Declaring a Departure

The Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 by the 217th General Assembly (2006), which was reaffirmed by the 218th GA (2008), lifted up the longstanding Presbyterian practice of a candidate for ordained office declaring a “departure” when, as a matter of conscience, she or he disagrees with a portion of the church’s constitution.  It is then the responsibility of the ordaining and/or installing governing body to determine, in the context of the examination of the individual, whether the departure constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.

While departures may be declared from any ordination standard, in matters of belief or practice, the renewed emphasis on departures (sometimes referred to as “scruples”) has centered around G-6.0106b.  In solidarity with sisters and brothers whose gifts for ministry continue to be spurned by the church, some non-LGBT candidates for ordination have declared a departure from G-6.0106b even though they are not its targets.

Last month the Presbytery of San Francisco sustained the examination for ordination and installation of Abigail King Kaiser.  We are grateful to Abby for her powerful witness, and for allowing us to publish her statement:

A Statement of Departure Concerning G-6.0106b

Presented to (and accepted by) the Presbytery of San Francisco, April 2010

Abigail King Kaiser

The summer after my freshman year of high school, sweat pouring down my face  in humid, Midwestern heat and up to my elbows in dirt, I wrestled with my leadership in the church.  Planting flowers alongside my youth group leader at the church where I was baptized, I felt torn between my leadership in extra-curricular justice based activities and church activities.  I was a part of my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, one of the first in our city.  It had only been started in the last year, and I had been invited to be a Co-President.  I felt unprepared for the opportunity but honored to be asked.  I was amazed that the upperclassman made a point of consciously involving and developing younger leadership.  But, I was also a leader in my church’s youth group.  I knew that most of the members of my church believed that homosexuality was a sin.  My youth group leader told me, that day covered in dirt and sweat, I could not be a leader in both communities.   If I chose to be a leader in the Gay-Straight Alliance, I could not be a leader in my youth group.  I wrestled with how to keep my faith and my integrity intact, and gradually stopped going to youth group, unable to reconcile my faith with exclusion of the GLBTQ community.

This is the same church where I was under care and where I hope to be ordained.  Many people there still believe homosexuality is a sin. Many support same-sex marriage and seek the full inclusion of the GLBTQ community in the church.  It is a congregation that lives well together, despite their disagreements.  It took me years of spiritual growth and discernment for me to be able to return to this congregation.  But, they exemplify what I have grown to love about being Presbyterian.  We will never solve all our theological squabbles, but we can live together, healthily, anyway.

One of the gifts that our polity has recently offered to live together in peace, with unity and purity in the church, is the process of declaring a departure, in either belief of practice, at the time of examination of ordination.  No candidate for ordination can or will be perfect in behavior or belief.  The departure process allows us to be honest with our community about the ways we deviate from the norm, and allow the community to make decisions about ordination with more full understanding of who we are.  It is for that reason that I am choosing to declare a departure in belief from G-6.0106b and COM’s decision to specifically ask if a candidate is in compliance with that part of the Book of Order.

I am called to ordained parish ministry within the PC(USA).  I have followed the rigorous preparation process, graduated from seminary with an award for my preaching skill, and have been called to a congregation who is inspired by my energy and creativity. I believe God has given me gifts for building community that may be able to participate in the process of transitioning my beloved denomination from traditional to emerging and adaptive models of faith communities.  I want to give my heart, my life and my career to follow Christ and his radical love for humanity.  For me, the witness of scripture and my obedience to Christ—central tenets of Reformed faith and part of the PC(USA) ordination vows—require me to believe in the full humanity of the GLBTQ community, which include the ability to choose marriage and to be ordained in the church.  I believe in same-sex marriage and inclusion.

That conviction—born from the deeply held roots of my faith—makes it impossible for me to answer the question: “Are you in compliance with G- 6.0106b?” without an addendum.  God has graced me with a loving, supportive and compassionate partner who became my husband four years ago.  Without him, I do not think I would be entering ministry, but his presence in my life is truly a gift from God.  Were I a single young woman, the level of scrutiny my life and my answer to this question would be subjected to would be significantly different.  This betrays Christ’s gift of full humanity to everyone, particularly those on the margins.

In question 108, The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that all people, married or single, should live chaste and disciplined lives to comply with the seventh commandment.  “Fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness” distorts this understanding of sexual sin.  A person in a married heterosexual relationship can express their sexuality in unchaste, lustful, exploitive, even abusive ways while only having sex with their spouse.  The complexity of sexuality and sexual behavior cannot be boiled down to one phrase that requires compliance for ordination.  By doing so, we have lost sight of a much larger conversation on intimacy, love, sexuality, and chastity that is desperately needed in our culture.

Yes, there are places in Scripture and the Confessions that call homosexuality a sin.  As a woman, this alone is not enough evidence for me to agree through my faith.  There are many more places that would seek to exclude me, as a woman, from leadership in the church. The Second Helvetic Confessions states very specifically that woman should not baptize, and yet, the PC(USA) affirms openly and strongly that women can and should be ministers of Word and Sacrament, baptizing as freely as any man may.  I stand ready for ordination, in a process that has not questioned my gender.  Understandings of gender have changed and continue to change, and the church has adapted.  Understandings of sexuality have changed and the church has not adapted.

Above all else, over and over again, Christ proclaimed the free love of God to each and every one of us.  That love is spread throughout creation through our loving and mutual relationships with one another.  When we exclude people from leadership in the church, having satisfied all the other requirements, because of their loving and mutual relationships, we deny the humanity given to them by God. And make no mistake, we are not just denying leadership to people who identify as GLBTQ, but to people in loving and mutual relationships, who for a variety of reasons, choose not to be married.

Because of my fidelity to Scripture, obedience to Christ, because of the way I take the Confessions seriously and authoritatively, and because I am deeply invested in the peace, unity, and purity of the church, I declare a departure in belief from G-6.0106b and it being singled out of the Book of Order for compliance for ordination.

©   Abby King Kaiser, spring 2010

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