When I walked up to the All Souls Church I just took in the site—it was beautiful and looked like a tradition-steeped colonial church built in the 1800s. Later that evening I came to find out that (here is their blurb about themselves):
All Souls has a long tradition of promoting social justice issues [within religious views]. In the first half of the 1800s it was known for its opposition to slavery, and counts among its past ministers the prominent abolitionist William Clay Channing. The Revere Bell at All Souls was stripped of its status as “Washington’s Town Bell” after the congregation tolled it to commemorate the death of John Brown. It was thereafter called the “Abolition Bell”.
As I walked into the speakers lounge I was greeted by:
Rita Nakashima Brock (her book, Saving Paradise, was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the “Best Books of 2008”),
Bob Edgar (now CEO of Common Cause, he served 12 years in Congress, and a part of the congressional class nicknamed “the Watergate babies” who were elected in the wake of the Watergate scandal and led to sweeping Congressional reforms),
Dr. Vincent Harding (close colleague of MLK Jr.—Dr. Harding wrote speeches for MLK, including the famous “A Time to Break Silence”. Since MLK’s death Dr. Harding and Coretta Scott King co-established the King Center in Atlanta and they speak around the country on racial reconciliation).
That set the tone right then and there.
When the time came for us to head towards the sanctuary we had a difficult time due to the overflow of people who gathered outside to try and somehow squeeze into the main seating area. After a little detour we finally made it into the back of the sanctuary. And when I walked in, my eyes popped wide open.
I saw TV cameras all over the floor and the balcony, and sitting in the periphery were a gob of reporters, videographers and cameramen from various papers, journals and magazines. This is not to mention the 1,200-1,300 people absolutely packed into the pews, the balcony and sitting in folding chairs and on the floor—anywhere they could fit. This church might have been a historic church on the Hill, but it sure was not sized to hold so many eager people.
The first few rows on the main floor were sectioned off for us to sit and, and in classic Washington fashion, we (the speakers) were introduced and paraded down the middle isle to our seats in the front—walking between various politicians, Washington elite, and those who were able to get a seat. For one fleeting moment I felt like the President being introduced at the State of the Union walking down the middle isle as everyone stands up and claps. That was quite a moment for me (and then I started getting really nervous!).
It wasn’t what you would think of as average. The stage was actually just the podium, as I had to walk up about 15 steps to get to the 14 ft. podium that towered over the attendees. It felt like an “old school excitable preacher” setting, as I could just image back in the 1800s preachers standing up there getting all riled up about the abolition of slavery. That thought pumped me up! So when I got up there to speak I peered around the sanctuary, looking at all of the TV cameras, photographers and people, just taking it in for one brief second—and I prayed in my Spirit:
“Lord, thank you for this opportunity to stand up here and communicate your message in front of the most unlikely of audiences. Send your Holy Spirit to indwell in this place and come upon me. Let your words clearly flow through me with enthusiasm and grace—and let’s give them something they’ve never seen! In Jesus’ Holy Name.”
The event planners asked me to speak on homophobia, so my sermon was titled:
Homophobia and Bridging from within the Evangelical Church
For the next 10 minutes I laid it down with all the passion and enthusiasm—totally everything—I had (if you’ve ever heard me speak you know what I’m talking about).
I ended my sermon with:
“So this is my call for all of us here today, as well as to all of my fellow straight evangelical brothers and sisters around the world: It’s time to stop running in fear—fear of what might happen, fear of what other people might think and fear of what is right or wrong! Only with that countercultural commitment can true, sustainable and systemic growth actually happen! Faith in our Holy God is not about sexual orientation; because it should always be that love is our orientation!”
And with that (and for some added dramatic effect) I immediately walked off the podium!
I then received one of the two standing ovations that were given throughout the night.
But what happened next was one of the biggest honors of my life to-date…..