Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article, Dean Randy Hollerith has issued a statement apologizing for inviting Max Lucado to preach at the Washington National Cathedral. Hollerith said that when he initially invited Lucado, he was not aware of the “horrific things” Lucado had said about LGBTQ people. Once he became aware of those statements, Hollerith said his “straight privilege” blinded him to the pain he was causing and that was why he refused to rescind Lucado’s invitation. In an attempt to make amends, Hollerith is planning to help lead his congregation in an online discussion that will take place on on Feb. 21. Max Lucado has also responded to the outcry by apologizing for comments he made in 2004 about same-sex marriage that he says were “disrespectful” and “hurtful.” Lucado was clear that he holds to a “traditional biblical understanding of marriage,” but added that “LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ families must be respected and treated with love.” The pastor expressed regret that his past comments distracted from his sermon and emphasized his desire to listen to and build bridges with “those with whom we disagree.”
The dean of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. has come under fire for inviting author and pastor Max Lucado, who does not support same-sex marriage, to speak at the LGBTQ-affirming church. Dean Randy Hollerith has defended his decision to allow Lucado to deliver a message at the church on Sunday, Feb. 7.
“We have to come out of our corners, find common ground where we can, and find ways to live with and see each other as the beloved children of God that we are,” said Hollerith in a statement to Kathleen Moore, who started a petition to rescind Lucado’s invitation. “We have all grown too accustomed in our silos and echo chambers. In order to start the process of rebuilding, we need to hear from each other.”
In addition to being a teaching minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, Max Lucado is a well-known author who has sold over 120 million copies of his books. Anxiety is a topic he focuses on, and his message Sunday was about “how God can bring calm to our chaos.”
Hollerith explained, “I don’t agree with Max’s views on LGBTQ issues. We can still hold our convictions and cling to our values in the midst of disagreement. But the work that we cannot ignore is the vitally important task of what Isaiah called ‘repairing the breach.’ That starts, first and foremost, with those with whom we disagree. When we only engage with those with whom we agree on every issue, we find ourselves in a dangerous (and lonely) place.”
Max Lucado Invitation Stirs Controversy
The Washington National Cathedral is a historic, Episcopal church located in the U.S.’s capital. The cathedral’s website says, “The Cathedral supports LGBT people in all aspects of its life and ministry. The Cathedral hosted its first same-sex wedding in 2010, and welcomed its first transgender preacher, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, to the Canterbury Pulpit in 2014.” According to former dean Gary Hall, marrying same-sex couples in the cathedral is the “most emphatic” way the church can communicate that God loves all people equally.
As of 2018, a gay couple in the Episcopal Church wishing to be married in the couple’s home diocese has the option to do so. A bishop who has a moral objection to same-sex marriage may decline to perform one and refer the couple to another clergy member. Bishops may not, however, categorically ban gay marriages from their dioceses. When Bishop William Love, who was over the Diocese of Albany, refused to allow gay marriages to be performed in his diocese, a disciplinary panel found him guilty of violating canon law and his ordination vows. Love subsequently resigned.
On Feb. 3, the Washington National Cathedral made an announcement on Facebook that Max Lucado would be preaching on Feb. 7. The post received quite a few comments from people expressing their dismay about the decision. Some Facebook users (and Moore’s petition) found the decision particularly offensive given that the remains of Matthew Shepard are interred at the cathedral. Shephard was a gay college student who died in a hospital in Colorado after two men brutally beat him and left him for dead. Hollerith’s critics have argued that the dean’s decision to invite Lucado disrespects Shephard’s legacy.
The petition for the cathedral to disinvite Lucado has garnered over 1,600 signatures as of this writing. It received over 1,000 signatures before Sunday, and people are continuing to sign it even though Lucado has already delivered his message. Among its other complaints, the petition links to an article on Crosswalk in which Lucado compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality.
While the article has since been removed “at the request of the original owner,” an article on Lucado’s website responding to the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage implies that Lucado does not believe gay marriage is right or good. “The decision of the SCOTUS regarding same-sex marriage has the potential to leave many Christians anxious and troubled,” he wrote. “While those of us who hold to traditional marriage have a right to be concerned, we have no need to despair.”
Even though there is no indication that Lucado affirms gay marriage, it is possible he is communicating his beliefs differently than he used to, in light of the fact that the Crosswalk article was removed. Last year, Christian influencer Alisa Childers expressed concern that Lucado had appeared on author Jen Hatmaker‘s podcast in an episode entitled, “Max Lucado: The Beauty of Disagreeing Agreeably.” Hatmaker has said she believes same-sex unions can be “holy” and has celebrated her daughter coming out as gay. Even though Lucado did not endorse Hatmaker’s views on same-sex marriage, Childers was troubled by some of his comments about unity.
Notably, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson presided over the service at which Lucado spoke. Robinson, who is now retired, became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2003. During the service, Robinson addressed the controversy over Lucado, saying he knew that a lot of people, especially in the LGTBQ community, “have been in pain” over Lucado’s invitation. Robinson, however, chose to participate in the service because he believed in the church’s “mission to be a house of prayer to all people.”
“Those of us who are LGBTQ know how slippery that word ‘all’ can be because, far too often, we have not been included in it,” said Robinson.
In Hollerith’s view, the Washington National Cathedral should not only welcome Christians with whom the church disagrees but also welcome people of all faiths. “This Cathedral is a house of prayer for all people, proudly so,” Hollerith said in his statement. “That means this Cathedral, and this pulpit, are big enough and strong enough to welcome pastors, rabbis, imams, clergy of every faith. It does not mean we agree with everything they might believe, but it does mean that we exhibit and inhabit a sense of open handed welcome.”
Correction: The article originally stated that all Episcopal churches are required to bless same-sex unions. In fact, clergy who do not wish to perform a gay marriage may refer the couple to another church or clergy member. The couple, however, must have the option to be married within their diocese.