A few months ago, as I started my ministry internship and began to think about moving to the next step of my ordination process, I found myself struggling with a bit of cold feet. Suddenly the thought of committing my whole life to the church—though I love it—made me uneasy. At the time, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
When I returned to my home church in Austin several weeks ago after a summer away, I finally understood my hesitation. Before beginning his sermon, my pastor told the congregation that the following weekend he would be traveling to Maryland to officiate at the wedding of a church member and her wife. Though their marriage is legal in Maryland, our denomination has yet to acknowledge same-sex marriage and thus, my pastor’s participation in the ceremony was arguably a violation of his ordination vows to uphold church law.
I knew that I would have made the same choice; as far I was concerned it was the only choice that enacted justice. But I haven’t been ordained yet, and I have yet to stand before a room of people and pledge to spend my life upholding church law. How could I do so when I already know that there are limits to my allegiance?
I think it comes down to this: We are called to serve the church. We are called to commit to it, to know its deep flaws, and work to make it a better realization of God’s intention. But we are first called to serve God and the true Church that God sees and empowers—which our human frailty so often blinds us to. We are called to strive toward lives worthy of the Gospel, and thus to build a Church worthy of Christ.
We are called to prophetic risk. It’s the call of all people of faith. Prophecy is about proclaiming and grasping hold of that which is already true but which we have yet to realize. We live into its revelation. And I believe that sometimes that prophetic witness requires us to risk—our comfort, our jobs, our ordination, our lawfulness—in the name of justice.
Whether it’s protesting racist laws, marrying a devoted couple in defiance of church polity, or administering a baptism or communion at the request of a dying person before you’re ordained, sometimes the only way to enact justice is to challenge our flawed human understanding of it.
It shouldn’t be easy. We are a church rooted in communal faith. Even now as I contemplate the moments in life when my call might put me in conflict with my church, I wrestle with knowing that the forebears of my tradition might not believe that I am living a faithful life. The tensions between tradition and reform, between rules of justice and enacted justice—are heavy tensions that we are called to live into. But there is comfort, too, in knowing that prophetic risk, sinning boldly, and living in tension are not incidental to our tradition, they are essential.
What ties us most assuredly to our legacy of faith is the certain knowledge that those who’ve come before us—all the way back to Jesus Christ himself—stood where we stand and wrestled with the same unwieldy tension of tradition and prophecy. With bold faith they stepped out to claim their call to the Church of God. They have made prophetic risk itself our tradition.
Our faith demands of us the commitment to dream in thought and action of a world and Church beyond any that could be defined within the limits of our human words and rules. It is this conviction with which I resonate so deeply, and that convinces me in the face of my cold feet and my doubt that I could spend my life committed to our church as it is and the Church that will be. And it is my sincerest hope that the future will bring new prophets who step out boldly to embody faith and enact justice in ways that we have yet to even imagine.