What really happened at St. John’s Church on Easter Sunday

I spent Easter Sunday the way my family has spent Easter Sunday for the last six years – attending services at our church, St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square.  One of the reasons we still attend St. John’s, rather than finding a parish closer to our home in Fairfax that doesn’t require a 20 mile commute every Sunday morning, is the Rev. Luis Leon, our rector.

Luis is one of the smartest men I know, and he has always been a welcoming figure to me and our family.   When my wife and I got engaged, he did our marital counseling.  When we got married, he presided over the service.  He baptized my son.  I will never forget him walking around the church, holding our son during his baptismal service.  At the end, as he handed Nick back to his mother, he said to me, “I know if that boy ever cries, I know it’s going to be your fault, because he’s a little angel.”  It still makes me laugh when I remember it.

Our church sits next to the White House, so we have the honor of hosting the President a few times a year.  He joined us again on Sunday for Easter.  And, as usual, he brought with him two things that are ubiquitous of the presidency – press and controversy.

In his sermon, Luis made reference to “captains of the religious right,” and it was reported in many places that he accused the religious right of wanting to keep blacks in the back of the bus, wanting to keep women in the kitchen, and immigrants on their side of the border.  Conservatives erupted in outrage.  The news was originally reported by the Weekly Standard, hit Drudge’s front page and was picked up by Breitbart.com and a number of other outlets.  The story was basically the same – look at this guy race baiting on Easter, pandering to the President.

That’s not what happened.  It’s a mischaracterization of what Luis said, and it was certainly not what he meant.  But that didn’t stop people from jumping to ridiculous conclusions and vilifying him, our church, and Episcopalians in general.

Sunday night, I perused the blogs after an excellent Easter dinner and saw that my pastor – my friend – was being accused of being the next Jeremiah Wright.  They called him a “dunce,” an “oaf,” and a “clown,” even going so far as to say that he’s a “false prophet,” or a “fake Christian” pastor, and that he was preaching “Satan’s deception.”

This isn’t a joke.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of the vile hate and disgusting nonsense that came out of people on Easter because of what they thought my pastor said.  Can you imagine someone saying that about your pastor?

The worst part, at least for me, was that what he said made absolute sense to those of us who were there.   Luis was preaching on our Gospel lesson for the day, which came from John 20: 11-18, where Mary Magdalene sees Christ for the first time since he rose from the dead.  She refers to him as “rabbouni” (teacher) and he tells her she must not cling to him.  Luis explained that passage by talking about the dangers of nostalgia, and how Christ was explaining to Mary that she must not live in the past because we cannot go back to the past, no matter how much we may want to.  Christ knew that because he came, died for our sins and was resurrected, nothing would ever be the same again.  Mary and the disciples needed to understand that, and she did – when she tells the disciples of what she saw, she tells them “I saw the Lord” not “I saw our rabbi.”  His sermon was a message of hope, not hate, that he was delivering to our congregation.

But it was in this discussion of the dangers of nostalgia that he made the comments that created all the conservative hate on Easter.  He made the point that he is frustrated when  “captains of the religious right” want to call us back to times they say were better, but that those times were also times when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, when women were kept in the kitchen and immigrants on their side of the border.  The point was simple and one I’ve said to many people myself – those of us who pine for the “good old days” need to keep in mind that those good old days weren’t always that great for everybody else.

Was that hatred?  No.  Was it an attack on the religious right?  No.  Was it pandering to Obama?  No – he gave the same sermon at both the 9 AM and 11 AM services and used the same line in both (I was a lay reader at the 9 AM, so I heard that version – it was the same as the 11 AM based on the pool reporters notes) .  Was it a straw man attack?  I don’t think so.  Pat Robertson, among others, has long lamented how society is more immoral today than it was in the past, especially when talking about gay marriage and other social issues.  Luis’s point is that those people are living in the past and ignoring that in that past that may have been better for some, it wasn’t better for all.  We can’t go back, no matter how much we want to.  What we can do is make the future better, and through Christ, we have that opportunity.

This wasn’t a political speech. One reference to the “captains of the religious right” doesn’t make it a political speech any more than Barack Obama quoting scripture in a State of the Union address makes that a sermon.

Luis Leon is a good man, a man of God, and my friend.  It hurt me to see the vile things that people were saying about him based on one misreported, out-of-context sentence in a fifteen minute sermon that had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the importance of the resurrection of Christ on Easter, for Christians, our most holy day of the year.  It was unnecessary and unproductive.

But I hope we can learn from it.

What happened here is illustrative to me as to why we Republicans keep losing elections.  The bitterness, the bile, the hatred that came out because of what people thought Luis said – not what he said, but what they thought he said – was eye-opening.   For too many, politics has stopped being about moving the country forward, but has become a bitter personal fight between two sides who both think the other is pure evil.  As a politician, I’m used to being attacked by people who disagree with me.  But seeing this kind of vitriol leveled at a man of God whom nobody really knew outside of those of us in Washington who know him and our church, was just unprecedented to me.  If that’s how we on the right treat someone like Dr. Leon because he said something we don’t agree with, we don’t deserve to win another election.   This kind of behavior is unacceptable.   It turns people off because we look like we’re so scared of another opinion we have to go beyond disagreement to personal destruction of anyone who disagrees.

I am proud of my rector and I’m proud of my church.  Don’t believe the nonsense you’ve been reading or seeing in the press about us and about Rev. Leon.  But for those of you who, like Thomas, need to see things with your own eyes, I’d like to invite you to attend services with me.  Any given Sunday, you’ll find us at St. John’s and we’d be happy to have you.

  • well said Brian. From a first-hand witness.

  • Libba Grifith

    Thank you Brian. Luis served as deacon and priest and was also consecrated at our church in Charlotte, St Peter’s Episcopal. We have been life long friends although we do not see him as often as we would like. Although I knew there had to be more to the story, I am delighted that you took the time to give out the facts. When you see Luis tell him that Libba and Steve Griffith send our support and love,

    • Will do, Libba!

      • Sarah Williams

        Hi Libba and Steve, and thank you, Brian, for your clear voice. Luis is a gem, and St. John’s is a wonderful parish. Please tell Luis that Sarah and David send love and support, as always. My father, Hunt Williams, was rector of St. Peter’s, Charlotte when Luis was associate rector–and Luis preached for my dad’s Consecration service when he became a bishop suffragan. Long history with St. John’s, my husband was a seminary intern there and we have visited your parish many times. I could go on and on. Times are hard, and folks are disquiet. I am sorry that Luis and St. John’s are caught up in such a silly storm.

  • Thank you for a reasoned voice of clarification.

