August 7, 2013

The Very Hip Rev. Gary Hall

– The Rev. Canon Gary R. Hall. Photo/Richard Weinberg, Washington National Cathedral

A befuddled “non-theistic” new dean for Washington’s National Cathedral.

Liberal Episcopal Church elites often seem determined to fulfill caricatures of themselves. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington’s prominent National Cathedral, does so fulsomely, gregariously, wonderfully in a recent Washington Post profile by Sally Quinn. They met in his favorite French restaurant near the magnificent Gothic edifice, which hosts so many solemn pageants of American civil religion.

Hall has made a splash in town by focusing on gun control and same sex marriage. He hosted a press conference soon after last year’s tragic school shootings in Connecticut. And he’s opened the cathedral for homosexual nuptials. Liberal Episcopalianism strongly emphasizes sexual liberation, and for Hall that liberation includes heterosexuals too.

“We have this cartoon in America where you grow up, get married and stay the same person,” Hall told Quinn. “For the church to say, ‘No sex before marriage,’ is not realistic,” claiming he has wed over 500 couples, only about five of whom were not already cohabiting, statistics exponentially beyond the national average. He wants the church to model “how to live a life of faithfulness and integrity” while evidently embracing the new permissiveness.

It’s all about moving with the times.

“If the Cathedral wants to survive as institutional,” Hall surmised, “it has to be transitional. It has to be the spiritual hope of the nation. It has to be about faith in public life and interfaith collaboration.”

Part of Hall’s duties has been restoring the Cathedral’s considerable and expensive earthquake damage. It’s long been a place of quaking political activism, always left wing, since Dean Francis Sayre, grandson of Woodrow Wilson, vociferously intoned against the Vietnam War from its intricately carved stone pulpit. But Hall seems intent on some theological reconstruction too.

“I describe myself as a non-theistic Christian,” Hall confided to Quinn, echoing infamous retired Episcopal John Shelby Spong, who once routinely regaled an approving Phil Donahue and other talk shows with his provocative disbelief of Christian orthodoxy. “Jesus doesn’t use the word God very much,” Hall insisted. “He talks about his Father.”

Hall asked: “Where I am now, how do I understand Jesus as a son of God that’s not magical? I’m trying to figure out Jesus as a son of God and a fully human being, if he has both fully human and a fully divine set of chromosomes.… He’s not some kind of superman coming down. God is present in all human beings. Jesus was an extraordinary human being. Jesus didn’t try to convert. He just had people at his table.”

So does this “non-theistic” Cathedral Dean believe in a personal deity who uniquely reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, as Christianity traditionally teaches? Maybe another interview with Quinn is needed, but Hall sounds skeptical.

Hall is justifiably worried about the exodus of young people, though he assumes it’s pervasive for churches rather than especially true for shriveling and aging liberal old-line Protestant denominations like his own. “We’re in a period where people under 50 don’t see the church as a credible place to explore their questions about God,” he said, although there are in fact many thriving congregations with young people. They just aren’t Episcopalian. Some of them, especially in Washington, are Anglican, having quit the old Episcopal Church because of views like Hall’s.

“The culture that built the church is dying,” Hall observed. “We face the same profile [in DC] culturally as Republicans — an aging white church in a large black population, a denomination for a particular ethnic group. We’re still hemmed in by being a Colonial church.” Hall speaks as though it’s still 1975, when today Washington is experiencing a dramatic demographic shift, with many older blacks leaving for the suburbs, and many white yuppies rapidly gentrifying much of the city.

Socially liberal, educated young whites seeking urban life should be ripe pickings for Hall’s brand of cerebral activist religion. But in fact, they aren’t. The city’s thriving churches, as nearly everywhere else, are evangelical or Catholic, of whatever race. “We’ll have an urban progressive liturgical church and a more suburban conservative church,” Hall declared, apparently unaware of the robust theologically conservative churches that surround his Cathedral, often quietly renting space from less vibrant, more liberal congregations. “We’ll cut across denominations,” he predicted, implying an equivalence between liberal Protestantism and the rest of traditional Christianity that doesn’t exist.

