Saturday, February 06, 2021

What Engagement Across Difference Is and Isn't

The first heads up I had that the Washington National Cathedral had invited noted evangelical Max Lucado to preach on Sunday, February 7 was the voicemail yesterday from a reporter asking me to comment. Since [a] it was my day off and [b] I didn't have any data I [c] didn't call him back. But that was yesterday and today is today ... and now I have a comment.

For starters my “day job” is Canon for Engagement Across Difference and THIS IS NOT THAT! This is handing over the bully pulpit of our National Cathedral to someone who supports sacramental apartheid for the LGBTQ baptized. 

If they had invited him to come participate in an exercise like the “From Many, One” one Bishop Brewer and I did last month THAT would be engaging across difference. This, however, is a totally unforced error by the WNC inflicting deeply hurtful collateral damage on LGBTQ people in general and Episcopalians who have worked long and hard to move their church closer to its 1976 promise of full and equal claim to its LGBTQ members in specific. 

It is confusing engagement across difference with amplifying the voice of a preacher of whom one colleague said “has a theology with a body count.” It is unexamined privilege writ large when straight people don’t even get what they don’t get about the toxic impact on queer people of someone like Lucado in the pulpit. It is a bad decision, a sad day and a huge disappointment.

Yes, there is a critical need in this nation to build bridges and work to deradicalize evangelicals who are adopting Christian Nationalism -- but you don’t do it by throwing LGBTQ people under the bus. Our National Cathedral should both know better and do better.

Here endeth my comment.


Susan Thistlethwaite said...

I think what is especially helpful here is your offering a way the "engagement across difference" could have happened without the toxicity.

kevindoylejones said...

Diversity is not excluding some people who just got into the tent a bit ago.

James Olson said...


decorus_veritas said...

I'm not a cradle Episcopalian. I came to our church about six years ago. When I was growing up, I was one of those kids who didn't know the Gospel, and desperately needed it. Living in a hyper-masculine environment like mine meant almost daily beatings, mockings, and other persecutions for my gender. Where was the Episcopal Church then? I've been doing my church history since becoming an Episcopalian. I know that from about 1970 to 2013, evangelism by Episcopalians has been almost non-existent. How many people are dead because of that bad theology? While Episcopalians were cowering in their pews too afraid to tell me about the loving, liberating, life-giving love of God, I was having my nose broken by a porcelain sink.

I still remember how the Gospel came to me. I had a dear, dear friend who had just endured a horrific rape, and she was suicidal in the aftermath. I was trying so hard to help her, but I really couldn't because I was suicidal too. Two utterly abused and busted up people trying save each other. Then one day she brought a book to me called You Are Special by Max Lucado. The whole book is an amazing allegory about how our differences and brokenness do not make God love us any less. We both sobbed as we read through that book together. Eventually, it helped us work up the courage to talk about it with a youth pastor who told us about how the story expresses the love we see God display in Jesus.

Max Lucado saved my life, and he saved the life of my friend. This weekend I've had to endure blogs and Facebook posts about how bad theology kills, yet no one has asked whether Lucado's theology has saved lives. Or whether their own theology kills. It was the cowardice of the Episcopal church in its failing to distinguish between cultural imperialism and evangelism that caused so many Episcopalians to abdicate any cultural influence up until the last decade, and people are dead because of it. I didn't know anything about Max Lucado's feelings on gender or sexuality when I read You Are Special. But I knew this then and I know it now: all the seeds for a liberating theology are in that book. And while you were writing this blog, I was writing him a letter and told him my story how God saved my life through him.

Those of us who are gender and sexuality minorities are not all the same, and we don't have the same perspective or story. Everyone keeps treating this as if there's only one perspective allowed, that Max Lucado should not have been given a place in the pulpit. And I've spent the past two days terrified to speak out that I'm a non-binary kid who was excited that he was speaking, grateful for his Christian ministry and work. I was afraid of you. Afraid to tell you that his theology saved my life. A few friends have bucked me up over the past couple days to say something, but this is very hard, because honestly my perspective is one of many excluded by the Episcopal Church because we don't fit the stereotypical narrative of gay and trans people in the Church. I know Lucado probably disagrees with my gender, but it doesn't matter because Romans 8 tells me no one can condemn me after what God has done for me in Jesus. I know my story is not the story leaders in the Episcopal Church want told; I know that no one wants to hear that some of us who suffer for our identity wanted to hear him preach on Sunday. But I'm here. I exist. And I think rather than trying to keep Lucado out of the pulpit, we might be better served asking ourselves how his ministry has saved lives that our own has not.


I wholeheartedly agree, with one caveat: I am not convinced this was a mistake. Consider:

If I am pulling up to a stop sign, and intend to press the brake, but hit the gas instead, the ensuing accident is a mistake. My insurance company may wind up paying damages, and I probably need to apologize to the other driver, but there is little doubt that I have made a mistake.

If, on the other hand, I am approaching the stop sign and my passenger says, “Hey be careful. There’s a stop sign approaching,” but I ignore the passenger and tramp the accelerator, only to hear even more fervent warnings, is it a mistake when the inevitable happens and I blast into the intersection, thus causing an accident?

Reasonable minds can differ as to the conclusion, but in this case I believe that Randy Hollerith and +Budde ignored every single plea to tramp the brakes. They sailed into the intersection, caused a massive accident, and are now looking around saying, “Sorry, I made a mistake.”

As someone who well remembers hearing family members rejecting me in profoundly offensive homophobic terms, I don’t need this sort of nonsense in the church. Or as one friend put it, “If this is Randy Hollerith’s idea of Christianity, no thanks. He can keep it.”

Nor is this a teachable moment. When someone tells you that it’s time to hit the brake and you refuse to do so, there’s really nothing to teach. You’ve shown your true colors, and to paraphrase Maya Angelou, it’s time for me to believe what Randy Hollerith says when he shows me who and what he is.