  • Oh please. He knew that the President would be at one of those services. It’s the only day that the President attends church. Of course he said the same thing at both services! You have one interpretation of what was said, many others have a completely different interpretation. Most of those folks are republicans, you know, some of those right wing kooks like Greta VanSustern and Ralph Reed and Rush Limbaugh. No one listens to them!

    • None of them were there.

      • pinecone321

        So if any of them were there would the sermon have changed? Doubtful. The sermon was designed around the attendance of the president and his family, and there political ideology which interestingly includes no support against the Christians both here and in foreign countries.

        • No, it wasn’t. The sermon had nothing to do with politics, and was the same at all of the services that day. It didn’t change based on who was in the audience.

          • ejochs

            Now you are insulting the intelligence of your readers. It was a message that the other side is bad (right wingers) while you, my left wing flock, are good. It was a status quo sermon, not a challenge to anything.

          • No, you’re insulting our congregation by assuming everyone in the church is of the same political leanings. We aren’t.

          • ejochs

            I bet the ones that aren’t know their place. You certainly do.

  • Good to know the facts.

    I tend to agree with you so much of the time here on BD but must disagree a bit with your conclusions on this one.

    The rector was surely cognizant of the fact that the press was present and would be reporting on his sermon. He chose to castigate the “captains of the religious right” for their supposed sin of wishing things weren’t going so full tilt crazy nowadays– and didn’t balance it with a little well deserved criticism of the denizens of the liberal left pushing us that way. It is true you can’t go back, but that doesn’t mean going fast to hell is any better.

    Whether or not the Reverand meant to make his sermon political – he must have known, being a smart and learned man in Washington, DC, that using the term “religious right” would denigrate those who simply share a more traditional belief system and stir up political passions. Why stop there? Why did he not bring up intolerants on the left who seemingly prefer to keep blacks enslaved in welfare and poverty, or who push a tax system that requires women to leave their children in daycare to make ends meet……you get the drift.

    I appreciate your frustration with mischaracterizations of your friend that were probably inappropriate – but it WAS reported that way. And honestly, things surrounding Obama do seem to fit a pattern, sad as it is. I made snap judgements based on the reporting too – but really, the church is across from the WH. He should have known better.

    • Why is the term “religious right” somehow a denigration? I’m on the right and I’m religious. I’m not offended by it. Folks need to stop looking to find things to be offended by.

      I don’t want Luis changing his sermons because the President or the press is going to be there, and I certainly don’t think we need a fairness doctrine when it comes to sermons. To be honest, I don’t hear a lot of folks on the left saying “remember the good old days,” so I don’t think that criticism fits them.

      Again, it wasn’t a political sermon. It was a single line, an analogy that brought his point across well. If you want to argue he should have used other words, fine. But does that justify the nastiness he’s received in response?

      • Didn’t he, by defining it as someone who wants blacks to sit in the back of the bus, mean it as a denigration?

        • OK – I know you will respond that he didn’t actually define it that way – and I’ll grant you that.

          • I can’t answer that one, Sara. What I will say is Luis is a much better sermon writer than I am. I can write a good speech, but he’s in a different league. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

          • Tucson Priest

            “people who want to return to the old days” are normally referred to as conservatives. (by definition)

        • frippo

          It sounds like the worst thing Rev. Leon was accusing anyone of was being blinded by nostalgia to the point that they *forget* that blacks once had to sit at the back of the bus. Forgetting that something used to happen is not even a little bit the same as actively wanting it to happen again, so it’s absurd to suggest that Leon was making them equivalent.

          Why couldn’t he have just said “people who want to return to the old days”? Because because his point was specifically that certain leading Christians who have the power to shape opinion need to realize that the Gospel of Christ is not about nostalgia?

      • MD Russ


        You and I normally see eye-to-eye on such matters, but I have to disagree with you on this one. “Religious right” is as much a term of denigration as “godless left.” It conjures up images of everything from Jerry Falwell to snake-handling Pentecostals. I personally agree with the sentiments of your rector and wish that more mainstream Protestants would find the courage to condemn the excesses and very un-Christian statements of the evangelical fundamentalists. However, his choice of words was unfortunate at best.

        One of the best bumper stickers I ever saw said, “The Christian Right Is Neither.” That’s great for a political statement, but it has no purpose in a sermon.

        • MD, you and I normally agree. But “snake-handling Pentecostals” is offensive. in its own right.

          • tx2vadem

            Why is snake-handling Pentecostals offensive? I see the comment as describing a set, not characterizing the group.

          • MD Russ

            Sorry, Alton. That was not intended as an attack on your relatives.

      • Joel Solliday

        “Religious right” is not a denigration! Saying that the “captians of the religious right” want black people at the back of the bust is worse than a denigration. It’s a lie!

  • star1234

    I read this twice and the rector stil seems to be asserting that an identifiable group, lumped together, holds a certain retro view harmful to others. Is this provable or correct?

    • Again, no, that’s not what he said. He did not accuse anybody of holding those beliefs.

      • pinecone321

        Luis’s comments weren’t addressed to everyone on the religious right.
        They were addressed to the “captains” – a very small number – and only
        to those who call us back to the good old days.He did not accuse anybody of holding those beliefs.

        He did not accuse anybody of holding those beliefs.


    • Reality

      It is provable and correct, despite the attempts to tell you you’re not hearing what you’re hearing. The truth is still the truth even if apologists try to twist it into something else.

  • Ken

    Let me get this straight: this preacher misrepresents the Religious Right with straw man arguments, and I’m supposed to be outraged because someone misrepresented him? Maybe he should be more careful about his words.

    • Scott

      Perhaps you ought to read the article. Especially the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph.

    • Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      • pinecone321

        But Brian, you argued that your pastor didn’t do anything wrong. What do you mean that two wrongs don’t make a right then? Are you admitting that the pastor did something wrong?

        • No, I’m saying that if you think he misrepresented the religious right, why are you accepting someone misrepresenting what he said? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      • …but two “(W)rights” made an airplane, as Foghorn Leghorn once observed.

  • Jsamilio

    I have listened to Luis for over 20 years…those who are brave enough to preach the Gospel and seek the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will — will always find themselves the target of evil. Go to St. John’s and listen for yourself — Luis is a great man.

    • So it is “evil” to be of the opinion that Luis’ sermon might be construed as having been inappropriate for Easter Sunday? Is he the “target of evil” because he appears to have made remarks that insulted certain Episcopalians like me?
      I do not doubt that he is a “great man,” and that’s why I am disappointed in him. I expect more of someone who has a reputation for being a loving and conscientious reverend.
      I attend an Episcopalian church that I love. My reverend is not afraid to inject progressive commentary into sermons, but she does so in a manner that I find constructive. Unless Dr. Leon’s words were misquoted so significantly or selectively edited in a harsh manner, the quotes ascribed to him from the sermon were rather negligent and lacking in tact and bound to unnecessarily make some conservatives feel offended and defensive on Easter.

