When the ministerial association in our town was struggling with the new reality of its internal diversity, one minister came up with a solution: a confession of faith to be signed by all members of the clergy who wished to join the group or continue their membership. When I, being an officer at the time, pointed out the exclusionary effect of such a loyalty oath and its violation of the association’s charter, the evangelical Christian majority left to form their own Christian association which certainly would no longer include a rabbi or a Buddhist “priest” (sensei). Neither would it include a Presbyterian unwilling (1) to sign a fundamentalist Christian confession or (2) to exclude the Jew and the Buddhist from conversation among the clergy. I was not alone in remaining with the suddenly much smaller group, and so the association split over the issue of inclusion.
People with exclusionary agendas prefer simple definitions of identity – in effect, branding. The ordained in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), are already committed to a carefully defined relation to eleven historic confessions of Christian faith. Our promise to be led by these confessions as we seek to “lead the people of God” very carefully balances conformity with freedom – freedom, not only to dissent, but to keep growing in the faith and engaging new struggles in new times. So, on the basis of that reality alone, I would not have signed another confession to which my adherence would remain unspecified, unbalanced, and declared in a rigid and simplistic positive answer to, “Yes or no?” I would, therefore, not have signed the confession even if I had believed on its terms all the things it insisted I believe on its terms, which I did not.