Liberal Protestants have believed for much of the last century that they irrepressibly represent the future and nearly everyone else should jump aboard or be left behind. So perhaps Hall nods to some reality by at least acknowledging a grudging coexistence between orthodox Christianity and his brand of progressive heterodoxy. But it’s still somewhat delusional to think it’s an even match in numbers or vitality.

And it’s sad that the new Cathedral Dean cannot realize that the vast space of his temple will not be filled physically or spiritually with the emptiness of “non-theistic Christianity.” Thriving churches nearly always are agreed upon a God who is there and speaking far more decisively than many Episcopalians are often willing to tolerate.

This article originally appeared on The American Spectator and was reposted with permission.

8 Responses to The Very Hip Rev. Gary Hall

  1. Eric Lytle says:

    The Rev is right about one thing: Jesus did call God “Father.” And real fathers make rules and set boundaries. So Rev is both Godless and Fatherless.

    Someone please tap him on the shoulder and whisper the bad news: You will not fill up your pews with the religion of the 3 Cs: cowards, conformists, and clones.

  2. Gabe says:

    And people wonder why the Episcopal Church is dying.

  3. Ben Welliver says:

    He blames the “exodus” on the fact that young people aren’t replacing the ones who are dying off. Did it cross his mind that people are leaving because they’re not finding God in that type of church? When the head guy in a cathedral doesn’t even believe in God, you can bet your boots that the sincere spiritual seekers will look elsewhere.

  4. John says:

    As my father used to say, “They’re not all locked up yet.”

  5. Ken Howes says:

    I would read “cut across denominations” as being related to the full communion and fellowship agreements which the “main line” churches have with each other–between the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and a few others.

    In the case with which I’m best acquainted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, they have full fellowship with churches that reject, or at least refuse to affirm, almost every article of the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord, and other documents that define what it means to be Lutheran.

    Just so, the Episcopal Church has no relationship with the 39 Articles of Religion that were once a statement of Anglicanism’s agreed teachings. TEC calls the Articles a “historical document”, interesting as a look into the Anglicanism of the late 16th century but having little relevance to teaching today. It has long since thrown overboard such documents as Cranmer’s Preface to the Bible and Jewel’s Apology of the Church of England.

    Similar things could be said about all the churches I listed above, though, to be fair, the UMC is still hanging on by its fingernails to its historic teachings. The UCC has actually rejected a proposal at a recent convention that would have required its ministers to confess the Trinity.

    These liberal churches have in common a denatured sort of Christianity in which their historic confessions, and even the Scriptures themselves and the early councils of the Church, play little role any more. So this gentleman is simply saying, “What’s left of us ‘main line’ denominations is increasingly joining together to make a common front,” principally not against atheism or against non-Christian religions but against traditional Catholics, whom they disparagingly call “inquisitors”, confessional Lutherans, whom they disparagingly call “Pharisees”, and other confessional or evangelical Protestants, whom they disparagingly call “fundamentalists” or simply “fundies”. The bad news for them is that, because these other Christians who are actually still Christians are really teaching about Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who for our salvation was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, their churches are at least holding their own and some are growing. Young people who want to hear about God know that they won’t hear it in the “main line” churches.

  6. Martial Artist says:

    Liberal Protestants have believed for much of the last century that they irrepressibly represent the future and nearly everyone else should jump aboard or be left behind.

    They well may represent much of the future, which, if true, is a sad commentary on the present (and near future) state of some significant part of what was Christ’s body on earth.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. SMHauser says:

    Recently, I attended a Peace Corps gathering at the Liberian Ambassadors residence. I noticed the cathedral was near by…and that it was leaning to the far left…I don’t think the earthquake had a lot to do with it…Man is as man does. Godspeed, Scott Hauser

  8. Nancy Mering says:

    If it weren’t for the eternal consequences at stake, it would seem almost laughable that the leader of a large Christian church would be “skeptical” about a “deity who uniquely reveals Himself in Jesus Christ,” and who believes that “God is present in all human beings” and that “Jesus was an extraordinary human being.” I can not grasp why people who don’t ascribe to the biblical revelation of the person and work of Jesus Christ as fully Son of God and Son of man, uniquely qualified to offer forgiveness of sin and hope through his death and resurrection even want or feel entitled to consider themselves Christians and to work in and for a Christian congregation. How else can we define and identify “Christians” except by their espousal of certain creedal claims and lives lived in accordance with those claims?

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