  • Ken

    I’ve never heard ANYONE in the Religious Right say they wanted to return to the 1950’s. I certainly don’t. Therefore, while this gentleman’s comments were not as inflammatory as some would have us believe, they were still unfair. If he doesn’t like being misrepresented, then perhaps he should be more careful in his own choice of words.

    • Luis’s comments weren’t addressed to everyone on the religious right. They were addressed to the “captains” – a very small number – and only to those who call us back to the good old days. Can you honestly say that no one at that level has ever said they don’t think things were better back in the day? I can’t.

      Again, he wasn’t saying that these leaders wanted us to go back to those days, but that they ignore that when they talk nostalgically about the past, they ignore the bad parts of the past that were out there.

      • valerie rhodes

        But seriously why did he feel the need to go down that path? What about the leaders on the left who have little to no reservations about late term and partial birth abortion?

        • Again, that wasn’t the point of the sermon. It was an analogy that he was using in making a broader point about nostalgia.

          • pinecone321

            Are you really saying that the good pastor wants to modernize religion, just as the left wants to modernize the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution? Who on the right has advocated going back to blacks on the back of the bus, or women in the kitchen. What does any religion have to do with blacks or women, and how they are perceived? When did pastors use language about the right or the left. Isn’t Christianity about being color blind, and political party blind? Remember a time when Churches were about religious teachings, and not about race, gender, or political party? I do.

          • Nobody is saying that, and neither was Luis. Have you never heard anybody ever lament about what’s happened to this country and how we used to be god-fearing, etc. ? That’s his point – while things may have been different in the past, that doesn’t mean they were better. And given the context of the Easter story – how Christ changed the world and existence for mankind – it makes perfect sense.

      • Andrew Brooks

        Oh… so his comments are ok because he was only misrepresenting “A very small number (of captains)”…. and not everyone?

        The arguement is hypcritical… you don’t like the way your Rector is depicted by people who do not know what is in his heart… but you have no issue or concern with your Rector depicting other relgious leaders in certain light… despite not knowing what is in their true mind or heart.

        • Andrew, he’s not depicting other religious leaders in any light. He’s simply saying that folks who pine for the good old days don’t always seem to remember that those days were not great for everybody. That’s a fair criticism, and it’s something that we all fall pray to. He wasn’t attacking or accusing anybody, which is what I’ve been trying to explain here.

  • Paul Barkett

    Brian, thanks for writing this. You’ve captured what many of us, on both the left and right, who know Luis well have been thinking for the past 2 days. Folks should at least take the 12 minutes to hear the whole sermon before they rush to judgement.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who heard the sermon and came away with the actual message, Paul – thanks for the comment.

      • Kevin Allen

        Your defense didn’t make it sound any better to me. He attacked the “Religious Right” and accused us all of being racists.

        • Alex Wilson

          What this says is not that the “Religious Right” is all racists, what he stated was that they are looking at the past as a better time. This time may have been better for some but not all, the use of “blacks had to sit in the back of the bus” was to point out that it was not better for all. It seems that the sermon was written with the purpose of trying to get the church to look forward, not backwards, as Jesus was trying to do in his interaction with Mary.

          • Bingo. I don’t get why folks are having so much trouble with this.

          • frippo

            Confirmation bias. Some people need to feel outraged in order to believe that they’re right. Their eyes stop at “religious right,” “blacks on the back of the bus,” and, probably, “Obama,” and fill in the rest to suit their preconceptions.

            But please keep trying to be reasonable.

          • As an outsider, I think folks are having trouble admitting what happened because it doesn’t fit into their neat categories. Many people identify with teams (conservative/liberal, us/them, Yankees/Red Sox) and what you are doing is pointing out that The Other Team didn’t actually commit a foul. How can you say that … are you secretly a member of the other team?
            All you can do is calmly repeat your message, without expecting anyone to say you’re right on this. Hearts change slowly.

          • Agreed, and that’s what I’ve been doing. The reality here is that had Luis said something that I, as a conservative, would have truly objected to, I would have told him myself and I wouldn’t be here defending him.

        • No, that’s not what he said at all and that’s not what I wrote. Read it again. Unless you happen to be a captain of the religious right, he wasn’t talking about you at all, and his point was an analogy – the same folks who pine for the good old days don’t seem to remember they weren’t great for everybody. He didn’t call anybody a racist.

  • Henry+

    Bless you for seeing the Gospel above politics.

  • valerie rhodes

    If I remember correctly it all started with a reporter’s tweet. I hope someone will confirm yes or no. The Pastor should have avoided any reference to the right,but to watch this explode as it did is an embarrassment. This happens all the time and I am tired of it.
    We must be better than hyperbole and drama. The truth must always come first.

  • Robert Black

    Thank you Brian. Luis is my greatest preaching mentor, and I’ve listened to every single one of his sermons since I left St. John’s nearly 3 years ago, but I haven’t yet heard this Easter sermon, because it’s not online yet. What is very sad and frustrating is that everyone who is casting stones against him is in the same boat as I am they haven’t even heard the sermon, but they still condemn and judge. Thank you for your thoughtful words and stand against this slander.

  • tx2vadem

    Good that you are taking on these Sisyphean tasks. Camus tell us that is what existentialism is all about. I don’t see it. I think what’s the point, why bother.

  • Think First

    Of course, we keep in mind that prejudice and abuse took place in the past. Of course, we know and are ashamed of that. But every time we stand up for what we believe is a healthy moral response to today’s problems or defend what we believe is beneficial for society (like traditional values), we are called the vile names you so rightly condemn. You do it here by calling it “conservative hate.” No moderate or liberal was disturbed by what the media reported?
    You say your pastor was judged too quickly and unfairly; I want to say that as a conservative I’m seldom given a hearing or treated with respect. It IS possible to critique our past, keep what was right and honorable, and throw out what was wrong.

    • Go over to Breitbart.com and read the stuff they wrote about Luis. The things they were saying, especially about Obama, weren’t coming from liberals or moderates. I’m no liberal, so when I say conservative hate, I mean it. It was hate, pure and simple, of the most unvarnished and disgusting kind.

      • Kevin Allen

        Well you certainly aren’t a conservative. Your pastor’s comments sounded like liberal hate to me.

        • You weren’t there and you didn’t hear them. As for my credentials, my record as a Republican speaks for itself.

