The Most Reverend Jefferts Schori addressed the issue at the outset:
... what I'm going to assert is the proper role of religion in the public square - diagnosis, linked with both challenge and encouragement ... grows out of a particular worldview, a weltanschauung, if you will, that has an idea or ideal of what the world is supposed to look like.
That world view is rooted in divine revelation, both in a scriptural tradition and in later encounters with the divine. The prophetic role is to point out the discrepancy between that sacred vision and what the world around us actually looks like, and then to go on to challenge the status quo and to encourage movement toward that dream.
A religious tradition asserts that divine warrant and/or transcendent reality trumps any merely earthly philosophy.
The primate responded:
How do we know when that inspired or apparently inspired voice is authentic? Is it congruent with a long tradition. And that is why we look back to foundational documents of faith. Is it congruent with a prophetic biblical tradition? Is it congruent with the prophets of our own day? Is it congruent with at least some portion of the community? If a prophet is crying lonely words in the wilderness and there's no one to hear, maybe not. Maybe not. Is the prophet's voice continuous? Does it continue to pique people? If it's a one-shot flash in the pan, maybe not.
Or are the true prophets those who speak on behalf of the poor, the powerless and the marginalized? Perhaps. For she also claimed that the
... sacred ideal in the Abrahamic faiths looks like a peaceful society where no one is in dire want, where all have equal access to justice, where each is truly free to seek her or his highest purpose in this life.She summarized:
The religious role in public life is to continue to challenge the larger society on behalf of all who do not yet live in a world like that. And because there are some who don't have access to that world, none of us can be assured of living in peace.
I would argue that there are appropriate and inappropriate roles for religion in the public square ... When the religious voice argues for a narrowly sectarian view, it belies its identity and its transcendent origin, and becomes no different from the dairy lobby or an earmark request for a new bridge. They may be important causes. They may be concerned for some of the least and lost and left out. But they don't challenge the whole society to a more transcendently compassionate future.
The proper role for religious diagnosis, challenge and encouragement has something to do with offering a larger view of reality, with challenging a politics of the individual to consider and care for the needs and rights of other individuals and groups, or, in other words, understanding the well being of the whole as having some higher call on public consideration than a narrowly individual concern.We're talking about a public policy that pays attention to the well being of the whole community.
Invariably, the moderator does ask if god wants same-sex couples to formalize their unions or commitments. Or does he care? Do the biblical institutions for marriage apply to same-sex couples?
Oh, which biblical institutions for marriage? Solomon's many, many, many wives? The concubines? The slaves who bore children for their male masters? There are some very odd images of family life in the Bible. And when people talk about family values, I want to know which ones.When I look as the challenges that the gay and lesbian community, and their supporters have brought to the church over the past several decades, I have heard a prophetic voice crying, that has gathered a community of support and has asked that community of the whole church to look at its own tradition, to critique its present reality on the basis of that tradition. Do we consider some members of the body more equal than others? Do we consider that some rights of the church are available to some and not to others? We're at least asking the hard questions. The church as a whole hasn't reached a conclusion on this. But we're asking very challenging questions.
Separation of Church and State
Image from the National Press Club.