Rev. Abby King-KaiserDorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice, Xavier University; Presbytery of Cincinnati Commissioner to GA 225

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.      – 1 Corinthians 12:24b-26

To God be the Glory for a connected church that isn’t afraid to take on the tough issues – just as Jesus did when He stood up to the Israelite religious hierarchy of His day.  True connection in a Beloved Community is that much of the work of all committees will come before Presbyteries for discernment as well.All of work of our committee looked at specific corners of the church’s life, so specific that you may think, this doesn’t concern me or my congregation. I won’t list all the data that was put in front of us here, but I am happy to buy you coffee and chat if that is your reaction. All of these concerns are widespread in our congregations and society right now. We marginalize those who struggle, but often the systems and structures of our society caused that struggling in the first place.

Family Leave

Talk about discernment—the room felt of one heart on what we hoped the church could accomplish. Exactly how that comes to life got much harder. I hope our work reflects God’s love for each beloved and created person, and allows for families to be supported as they navigating growing into who God calls them to be. I am grateful that the world (and the denomination) has employment lawyers, administrators, constitutional experts and more. We first voted and after careful attention, amendments and more, we reconsidered the same the next day. How might we imagine a world where we can give the most of what they need to the families who serve our church?

The disagreement in the room was about the details of what the proposal should say, as well as what was most likely to “make it” on the floor of the plenary session. About that, I am praying. It reminded me that so often hard conflicts are not with those who we disagree with outright, but with those who we agree with in substance or goal, but disagree with on process.

Reproductive justice—concern for access to health care, inequitable health outcomes in our communities, in addition to particulars like birth control and abortion—came before our committee.  This was a new concept to some in the room. Discussing it on the day on that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, was poignant and intense. There was desire to broaden our understanding, going beyond the debate to provide real justice to those who give birth, to provide the access to health care and resources that they need. Our region has particular needs that this business before the General Assembly might draw our attention to. After Hamilton County became known for being a place with particularly high infant mortality, and higher for Black infants, Cradle Cincinnati became a local, interdisciplinary leader in making a demonstrable change. The work is not done. Listen to reporter (and Presbyterian!) Tana Weingartner discuss this issues locally on Cincinnati edition. Want to learn more about Cradle Cincinnati?

There are other ways to support women, girls, and others who can have children throughout their lives. Our Student Government Association just installed this last year, for the first time, free dispensers for pads and tampons at Xavier. Organizations are popping up all over the country to provide supplies in schools, and public spaces. Did you know Cincinnati has one? Tidal Babe Period Bank is a sister organization to Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank.

We circled back to access to abortion. The Board of Pensions assured the committee that they would make every effort to help any plan members get the health care they need no matter what state they live in. We heard heartbreaking testimony about how hard choices can be when presented with challenges during pregnancy, challenges that threaten life and require unique decisions. The committee voted to affirm our denomination’s longstanding support of legal access to abortion, as well as re-affirming our support of Board Pensions creative problem solving as these changes continue to unfold.

Sexual Misconduct

The joy and gift of a connectional church is what we can accomplish when we work together. The challenge of that gift is the how hard it can be to get the work done. Our assemblies often assign a group a task and ask them to report to a future assembly. Then, other offices, groups, and agencies have and sometimes are required to comment. Sometimes, the order of all of that is a challenge. We heard a report from the Survivors of Sexual Misconduct Task Force, which included the personal stories of survivors who experienced abuse in and out of our denomination. The best way I can sum up all of the actions we debated was with this tension—can we name requirements that help our denomination prevent sexual misconduct and bring justice when it occurs in our constitution? Or should those requirements be left for the individual policies of our mid-councils, and other councils, to manage?

I felt like I was living my tenth-grade government class, as we essentially sorted through the tensions in our federal system that are currently playing out in the Supreme Court. Are we obligated as a whole to protect the vulnerable in such a way that our constitution may feel like a manual with specific policies? Or is the right and responsibility of each local context to make that determination for themselves? In the end, we erred on the side of closing the gaps, because gaps are where boundary violations can occur. This is in tension with the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, who have a long list of constitutional concerns. You will get a chance, if this passes the plenary, to have a say, as the recommendations are amendments to the Book of Order.

There are still gaps. Certified Christian Educators are not tracked and supported in a way that allows us to know there is both the prevention and accountability that make determination of sexual misconduct difficult. And yet, the title alone makes it sound as if these educators in our communities are trustworthy. This is not a tension our committee could solve. But, the committee process lifted up the pressing need for clearer structure and accountability to me.  Survivors of sexual misconduct in the church are traumatized by the abuse itself, but can be traumatized by the response they receive. When the church is not supportive or compassionate, survivors can be left to wonder what they say about the God they met in that community. We don’t want to be a place where anyone experienced abuse, but we also don’t want to be the place where someone’s faith dies because of how we handled the abuse.

I am grateful for this opportunity to serve the great PC(USA) church as Commissioner to the 225th General Assembly, and welcome questions and conversation!