          • Pete S. Sake

            Nice of Kevin to illustrate your point so succinctly. I wonder if he also uses the term “Democrat” party?

          • It wouldn’t be a day ending in “y” if somebody didn’t accuse me of not being a conservative.

          • ejochs

            All you have to do is read them. Unless you are both morally blind and deaf, the conclusion to come to is easy.

      • veteran?

        For a veteran political professional, you certainly seem highly sensitive to the rough and tumble discourse of comment boards.

        • It’s one thing to watch these guys trash the President or me – we are politicians, and taking that kind of nonsense is part of the job. It’s different when you’re watching a preacher who has done nothing to deserve the hate get smeared like that. I’m not faint hearted, to say the least, but at some point you’ve got to say enough is enough.

          • veteran?

            It is true that at some point you’ve got to say enough is enough. And that is exactly what the pastor’s critics are saying, albeit coarsely. The savvy pastor has been in D.C. long enough to know how the game is played. He should not be surprised that he’s getting called out for his slander of a faith group. On Easter Sunday.

          • He didn’t slander a faith group. He wasn’t talking about all religious conservatives. Even the actual quote makes that clear.

          • veteran?

            The actual quote is clear. His words are a lightening rod because they are extreme and absurd. I don’t know which is worse, the pastor’s comments, or the defense of them.

          • The actual quote isn’t clear, because with it alone you ignore the context in which the statement was made.

            Neither the comments nor my defense are bad or worse. Is there no place for reasonable disagreement with you?

          • veteran?

            Prior to making any comments, I subjected myself to the entire sermon online, in order to judge the context for myself. I base my concerns on the pastor’s anomalous and harmful quote from an otherwise garden variety Gospel lesson on his entire message.

            I have offered reasonable disagreement. I understand that what you want is my agreement with you. That’s not possible.

          • No, you didn’t. You made comments here before the sermon was available online. Regardless, I’m sorry that you had to “subject” yourself to listen to the sermon – you make it sound as if you were waterboarded.

            His comments were not extreme or absurd. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I will point out when I think you’re wrong. And you’re wrong. The comments weren’t extreme or absurd. The nonsense on Breitbart and elsewhere has been extreme and absurd.

          • veteran?

            Please alert the moderator: Brian’s computer has been taken over by a middle school drama queen. Waterboarded LOL. I think this conversation has gone as far as it can go…. adios!

          • I’ll alert myself. Thanks for visiting.

  • Rich

    Have you considered that other stories of “outrageous conduct by [politician]” that are so frequently discussed might also be manufactured/made up?

  • pinecone321

    Brian- Will you please name for me anyone on the “religious right” who has even remotely supported going back to the days of blacks on the back of the bus, or promoting that women should be kept in the kitchen? Just one, name me one. If I understand you correctly, you are trying to excuse “Luis” because he just simply said that no one wants to go back to those days. Who has supported going back to the dark days?

    Rather than supporting the words of your pastor, please argue who on the right has preached support of blacks on the back of the bus, or women in the kitchen? You seem to argue that progressives are so much more ahead of the “religious right” and those on the religious right are just old fuddy duddies because they have not advanced their thinking, and holy crap, they support traditional ideas about social issues, such as traditional marriage, anti-abortion positions, and that the modern culture has gotten into the rotten stage.

    I am not surprised by your post, or your rushing to protect/excuse your pastor Brian. You always seem to have been an apologist for much everything. The pastor never had to include his comment “the captains of the religious right.” It was very appropriate for a service that included a president that shares the same opinion.

    • Pinecone, how many times have we heard complaints that America is sliding into Sodom and Gomorrah, that we are more immoral now than we’ve ever been, that we never used to be like this, etc?

      Here’s Pat Robertson talking about how we’re heading that way – http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/robertson-god-will-destroy-america-marriage-equality. Here he said “It’s not a pretty world we live in right now, and we need all of God’s help we can get.”

      Does that sound to you like somebody who is saying things are better now than they were in the past? Not to me.

      I’m not arguing politics here at all, other than arguing against the politics of personal destruction I’ve watched first hand at the hands of people who are ostensibly on the same side politically as I am.

      Forgive me if I care about facts and about the truth. I can’t help correcting things that I perceive as being wrong or inaccurate, especially when they are coming from folks on my side of the aisle. As Luis said in a different sermon, we listen more to people who share our views than those who don’t. If some Republicans see this, maybe they’ll think twice before venting their spleens without all the facts.

      • ejochs

        So, Pat Robertson isn’t pro-sodomy, making him someone who wants to return us to the antebellum south? You haven’t noticed any other moral issues in our time, like unwed motherhood or the crime rates of blacks that could be addressed? Those aren’t pretty stats but, apparently with Episcopalians, not worth batting an eyelash over. As long as we have gay marriage, we are in Shangri La? I guess, following the lead of Archbishop Spong, no view of morality means anything in this church.

  • Scout

    An important post about an important and lovely priest. Thanks, Brian. Well done.

  • erin2326

    The problem isn’t so much the content of what he said as the specific phrase “religious right”–it’s an exonym (name used by people outside the group), and is rarely used positively (those who hold such views usually call themselves “values voters”, “pro-family”, etc etc). It’s like the phrase “liberal left”-the self-description is more like “progressive”. Your pastor simply should not have used a loaded term like this in a religious service, *especially* with the media attention.

  • Andrew Brooks

    Brian, please explain to me why if Luis Leon was not making a political speech… why did he have to reference “Blacks to the back of the bus”, and “Women back in the kitchen”… couldn’t he have made the same point that you claim he is making by referencing children dieing of Polio… or the number of people injured at turn of the century steel mills…. or any number of other non-politcal examples of how the good old days were not so good after all.

    • Andrew, I’m a pretty good speechwriter – I used to write for a cabinet secretary – but I’m not good enough to rewrite Luis’s sermons. So I’m not going to. And if he wants to make an argument that an audience full of politically active people would understand, that’s his prerogative. I don’t for a minute believe he was trying to attack anybody. That’s not his style.

    • Kate

      Every one of your suggested analogies are equally political – mandatory vaccinations and worker’s compensation were both riotously political in the not so distant past. And how depressingly telling that the examples used — desegregation and women’s equality, are seen by the community as a clear attack on our values. Those certainly seem like moral issues, something a priest SHOULD address, to me.

  • A. Morgan Hickenlooper

    I have known Luis since he officiated at my niece’s marriage in Mexico, probably 10 years ago. He is am honorable man and wonderful example of what it means to be and live as a follower of Christ. Thank you for your timely and candid explanation of this horribly and self-servingly reported event.

