by Mark Tooley
By Mark Tooley @markdtooley
It’s sad when clergy egregiously politicize worship, especially on an important holy day at an historic church that used to symbolize non partisan unity. But the Episcopal clergy Luis Leon at St. John’s Episcopal Church next to the White House, known as the church of the presidents, discharged some cheap shots during Easter worship today, with the Obamas in the congregation.
“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back, back, back,” Leon sermonized. “For blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet, and for … immigrants to be on their side of the border.”
Is this characterization of religious conservatives as racists, chauvinists and bigots really fair and accurate? And if political critique of religious conservatives were appropriate in an Easter sermon, couldn’t Leon offer a thoughtful analysis rather than snide smugness?
Leon continued: “What you and I understand is that when Jesus says you can’t hang onto me, he says you know it’s not about the past, it’s not about the before, it’s not about the way things were but about the way things can be in the now.” And he asked: “Will you accept the invitation from our gospel today to see things with Easter vision, recognizing reality in a different and new and wonderful way?”
So Easter is about being liberal and feeling morally superior over everybody else. Nice.
Every president since James Monroe has attended St. John’s, and the clergy there across almost 200 years have usually done well not to align with one political party against another. Leon has been there since 1995, with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama worshipping there. And he has delivered prayers at inaugurations for both Bush and Obama. Leon had been more prudently moderate and non political for most of this time. But evidently he has decided to break with two centuries of tradition and declare his church is partial to one party against another. More troubling, he seems to distill Easter, which is supposed to focus on Christ’s resurrection, and even the Gospel itself, down to shoddy, secular polemics.
With this attitude of its pastor, can St. John’s Episcopal Church remain church of all the presidents?