Off the heels of President Obama’s stepping off the fence and Tripp Fuller’s post about why pastors should do the same, I would like to suggest that this civil right’s issue provides an even deeper chance for those in the church to live into its vocation as a tribe-meets-family-meets-place of practice that shapes belief about God, the world, and the other.
As an Episcopalian my sense is that the real issue of same sex marriage rights is but a deeper reflection of something that is even more pertinent to the now of life in broader society and the church. My sense, driven by the Prayer book, the essence of community, and the ever declining dualism in culture, remains that those in symbolic and literal places of leadership in communities of faith (regardless of their kind) must rise up to lead a counter-cultural revolution of being. Christians leaders (and those of other faiths) must begin to say out loud, and in unison, that which is most controversial, prophetic, and radical of all; namely, that the image of God and the experience of the holy (and beautiful and good and true) is to be found in every situation, encounter, and relationship all the time.
Now I must be confessional: what has shaped my deepest sense of this is not simply my experience or growing up as white male in the storied South, or my experience at the Candler School of Theology, but my living into the life and prayers of the 1979 Episcopal Prayer Book. As a work of incomplete genius, and the church, the 1979 Episcopal Prayer Book has been reshaping the imagination of those in the Episcopal church for a generation. It is no wonder for me that people who have agreed to be shaped by its prayers and rituals would not in some way already be formed to love the imago dei in the every.
Don’t be mistaken, radical theology is preceded by radical practice not the other way around. The reason I do not believe, as Bo Sanders, that the church in N.America will always be as it has been, is because I believe that the church alive in this historical moment is awake to the extent to which praying (or practice) shapes belief. While there are monoliths in each of the mainline denominations, the most innovative of leadership are asking the important question: what does our methodology of practice say about the what that we believe.
No longer does belief go unchecked in the face of how belief gets formed.
Here again (and where I agree with Bo) I should note that I believe more than uniformity, the Bible canonizes diversity. As a community gathered around it, our essence is that of plurality, not necessarily that of uniformity. This is directly related to the current debate about same sex marriages: because our prayers and practice shape what we believe chiefly, the acceptance of the other in religious practice, rooted in belief, trumps literalism and overturns any ism that the church may face.
Let me conclude this short introit, by saying this: I do not expect that everyone should believe just as I do. There are many who hold different literal and symbolic views of scripture. What is more, if what Bo Sanders hold is true, that “the church in N.America will never change,” then hardest part of practicing transformational encounter with “the other” is resisting the industrialized tendency to make you like me.
This is the greatest challenge to the dualism of modernity: that the holy is to be met not in likeness, but in the discomfort that comes with accepting contrast as ingredient to holiness.
Pastors, priests, theologians, prophets, all: lead in praxis not merely in pronouncement. The holy abounds, waiting to not simply be discovered, but witnessed to. Or, as M. Ward put it, let us seek to be able to say: “finally I found you, without ever knowing how to, by putting my right foot in front of the left.”
Go. See. Be. Live. Look.
Joshua Case is an Episcopal blogger, creative, and public theologian. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Known as “Josh” of The Nick & Josh Podcast, Joshua currently works at Holy Innocent’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. When not curating things religious and cultural Joshua works as a professional golf instructor.