  • Brian, thank you so much for your story. After such a beautiful weekend, so inspirational, then hearing the news about a hateful Episcopal priest (I am an Episcopalian) just crushed me. I searched for more information about Luis Leon and couldn’t find much that made me say “this is not what he was saying.” I will listen to the sermon once it is posted on the website. I am glad you had a beautiful Easter service; we did also in our little, historical church in Danville, KY! Janet

  • Ally

    Good morning. I attend St. John’s Episcopal in PA. Please tell Luis to do his next sermon about Q-tips. I think it will do everyone (believers and non-believers, Right side and Left side, Republicans and Democrats) good, if we all cleaned our ears and listened!

  • Carol Knighton

    What, or who, is a “captain” of the “religious right?” And since I’m trying to learn here, what is the “religious right?” Thanks!
    And, btw, not to be critical…but the word is “prey,” not “pray.” Just tryin’ to help.

  • Remove the filters

    I appreciate this column for its attempt at damage control; however, rather than rely on Mr. Schoeneman’s interpretation for understanding, readers would be best served by the provision of a complete sermon transcript. Is there one available?

  • Pat

    and why does any of this surprise you?? Right here on Bearing Drift – and many other blogs, and those who call themselves journalists – there are many times when the sound bite is taken out of context, and blasted back against that person all for political gain. It is not right.

    What is the difference in Obama saying – “You did not build that on your own” to Romney saying “You did not get to the Olympics on your own” – nothing except for the political spin that was put on Obama’s comments.

  • I see that the church publishes the audio files of sermons on their website. I’ll be interested to hear the recording myself and draw my own conclusions. I appreciate Brian’s article, but would like to hear what was actually said. I just checked and it isn’t posted to their website yet.

    • Great. I hope it will be up soon. They are usually up by Wednesday.

      • That was painful

        I listened. Quite frankly, it sounds worse than just reading the transcript. The pastor’s tone gets harsh and his volume increases. Here’s an idea: Rather than continuing to justify outright, cheap, divisive accusations thrown out on Easter Sunday, how about an apology for the inflammatory lies instead. Maybe the pastor needs a pair of Easter vision goggles.

  • Such controversy…from people who weren’t there, don’t know the Rector, and/or don’t seem to understand the purpose of the pulpit. Pastors are called to use language of their carefully considered choosing as it suits the purpose of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and calls us all to a better way of living. I find nothing controversial at all about his statements as you, Brian, have reported them. He told the truth – it is the captains of the religious right who misuse nostalgia for their purposes. I’m curious about any reaction there may be from Luis’ ecclesiastical supervisor(s). At the very least, he is in company with the 1st Century Rabbi who was thrown out of his home synagogue. Sounds to me as though he’s on to something. And shame on the reporter who started all this with an unfortunate tweet.

    • ejochs

      Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Is that the Christian calling? How about flattering the flock-we all know that this is what the man of god was doing. The EC is pretty much a dead letter in this country-frauds like this are the reason why.

  • Heidi

    How things were “back in the day” depends on your perspective. For some, it was a better time. For others, it was not. The reality is both–it just depends which aspect of the 1950s (or whenever) you are looking at. That said, I have never heard a liberal say the country needs to return to those days, because they recognize that it was, at best, a mixed bag–some things were good, but some were not. Conservatives often say we should go back to the past, but I’m pretty sure they only mean the good things (not racism, etc). However, you can’t cherry pick and go back to just the good things. Thus, the need to move forward–to keep what was good about the past and change those things that weren’t. I believe that’s what your pastor was saying, and of course, he is exactly right.

    • Heidi, if I may be so bold, I think your comment is the best I have read so far in reference to the sermon:

      when people like us post thoughts online, I’d like to think we all care about the issues and that we also want to vent. In my opinion philosophically, the best kind of reply or comment is one that cogently sheds some light on to the “opposite side” of a perceived “argument.”

      I did not buy some of the comments from Dr. Leon’s own congregation members if they came across as if you simply have to know what a nice guy he is, or be present at the sermon etc, to “grasp” his meaning. My objections were based on my feelings that Easter Sunday is not a proper time or place for political discourse unless it can genuinely unite Christians.

      So I think your comment does an excellent job of finally helping me “get” why he probably made such remarks. That’s my two-cents’ worth.

  • Warmac9999

    After reading this, I think more about Jesus and his blessings. Easter is about the resurrection and rebirth of all that is good and righteous in the world. It is a great shame that this sermon, no matter how well written and delivered, apparently failed to do so and led to this situation.

    Further, I would point out that the captains of the religious left were sitting in the pews, and something might have been said about upholding the rule of law, caring for the most helpless, and leaving Jesus to be Jesus (not a prop for bashing opponents).

    Finally, I am a founder of one of the most successful republican clubs in Virginia. I am constantly distressed by leaders who refuse to advance conservative principles. This idea of talking conservative to get elected and then abandoning conservatism when elected is why the tea party arose and why the Republican Party lost the American presidency and relegated the country to four more years of the horrors of international socialism.

    We, as a party, supposedly have principles, among which are real equality for all. Do we not believe it? And do we as Christians believe in our principles? Do we not believe in sin and redemption? Do we not believe in reverence for life? Do we not believe in the sacred nature of marriage and family? Do we not believe in our nation and its right of sovereignty? Do we not believe in our Constitution and its spiritual foundation?

  • Miamigirl

    To me (an Episcopalian and a liberal) the term “captains of the religious right” as Rev Leon mentioned are those who blame catastrophic hurricanes on gays and lesbians and those religious leaders who lament that 9/11 was caused by feminists who worked hard for women’s equality in the work place or who accuse President Obama of being a secret Muslim, atheist and communist (all at the same time) and who challenge that he is even an American. I’ve heard some pastors from the right call for more guns– even welcoming guns in church. I also know, as an Episcopalian, sermons try to push us out of our comfort zone and to try and make us see injustice, poverty, discrimination, etc by understanding life from experiences we may not share with others in our community. Those who resist change, new knowledge and understanding are usually those 50 years later who were on the wrong side of history, ie, slavery, women’s right to vote, segregation, voting rights law in the Deep South, etc. I’ve heard many inflammatory remarks from some–I did not say all– “preachers.” Franklin Graham, for example, has made very derogatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons and even questioned President Obama’s Christianity. This is not the Christian message of love and forgiveness we are taught in The Episcopal Church. As a fellow Episcopalian, I applaud you, Brian, for speaking out.

