There has been a bit of controversy over the past week about the Washington National Cathedral’s decision to invite evangelical author Max Lucado to preach last weekend. Lucado is notoriously non-affirming of LGBTQ+ peoples inclusion in the church, and the National Cathedral has been a beacon of LGBTQ+ inclusion for decades. Many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies were deeply hurt by the invitation, and demanded that the Cathedral retract the invitation because of Lucado’s damaging teachings.
I have spent some time reflecting on why this invitation by the National Cathedral was so painful to me and many of my LGBTQ+ siblings. I’ve landed on this- I have spent the past decade building bridges across religious divides. I have sat at tables with some of the most prominent anti-LGBT religious leaders in our country. I have shared stages with some of the most bigoted theologians of our day.
What I have learned through all of this is that building bridges is absolutely essential to healing our world. Sitting with and sharing our stories with our enemies is one of the most powerful ways to transform hearts and minds, making them into friends and allies.
But whenever we try to take bridge-building public prematurely, it usually becomes unhelpful and the desire is usually driven, in some part, by ego. We want to be seen as welcoming to or as being affirmed by the people we platform. Even if know that this image being projected is a shallow and false one.
If we want to change hearts and minds, if we want to build effective bridges, it’s got to be done away from the stage. It’s got to be done in relationship. If the Cathedral wanted to build a bridge with Max Lucado, it should have been done in private conversations, or even perhaps on something like a podcast, not by publicly platforming him in one of the most prominent pro-LGBT pulpits in the nation.
It always seems to be the “inclusive people” or those who are actively oppressed that feel an undue burden to invite those who demonize and exclude us to share our platform. Rarely have I seen non-affirming people and organizations invite LGBT people, for instance, to share their platforms in any way that is not tokenizing and belittling. (See my conversation at the National Association of Religious Broadcasters Convention for an example of this.) A reminder, Lucado has not invited an openly LGBT person to his pulpit- but one of the most prominent LGBT inclusive churches in the nation has invited him to theirs?
It’s one thing to say that we need to build bridges with evangelicals. I agree. That can be done through conversations and personal relationships. It’s another thing to give them our platforms (and presumably money) while they are actively engaged in oppressive teaching and behavior.
At the end of the day, the burden of public reparations lies squarely on those who are non-affirming. To expect oppressed and excluded or our allies to give platform and affirmation to those benefiting from our oppression is a terrible injustice, indeed.