By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)
Washington National Cathedral officials hosted a special service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons the day of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively overturned California’s voter-approved Proposition 8.
Advertised as “a service of thanksgiving celebrating an increase in compassion and equality,” the June 27 ceremony sought to place the Supreme Court rulings within the narrative of liberation struggles.
A congregation of approximately 300 clustered at the front of the Episcopal cathedral, still undergoing repairs from a 2011 earthquake. Chairs were arranged to face the procession. While the congregation was overwhelmingly middle-aged whites, songs were often African in origin, such as “Siyahamba” in which participants declared “we are marching in the light of God” accompanied by djembe drums. Several congregants enthusiastically waved rainbow flags emblazoned with the word “equality” as choir and clergy processed in to the Zimbabwean song “Uyai Mose” (Come, All You People).
“It’s a great night, isn’t it?” asked Cathedral Dean Gary Hall in his opening words of welcome, prompting sustained applause, hooting and cheers.
“Was that standing ovation for God or the court?” Hall joked, declaring his belief that “we have turned the corner in the faith community’s life.”
In a short homily, Hall recalled his own wedding 35 years prior, in which the Epistle reading was the same as at the LGBT service: Ephesians Chapter 3:14-19, in which Paul prays for the church in Ephesus to be “rooted and grounded in love.”
“In God’s view, something deep, holy and precious is going on when any two people commit themselves,” Hall announced.
Declaring that the church has been “on a trajectory,” Hall traced changed views of marriage from polygamy, unequal heterosexual unions, egalitarian heterosexual unions, to now same-sex unions. He offered no prediction on what was next.
“The sacrament of marriage is a divine gift – regardless of sexual orientation,” the Cathedral Dean pronounced. Stating that the Christian church has only been in “the marriage business” for 1,000 years, Hall bypassed early church teaching on marriage, as well as the wedding at Cana in John Chapter 2 and Jesus’ teaching about marriage in Matthew 19 in which he quotes Genesis Chapter 2.
“Let us extend that promise until it extends to every couple of all sexuality or gender,” Hall concluded. Following the reflection, the congregation was led in singing a version of “Surely it is God who saves me,” modified with gender-neutral language. A concluding prayer invoking Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and other contemporaries, along with petitions for the healing of Nelson Mandela, further buttressed the civil rights imagery of the service.
The National Cathedral service follows an announcement last year that the church would begin hosting same-sex weddings. Throughout the day, a string of Episcopal Church bishops and seminary deans issued statements in support of the ruling. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington extolled the court ruling as moving the country “closer to this vision of equality and unity” and called for Episcopalians to recommit to this “holy work.”
Similarly, Los Angles Bishop Jon Bruno declared: “we rejoice at the repeal of DOMA’s [Defense of Marriage Act] discrimination against LGBT families.” In his announcement, Bruno touted “provisional” liturgies for the blessing of same-gender couples that was adopted by the church’s General Convention last summer.
Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith was equally celebratory, proclaiming an indiscriminate inclusion and assessing that the United States “has come closer to a truth which has been ours as Christians from the beginning, that God loves everything and everyone God has made, and that we are called to reflect God’s love for us in how we love each other.”