    • Warmac9999

      Change, in an of itself, is neither good or bad. It is up to us to obtain the facts, apply what analytical tools we posess, and act accordingly. 9/11 was caused by Muslim terrorists. Obama makes little pretense of being a socialist and has filled his cabinet with socialist advocates. Guns have saved lives in churches where security has them. Gay marriage has been studied and the results are not good for marriage or family formation. democrats controlled the politics in the Deep South for nearly 150 years. And the episcopal church continues to decline at the rate of about 3% per year ASA.

    • The problem is that what the term “captains of the religious right” means to you is not necessarily shared by other Episcopalians or other Christians. The problem is that–particularly in Washington, DC–the reality is that the term “religious right” might not conform with your idiosyncratic take on it, and put certain people in a defensive mode feeling hurt or embarrassed. Is Easter Sunday the best time to make such a remark?

      How does whatever Franklin Graham might or might not have said have anything to do with Dr. Leon’s remarks?

      It was Easter Sunday, a day on which the sermon at any church probably will receive the most attention it will get all year. (E.g., people from out of town want to attend a service, or residents new to DC finally use the holiday to seek out a new place to worship, etc.) So is the “best” kind of discourse Dr. Leon could use? It seems that clergy can inject political views into a sermon without stirring up rancor if they really want to…

      • When folks are accusing Luis of using a straw man argument against “captains of the religious right” that no one can name, pointing out Franklin Graham – I don’t think anybody is going to argue he doesn’t fit that definition – is proof that he wasn’t making a straw man argument.

        We get a lot of attention regardless of the time of year. Christmas Eve is as packed as Easter. Again, I don’t think any of us are qualified to be telling Luis how to write his sermons. But the bottom line here is the accusation that he was demeaning the religious right or somehow pandering to the President is just a lot of bullfeathers, as Theodore Roosevelt would have said.

        • Brian, I gotta compliment you on one thing for sure: you might have set a record for replying to each of the comments your viewers have made today. That’s quite considerate and admirable in my opinion.

          The more we all go back and forth, the more I personally think it does help everyone to get their own ideas across. I do maintain that I don’t think Dr. Leon needed to say what he said, yet that’s my opinion. (If, for the sake of argument, I happened to be “correct,” then meanwhile I also realize I am not perfect and neither is Dr. Leon. It might sound like a cliche, but we are blessed when we can freely use technology to quibble over the substance of a sermon.)

          • I have a bad habit of trying to hold conversations with folks in the comments. Thanks for bearing with me. 🙂

          • That’s not a “bad habit” in my opinion! It is quite easy for me…even in an Episcopalian CHRISTIAN context (!) to get all snarky in online dialogues. You offered me a chance to vent, yet reading all the various replies comforts me in seeing that “conservatives” actually do exist in a wide variety.
            Most of my own frustration with politics comes from the way many issues just wind up getting “shoehorned” into right/left categories. So thank you for giving people like me a chance to voice an opinion and then get a reply!

          • That’s what we’re here for.

    • This is exactly what I’m talking about and it’s clearly what Luis was talking about on Sunday. If you’ve sat in church for years and never heard a sermon that didn’t make you squirm, you’ve not been paying attention.

  • James K. Polk Van Zandt

    I have known Luis Leon for years – as a friend and a colleague. Thank you Brian for putting all this in context. I knew when this exploded across the media that what they where reporting could not possibly be what Luis preached on Easter Sunday. It is very difficult for our secular society to hear the Gospel of Jesus. It is much easier to hear everything through the filter of politics, regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum!

  • “Religious right” is a pejorative. It is used that way in political and “religious” discourse. Your obfuscating doesn’t change the fact that when people hear the term they automatically know its pejorative sense and interpret accordingly. And adding the term “captains” is merely making a distinction without a difference. It was an unfortunate choice of wording for the analogy Rev. Leon was trying to make. Have a nice day.

    • Religious right isn’t a pejorative unless you think “religious” is pejorative I don’t. It’s just phrase that everyone recognizes.

      I’m not obfuscating. I feel like I’m the only one being intellectually honest around here.

      • veteran?

        It’s a pejorative when its followed up with the accusations he lumped the term with.

      • Yes it is a pejorative. You can’t separate religious from right. The two words go together in the phrase. And everyone knows it’s a pejorative. And yes you are obfuscating. And your statement, ” I feel like I’m the only one being intellectually honest around here.” is arrogant and preening. Have a nice day.

        • It’s only a pejorative if you are easily offended and choose to take it that way. If someone says I’m part of the religious right, I’m not going to tell them to stop calling me names. That would imply that the term is negative. I don’t believe it is.

          It’s kind of ironic that you end every post with “Have a nice day” when it’s clear you don’t really care what kind of a day I have.

          • ohbrother

            Methinks it’s clear that what is clear to you is what you want to see.

            And I do hope that you have a nice day. Note: You would be incorrect if you judged my comment to be sarcasm; I am sincere. Why would you assume otherwise? Question for you: If you tell someone with whom you disagree to have a nice day, are you being insincere?

          • You effectively called me a liar and arrogant – forgive me if I take your boilerplate “Have a nice day” to be insincere.

  • pinecone321

    Here is a direct quote of exactly what Luis Leon said in the sermon-

    “It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are
    always calling us back … for blacks to be back in the back of the bus,
    for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet, and
    for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” said Leon at St.
    John’s Church, an Episcopal church near the White House.

    From your article above Brian, you said-

    In his sermon, Luis made reference to “captains of the religious right,”
    and it was reported in many places that he accused the religious right
    of wanting to keep blacks in the back of the bus, wanting to keep women
    in the kitchen, and immigrants on their side of the border.

    “for blacks to be back in the back of the bus” Is that not accusing those captains of the religious right of wanting the blacks to go back to that time? That’s ludicrous, no one on the christian right, no matter who they are, has ever called for blacks to go back to the back of the bus. It has been the policies of the progressives that kept the blacks on the back of the bus. The KKK, the Jim Crow Laws, and Margaret Sanger all have contributed to the placement of the blacks on the back of the bus. How about the statistic that 50% of black pregnancies end in abortion, in NY that number rises to 60%. Does Leon support the progressives abortion policies?

    “for women to be back in the kitchen” Is he not again saying that the Christian right is telling the women of the country to get back in the kitchen? Traditional family values have included a mother and a father, creating the next generation, seeing to the complete welfare of that person, and sending him/her into a world able to carry on the tradition of continuing the populating of the planet earth. Unfortunately, it is people like Luis Leon who have helped to create an unsustainable economic model that has forced women out of the kitchen and into the workforce, whether they want to be there or not. Who is Leon supporting with his comment, the feminists? Those same militants who try their dangdest to claim equality between the genders, if not superiority?

