away from sexual acts to the quality of the relationship.
Building on that attention, in 2009, Rev. Edwards began a blog, first called ATimeToEmbrace.com and later revjanetedwards.com, to offer a positive perspective on the place of LGBTQ people in God’s heart. For four years she posted weekly, mostly on LGBTQ inclusion in the church. These included reflections on how Scripture supported inclusion and conversations with a wide range of Christian LGBTQ people and allies. In 2013 the posts came monthly. She also wrote for The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and the Christian Century online.
Rev. Edwards saw herself as a straight ally from the time she became a friend of Chris Glaser when they entered Yale Divinity School at the same time. In the late 1990’s when she was in her 40’s she recognized that feelings confusing to her all her life meant she was bisexual in her sexual orientation. She came out to her family, friends and colleagues in ministry prompting many serious conversations about sexuality. In 2013, she began to share her experience as a bisexual Christian on the website BelieveOutLoud.com.
From 2005 to 2012, Rev. Edwards served on the Board of Directors of More Light Presbyterians, including as Co-Moderator during the effort to place ordination of LGBTQ Presbyterians in the PCUSA Constitution. Her primary contribution to this campaign was the adaption of the use of rainbow scarves by the Lutherans and the Methodists at their national conferences for distribution at the PCUSA bi-annual General Assembly. In 2008 she sent out a plea for hand knitted scarves using a rainbow yarn to be sent to the assembly. Receiving around 500 of these scarves, she oversaw their free distribution from the More Light booth at the assembly to any who agreed to explain its witness for God’s love for all people. By 2014 there were over 2000 scarves given away.
These rainbow scarves became a joyful presence at the PCUSA General Assemblies, displaying artistry, imagination and dedication to inclusion by anonymous knitters across the church. They became an anticipated treat of the assembly, attracting particularly young Presbyterians who returned home with a scarf and a story of inclusion to tell about it. This rainbow scarf witness extended through the period of passage of ordination of LGBTQ Presbyterians in 2010 and of permission to preside at weddings, adopted for some presbyteries in 2012 and for the whole church in 2014.
Rev. Edwards, as Co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians, participated in the strategies to adopt LGBTQ ordination and marriage in the PCUSA. Along with involvement in the Get Out the Vote effort to pass these actions in a majority of the 173 presbyteries of the PCUSA, she subsidized a program of advertisements in The Presbyterian Outlook and Presbyterians Today in 2012 for ordination and 2014 for marriage. Blest by inherited wealth, she has also helped individuals and groups in a variety of ways, particularly with legal help to challenge unfair treatment or restrictive interpretation of the Presbyterian Constitution.
Except for nine years in her youth, when she graduated from Harvard with a B.A. edgree, served as an aupere in Bonn, Germany for a year, finished at Yale Divinity School with an M.Div. degree, and attended Mansfield College, Oxford, for a year, she has lived in Pittsburgh. She was baptized and confirmed in Eastminster Presbyterian Church there. Her first call was to be an Instructor in Homiletics and Liturgics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, just down the street from the church, so she was also ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament there.
Rev. Edwards served as Stated Supply Pastor at Morningside Presbyterian Church, 1978-81, Interim Pastor at First United Church of Christ, McKeesport, 1981-83 and Stated Supply at Melwood Presbyterian Church, 1984-1987. From 1987 to 2012, she was active at The Community of Reconciliation, serving for a time, through the years, as Co-Interim Pastor and Parish Associate.
She earned a M.A. degree in 1984 and a Ph.D. in 1997 from the Institute of Formative Spirituality at Duquesne University. Deeply touched by Henri Nouwen, one of her first teachers at YDS, her primary sense of call is to be a Pray-er, a person who prays.
In the Pittsburgh Presbytery through the years, she served as Chair of the Candidates Committee, as Coordinator of the Taskforce on Ministry with Sexual Minorities and as a Director of the Pittsburgh Presbytery Foundation. She is presently a Parish Associate at the Community House Presbyterian Church.
(This biographical statement provided by the Rev. Janet Edwards.)
Biography Date: February, 2016