What do the guest preacher at an Episcopal Church yesterday and an advertisement during last night’s Super Bowl have in common? They are both causing a lot of discussion and fallout today, for many of the same reasons.
Yesterday morning the guest preacher at the Washington National Cathedral was Max Lucado, the pastor of Oak Hill Church in San Antonio and the author of many books on Christianity. You know when the service begins with a defense and apology from Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith and the sermon is followed by another defense and apology from Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, that something unusual is going on.
You may not know about Max Lucado. He is a conservative evangelical Christian, noted for his adamant stance against same-sex marriage and any kind of relationships for LGBTQ people. There are many quotes of his to choose from, but here is one that rather neatly sums up his teachings on these issues:
“If they recognize gay marriage, what will keep them from the next step? Who’s to say that one man can’t marry two women? Or two men and two women? How about a commune marriage? Or a marriage between a daddy and a daughter or a woman and a giraffe? Don’t underestimate the evil bent of the human heart.”
Equating same-sex relationships with polygamy, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality is antithetical to the teaching of the Episcopal Church. So it is understandable that Lucado taking the pulpit in the National Cathedral was a source of pain and anger for many people, even though his sermon yesterday did not touch on any controversial issues.
Both Hollerith’s and Robinson’s defense of having Lucado preach was that the Cathedral is “a house of prayer for all people.”
More about that in a minute, but first the Super Bowl advertisement. Maybe you saw it, a two-minute commercial for Jeep starring Bruce Springsteen. The Boss wasn’t singing in this one. He was driving an old Jeep down an idyllic rural road, talking as he drove.
The ad opens with the picture of a chapel, its steeple and cross high against a beautiful sky. We are told that this chapel in Kansas is placed at the spot that is the exact center of the lower 48 states. The chapel is open 24 hours a day, Springsteen says, and “all are more than welcome to come meet here in the middle.”
“It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately,” he adds. “Between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear … As for freedom, it’s not the property of the fortunate few, it belongs to all of us. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, it’s what connects us, and we need that connection. We need the middle.” The ad ends with a map of the country with these words: The ReUnited States of America.
The dean and the bishop say the Cathedral aspires to be a house of prayer for all people. Jeep and the Boss tell us that we all need to find our way to the middle; which is how we can be reunited as a country.
It’s true that our country is divided as never before in our lifetimes. We are deeply polarized, and it’s hard to see the road forward if that polarization continues. But we don’t go from polarized to reunited by meeting in some mythical middle, where we can all just promise to get along.
Reconciliation is hard work that involves repentance, accountability, and forgiveness. It takes listening, and knowing when to give and which principles cannot be compromised.
For example, for a church to be a house of prayer for all people is an admirable goal. But there is a huge difference between telling Max Lucado he is welcome to come worship and pray and handing him the pulpit, a symbol of authority. The pulpit is for proclaiming the word of God. The words that Max Lucado often proclaims are not our understanding of God’s word. In fact, his words have damaged and hurt many people.
It is hard to understand why the Cathedral would choose to elevate someone with those views when our church teaches that LGBTQ people are children of God and are to be fully included in all the works and sacraments of the church, including marriage. That is a principle that cannot be compromised.
The same is true of the Jeep commercial. First, its opening with the Christian chapel that is the “middle” of America excludes the millions of Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or no religion at all.
And how do you meet in the middle with a white supremacist, or someone who encourages violence against Jews? How do you meet in the middle with someone who endorses the assassination of those with whom she disagrees, or who calls the pandemic or school shootings or the 9/11 attacks hoaxes, or who resorts to violence rather than accept the outcome of a fair election?
All of those views, as ridiculous as they may sound, have been legitimized by many of our political leaders and are a strong current in our culture. There is no meeting in the middle on these things.
There are many issues over which people of faith and good will may have differing opinions. There are many things on which we may compromise, may find a middle ground. Even in those times when compromise is not morally possible, we must resist the temptation to demonize those with whom we disagree.
I’m sure that Randy Hollerith, Gene Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, and Jeep executives all had good intentions for what we saw and heard yesterday. Reducing the great divisions in this country is a worthy and needed goal. But we won’t get there by meeting in the middle.
The service for this week’s Compline is attached.