    “for gays to be in the closet” Christians know and believe that you can hate the sin, but love the sinner. Two husbands, or two wives surely wouldn’t be in need of abortion services would they?

    “and for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” One of the most recent survey’s I’ve read claims that a majority of “legal” immigrants are opposed to amnesty. Our current economic condition, brought on by progressive polices such as taxing the rich, in order to redistribute it to the poor, have been an utter failure. There are more people now on food stamps than ever, there are more people now claiming disability gov. benefits than ever, there are more people now below the poverty level than there have been since the 60’s. Real unemployment numbers are much higher than what you hear in the monthly reports, as the numbers have been manipulated. We have a severe lack of jobs, a severe economic condition, more people in poverty, but Luis Leon speaks as though we should just open the borders wide (they already have been) and invite everyone to come and take their fair share of the almost non-existent pie. Even Pope Francis had said at one time that charity begins with the individual.

    Brian, your apparent attempt at defamation of those that you claim are defaming your good pastor falls very short. Luis Leon did in fact accuse those captains of the religious of wanting to do the things he then listed. It sure appears to me that your good pastor Luis Leon is a socialist. Why wouldn’t he take to the pulpit to preach it for President Obama’s benefit, one who shares the same ideology.

    • Pinecone – here’s the full quote in context:

      “I hear all the time, the expression, ‘the good old days.’ Well the good old days, we forget they had been good for some but they
      weren’t good for everybody. You can’t go back. You can’t live in the
      past. It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are
      always calling people back, never forward, forgetting that we are
      called to be a pilgrim people who have agreed never to arrive. That’s
      true to our faith. The captains of the religious right are always
      calling us back, back, back, for blacks to be back in the back of the
      bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet
      and for immigrants to be on their side of the border. But you and I
      understand this that when Jesus says you can’t hang on to me, he says,
      ‘You know it’s not about the past, it’s not about the before, it’s not
      about the way things were, but about the way things can be in the

      Do you understand now my point? He was talking about the danger of living in the past and pining for a past that may have been good for some, but not for everybody.

      • and your point is still really, really weak, Brian:

        who exactly are the “captains” of the “religious right”? Is he speaking in hyperbole? Is he using metaphors? Does he have specific “captains” in mind? Are they part of a lunatic “fringe”? If so, then why does a tiny group of hateful people even merit being mentioned on Easter Sunday? But if they are not a tiny fraction of conservatives, then who is he suggesting is guilty of such backward grotesque “nostalgia”? Are there “captains” of the left-wing, too?

        Dr. Leon chose the words he used in his sermon, thereby opening up a Pandora’s box of his own making. (If he had said such things at my own church, I would have likely walked out…except I would not want to create drama on a very special day. I am fortunate that my own reverend is capable of addressing political controversies with more tact.) It is presumptuous and utterly crass of Dr. Leon to use his pulpit time in such an inconsiderate manner.

        Don’t try to excuse it by responding that you had to be there to understand. You can’t go back to the past in which smart phones, ubiquitous online blogs, and Twitter do not exist.


        • I’ve already pointed out Pat Robertson’s quotes here in the comments about us sliding towards Sodom and Gomorrah. Another commented pointed out Franklin Graham, and a quick google search kind find the things he’s said, particularly about the President. The point Luis was making was about the larger theme of not living in the past. He used an example of that – it wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of people who live in the past.

          Nobody walked out. Folks understood what he was trying to say because they heard the entire sermon.

          I’m not excusing anything. I am explaining to you and a wider audience who weren’t there what actually happened. When someone mischaracterizes a quote and misrepresents the meaning, somebody has to correct the record. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since Sunday.

          Here’s the bottom line for me – even if you are correct (which you aren’t), the statement made does not warrant the level of vitriol and attack that Luis, me and the rest of our church has been subjected to. Somebody on Breitbart said Luis should choke on a chicken bone and die – is that a proper response to this? No.

          I hope you can at least agree with that.

          • ejochs

            Yes, only the good reverend can heap invective on people. It takes someone truly insensitive to respond with the chicken bone statement.

    • Awakened Patriot

      Thank you, Pinecone321!

      “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” Proverbs 29:20

  • creu @ HuffPost.

    What the problem REALLY is is that people DO NOT listen. Their mind is everywhere else but on the homily,then they pick up a word & BOOM – they think they heard what was not said. Because they WERE NOT LISTENING!

    • Such a “problem” can then easily be “fixed” by referring to the actual quotation of the sermon. That’s the “blessing” and “curse” of all the 21st century technology, isn’t it:

      one person can grotesquely butcher the language of someone else. If then the misquoted words get posted online, the technology of today usually can in turn help the real transcript quickly come to light no matter how limited the attention span of an audience might be.

      E.g., at my own Episcopalian church, a transcript of any given sermon is posted on the church’s website for those who were unable to attend.

      So in reference to Dr. Leon, it should not be much difficulty for anyone to ascertain what his exact words were, even for those who “WERE NOT LISTENING.”

  • Scott in Maryland

    Well written. As you mentioned to me privately, the media kind of ran with this one. That’s how they are. I was in the choir at Jerry Falwell’s church when the whole Tinky Winky thing happened. What really happened, and what was reported were two different things. Like your rector, both were victims of the media picking up on unfortunate choices of words, and we would probably all do well to examine how we say things before someone misinterprets and runs with them. And way to be on top of things by referencing next Sunday’s Gospel too.

  • PBinDM

    Sermons are meant to unpack the Good News in the context in which they are preached. Luis serves a parish in the most political city on the planet. For his sermon to be relevant, it’s likely that it would address the context in which his parishioners live and breathe… the political context. He didn’t preach this sermon in Peoria, folks, but D.C.

  • Hi Brian, I admit the following is a long reply, but I was upset and embarrassed by the remarks attributed to Dr. Leon so this issue has been on my mind:

    because you are a veteran political professional, I wonder if you would concede that a sermon affords its speaker forethought and time for preparation. Perhaps some clergy might prefer to improvise during services, but one would think Easter Sunday is one of the most vivid moments of any given church’s year at which a “spotlight” and extra focus can be expected on the words chosen by the speaker.

    So it’s not as if there had not been a reasonable amount of time for Dr. Leon to choose his words in a manner that might bring Christians together in harmony to celebrate Easter Sunday.

    I noticed in at least one reply you countered a remark by stating something along the lines (I am paraphrasing, as people often do) that the person complaining doesn’t really “get it” because he or she has not met Dr. Leon, or was not even present at the service? The reality is that we now live in an era in which Drudge, Huffington Post, (or maybe even the next-door neighbor’s Tweets) capture snippets of speech and then broadcast the snippets to an enormous audience. Anyone can say that the late Andrew Breitbart was a troublemaker of sorts with liberal politicians, but given the ping-pong nature of American politics, someone can just as easily recall how Mitt Romney’s “37 percent” remark was taken out of context. Good luck with the damage control once a quote is determined to be authentic.

