Part of my explanation for why I became a priest is that God knew I would be a lousy Christian otherwise.
I am filled with admiration for the many, many Christians who don’t have to live their lives inside the church to be faithful, to reveal God’s love and proclaim the Good News of Jesus whether in word or action. I tried that-and it was exhausting and frustrating to be constantly negotiating the relationship between my faith and the public sphere. I realized that I need to be explicit about my faith, and being ordained gives me permission to do that all the time. This is also, I think, one of the functions of the church. The church, as the Body of Christ, is called upon to find ways to be explicit about who Christ is, what we know of God, and why any of that matters-and all of us, lay and ordained, need to participate in that work.
It is, once again, difficult work. The world in which we find ourselves speaks many different languages and no longer grants the church a privileged voice in any given conversation. I am convinced that this is the great challenge of the moment: figuring out how the church can participate in the public sphere in ways that are respectful and relevant both to its conversation partners and to itself. And while implicit communication is crucial-faith expressed in the work of justice and love and reconciliation-there needs to be a place for the explicit kind, too.
There is, however, a potential danger with explicit communication; it can imply a degree of certainty, a lack of ambiguity and nuance that can push other truths underground. Which is why it is important that we find ways to not only be explicit about what we believe but also explicit about what we doubt; explicit about the wholeness of who we are.
One reason it took quite a while before I agreed to God’s generous solution to my Christian life is that I have not always found churches comfortable places. Too often, church communities are full of the unspoken: unspoken rules, unspoken expectations, unspoken doubts. Too often church communities require us to leave pieces of ourselves at the door, refusing to allow us to bring our whole messy, complicated, controversial selves into the conversation. This, too, is exhausting as we constantly try to negotiate the boundary between our “acceptable” faith and our “unacceptable” selves. Such communities tear down rather than build up and are not equipped to be trustworthy conversation partners with the wider world. We need to practise being honest amongst ourselves if we want to be honest with anyone else. I need permission to be explicit inside my church as well as outside of it.
Making all of this explicit-our doubts and our beliefs-may not always be comfortable. There’s a reason that the word “explicit” has a rather naughty tone to it, after all. Being explicit sometimes requires us to cross boundaries we might rather leave alone, to name things we might rather not name. But I am convinced that it is just this rather transgressive kind of communication that is called for if we are to continue to grow as the Body of Christ, negotiating those boundaries between faith, community, and the public sphere with grace, respect, and integrity.