Let me cut to the chase: It’s time for the Dean of the National Cathedral, Randy Hollerith, to resign.
It’s no secret that, as a progressive, I often find myself unhappy with recent decisions in the Episcopal Church, particularly when those decisions evince a lack of leadership. But when it comes to stupidity and downright meanness, nothing holds a candle to the recent decision by the National Cathedral to invite homophobic bigot Max Lucado to preach. And while we all make mistakes (despite my efforts to corner that market), the fact that the Dean of the Cathedral, Randy Hollerith, is doubling down on dumb in defending this decision reflects a profound lack of common sense and disrespect for the LGBTQ+ community. So much so that it’s time for Hollerith to exit, stage right.
Do not pass go.
Do not collect $200.
By way of background, Lucado is pastor of the evangelical Oak Hills Church in San Antonio Texas. He’s also the author of books that have sold more than 11 million copies.
Particularly of note are Lucado’s comments about same-sex marriage, which can be found here. There, he alleges that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and incest, while elsewhere he compares it to bestiality.
In his written response to those who have expressed outrage about Lucado’s invitation, Hollerith reaffirms the Cathedral’s commitment to LGBTQ equality and inclusion, while saying that he has no plans to withdraw the invitation to preach. He then goes on to note that Lucado is not preaching about marriage, but rather on the workings of the Holy Spirit. Hollerith goes on to argue that this invitation is a move towards healing and reconciliation, by engaging in discourse.
I call BS on Hollerith’s email.
There is a profound difference between engaging with a hater and lending one’s seal of approval to the hater. Preaching from the National Cathedral does the latter, while ignoring those who have been hurt by Lucado and those of his ilk.
Would Hollerith invite David Duke to preach? I hope not, but increasingly I get the feeling he would.
What about Q-Anon advocates? Should the Cathedral offer them an opportunity to preach, just so long as they don’t talk about their belief that Democrats eat babies?
And how should those of us who have been rejected by family and friends over our sexual orientation respond?
How does Hollerith think this decision feels to the parents of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man beaten and left to die alone, in a desolate field, tied to a fence? His ashes are interred in the Cathedral crypt, and I’d be prepared to bet that his parents aren’t exactly feeling the love just now.
For the record, as someone who has experienced hatred and rejection from family members over his sexual orientation, I am shocked, appalled, and outraged.
I fully recognize that Hollerith may not have personally extended the invitation to Lucado. But when confronted with outrage over this ugly and mean-spirited decision, Hollerith ran the Jolly Roger up the mast, and basically told LGBTQ+ persons, their friends and allies, to pound sand. And no, saying that the Cathedral remains firm in its commitment to our rights doesn’t cut it. Not even close.
In fact, if this is Randy Hollerith’s vision of what an inclusive church looks like, no thanks. He can keep it.
Nor is this the first instance of unethical and clueless behavior on the part of the Holleriths.
In a 2019 decision involving me, Melissa Hollerith, an Episcopal priest, wife of Randy Hollerith, and then an ethics instructor at the Episcopal St. Alban’s school, affirmed in her role as chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Disciplinary Committee a decision that the diocese would not address illegal conduct by clergy unless criminal charges are involved.
So, if you are a child molester, a thief, a bank robber, a murderer, or in this case a perjurer, you are welcome as clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Just don’t face criminal charges and we are good. (For the record, I sent a scathing response to Ms. Hollerith saying exactly that, and then some.)
All of this points to one of the great problems in the Episcopal Church today. That problem is not just a profound lack of common sense and a broken ethical reference point, but a lack of self-awareness and understanding around inclusion.
What does that mean?
It means that folks, myself included, don’t want inclusion if the underlying terms and conditions involve abuse or lack of respect. In other words, when I attend church, even if it’s virtual, I don’t want to deal with bullying altar guild members. I don’t want to deal with an abusive priest. And I sure as heck don’t want to see a hater in the pulpit.
That means if the person preaching thinks women are second-class citizens, I don’t want to see him there, regardless of the topic on which he’s preaching.
I don’t want to see a racist there. If that person advocates racism, I don’t care what the topic is. I don’t want to see or hear her.
Same goes for those who espouse Q-Anon.
Or who are anti-Semites.
Or think that storming the US Capitol was okay.
Would I be okay with a one-on-one conversation with that person? Sure I would. In fact, I’d probably enjoy it. As Hollerith rightly points out, it’s a dangerous world view when one excludes other viewpoints. But that’s not the same as inviting that person to preach.
Have I attended church with Q-Anon conspiracy theorists before? Regrettably, yes I have. But so too have I attended church with people who are mentally ill, who are homeless, or who face other major challenges.
In other words, there is a huge difference between inclusion in the life of the church and offering a hater a pulpit from which to preach. I welcome all persons to worship and serve with me. I do not afford all persons the opportunity to preach, nor do I want my church to provide an open forum for haters of any ilk.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this.
Any church official who is so clueless as to invite Max Lucado to preach has made a serious error. But that error becomes a profound lack of judgment and disrespect for LGBTQ+ members of the church when, as here, Hollerith tries to defend his decision.
Fortunately, Ash Wednesday is not far off.
Hollerith can lead by example, withdraw his invitation, and apologize to those who have been hurt.
Or if he wants to stick to his guns, he can do all involved a favor and resign. And if Hollerith does rescind his invitation and apologize, he shouldn’t conclude that this precludes the possibility of resigning. In fact, I encourage him to do both.
In the meantime, you can find Randy Hollerith on Twitter at @rhollerith. Bishop Budde, in whose diocese the Cathedral is located, can be emailed at email@example.com.
And in case you need an example, below is my email to +Budde. I copied Melissa Hollerith on it, so no one can say they didn’t hear it directly from me.