Recently, the Washington National Cathedral’s Very Rev. Gary Hall delivered a sermon in which he dropped the words “homophobia” and “heterosexism” and “gender identity” while proclaiming that it’s not just OK to be gay — it’s good.
In its wisdom, the church came to its senses and labeled both racism and sexism as sinful. And now we find ourselves at the last barrier — call that barrier homophobia, call it heterosexism. We must now have the courage to take the final step and call homophobia and heterosexism what they are. They are sin. Homophobia is a sin. Heterosexism is a sin. Shaming people for whom they love is a sin. Shaming people because their gender identity doesn’t fit neatly into your sense of what it should be is a sin.
It is not only just OK to be gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. It is good to be that way, because that is the way God has made you … Only when we find a way fearlessly to speak just that clearly and boldly to LGBT kids, their families, their schools, and their communities, will the world be a safe and nurturing place for the Matthew Shepards and Tyler Clementis of our own day. We don’t need more faith. We just need some faith — faith in a God who is bigger and deeper and more loving and compassionate than we are.
It really is OK for you and me to be who we are.
Rev. Hall is a longtime same-sex marriage advocate. In fact, the National Cathedral announced it would perform same-sex weddings just this January, three months after Hall took over as the cathedral’s dean (using liturgical rites for same-sex blessings that Hall himself was instrumental in developing and pushing through the Episcopalian Church’s national governing body). At the time of the announcement, Hall made it clear that the nation’s most prominent church — the place where the country as a whole turns during our greatest celebrations and our most heartbreaking tragedies — wasn’t just going to perform same-sex weddings and bless same-sex couples; the church was going to change the cultural conversation about what the Bible says about being gay. And his recent sermon is a bold step in that direction.
Various branches of Christianity have begun to change the way they relate to gay people. Pope Francis recently boggled the whole world’s collective mind when he simply said “Who am I to judge?” when asked to comment on the topic of gay priests. (A far cry from the his predecessor, who believed gayness is an “intrinsic, moral evil.”) And the Mormon Church has made strides in its treatment of gay folks, urging gay Mormons to stay in the church and urging Mormon leaders not to counsel them to suck it up and get straight married.
But Hall’s message goes far beyond the “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance of other churches. In fact, he flips that message on its head and says its not tolerance at all; it’s outright wrong.
Hall’s message also does the very important work of contextualizing modern day Christianity’s position on homosexuality.
There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when fundamentalist Christians insisted that the Bible condemned interracial marriage, preached that allowing interracial marriage would destroy the fabric of society, taught that God’s law condemned it as sin. And then the church opened its eyes and its mind and realized that’s not what the Bible says at all. They were using their own fears and prejudices and ignorance to interpret an ancient text in a hateful way. In fact, the church’s teachings about interracial marriage were in direct opposition to pretty much everything Jesus said and did. Before that, the church did the same thing with segregation, with slavery, with women’s suffrage, and on and on. “God says husbands own their wives, God says it’s a sin for women to own property, society will be ripped in half if women are given the right to vote, God gave us the right to own slaves, the Bible strictly forbids people of different colors to intermingle, God will smite this country if black folks and white folks are allowed to be married — oh, whoops. Um, maybe we read that wrong.”
That’s how social progress has always happened in this country, and it’s a process that is repeating itself in the exact same way today. And the Very Rev. Gary Hall is making sure that the National Cathedral is running, not walking, to the right side of history, pulling everyone he can along with him.
For more information about the Bible and the Gays, you can check out my exhaustive research on Biblical clobber passages, as well as my story of growing up gay and Baptist. Big thanks to Stacy for sharing this sermon with me this morning.