    Therefore, with St. John’s Church knowing ahead of time that the President and his family would be attending the service, it seems pretty silly to try to massage Dr. Leon’s quoted words with arguments along the lines of “you just had to be there to get it,” or “you’d never understand because your child wasn’t baptized by such a remarkable, friendly guy” or “if a reporter quotes the sermon and it stirs up rancor then that yellow journalist must just have an axe to grind against liberals.” It is no one else’s fault but that of Dr. Leon that the little clip from his sermon was perceived as antagonistic to conservatives.

    Ultimately, it was Dr. Leon’s choice to use the moment to offer whatever insights he thought might best celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its meaning in regard to the 21st century and even our shared history. But did Dr, Leon really need to single out an alleged particular segment of the American political spectrum on Easter Sunday? If he really felt the need to “go there,” would not it have helped to cite an example of the “captain” of such a group widely seen as over-the-top and hateful, e.g. the Westboro Baptist Church, rather than to merely leave it to one’s imagination?

    As an Episcopalian, I support a diversity of people and I think it would be unfair to expect Dr. Leon to refrain from making politically-charged observations from time to time. Why I am personally offended: The “captains of the religious right” remark does not sufficiently narrow one’s focus to the radical fringe of the political spectrum, even if one were sitting right there in the audience to hear him say it! After hearing or reading such a comment, It is human nature to wonder: of whom is Dr, Leon referring? Who are the “captains”? Is Dr. Leon speaking about most conservative Americans? Is he implying that most Republicans long for Jim Crow? How would being plopped in a pew right in front of Dr. Leon prevent any reasonable person from wondering what he meant? Just because you were comfortable with it doesn’t mean other people were.

    Was he implying that the existence of W.A.S.P. bigots is so significant in this day and age that it merits being mentioned during one of the most closely followed sermons to be delivered by Dr. Leon during the liturgical calendar (if not his own entire career). Given the theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and redemption, does an admonition to not dwell on “nostalgia” really need to speculate as to what some “captains” of an amorphous “hate” group desire? If he is speaking of a narrow group of people, why does such an obscure minority merit mention during an Easter service. If it is a widespread concern, who exactly is he suggesting wants “blacks in back of the bus” or women back in the kitchen? Of course conservatives are going to be rattled and stirred and become defensive by such a comment!

    Would not a person feeling defensive then start to counterargue with ideas such as: “hey, what about all the hideous behavior of Occupy Wall Street anarchists” or “hey, weren’t many Democrats from the deep south just as bigoted during the civil rights struggle, e.g., Robert Byrd was in the KKK,” or “how about taking note of the vitriol spewed by left-wingers on their own blogs” and on and on and on…on Easter Sunday? Is the best Dr. Leon could offer?

    The “audience” in the 21st century lasts beyond the live event. If an authentic transcript eventually reveals that Dr. Leon’s words had been misquoted, then I concede he was the victim of a smear. Yet if his words have been quoted precisely, then it is pretty irresponsible of you and anyone else to deny why they stirred up rancor. To excuse his unnecessary lack of tact on Easter Sunday merely because you happen to know him and think a he’s a nice guy does not really help to assuage the hurt feelings of those who thought he exploited the pulpit for dubious motives.

    [By the way, at the time of the (second) inauguration of President Obama a few months ago, Chris Wallace of Fox News conducted an interview with Dr. Leon. While many liberals love to slam Fox News, the interview came across as “fair and balanced” as the network would like to say. The overall tone was civil and highlighted Dr. Leon’s career. It was noted in the interview that Republican and Democratic presidents alike have worshipped at St. John’s. It was also noted how Dr. Leon had participated at events including former President George W. Bush. Not that Fox News is the only indicator of conservative political thought, but it does not seem that there were “knives out” or conservatives ready to pounce on whatever Dr. Leon had to say.]

    • Warmac9999

      Very thoughtfully presented. I would add that there is an additional context here that is very much part of the current episcopal leadership mentality. Since 2003, the time of elevation of homosexual bishop Robinson, the episcopal church at large has seen a substantial loss of people, congregations and entire diocese. Lawsuits abound and funding in many churches is so low as to portend closure. Rev Leon is certainly affected by this situation and since the episcopal church views the departures and other trouble on the orthodox, it is likely that the political examples come out of frustration with those folks.

      As you point out, the choice to use such language required thought. This was not spur of the moment. It is quite sad that, as a Christian, I have to be subject to one side or the other of a modern political argument. Jesus stayed away from such things yet even in staying away his ideas were sufficiently dangerous to yield crucifixion. I will take resurrection any day and would hope I hear that message on Easter.

      • Thank you. Reflecting on your comments and reading the comment and dialogues of others, I realize it must not be easy for clergy to write sermons! On one hand, it is frowned upon by many to be too “timid” or reticent to articulate one’s political stance. On the other hand, speaking one’s mind freely then risks getting folks (like me) astonished and argumentative! I am sure Dr. Leon has a loving heart, even if it seems in might be in his nature to be a sort of “rabble rouser” activist.

        I agree when you mention “one side or the other.” I don’t like being forced to take sides. Ultimately, we are blessed to be able to blow off some “steam” and hold one another to higher standards and vent. Then we are especially blessed to be able to take plain simple comfort of being Christian and letting the political chips fall where they may.

    • This was a sermon given to our congregation. It was tailored for our congregation, not the President, not the press. We have had presidents come and go, and Luis has never altered his sermons to fit who is going to show up in the audience. We have sitting cabinet members, members of Congress, and many others who sit in the congregation every week – having the President on Easter was not some kind of opportunity for us to show off, and I would have been more disappointed if Luis had targeted this sermon because of the potential the press would be there.

      And let’s be honest – if the President hadn’t been there, this quote would have never made any kind of news. How many Catholic priests rail against abortion and gay marriage from the pulpit and never make the front page of Daily Kos?

      The audio of the entire sermon is up on the website now, so I strongly urge you to go listen to it. It’s only 12 minutes. The point Luis was making was entirely as I described it from my memory above.

      The only folks who are upset here are folks who weren’t there on Sunday and are looking for any excuse to get upset or to use this as a means to attack the President.

      • Maybe your point about who is “upset here” applies to some folks. But as for me, I am upset because I was just confirmed as an Episcopal this year in Arlington, Virginia, and therefore Dr. Leon does have some degree of representative significance to my worship even if he is not involved at my own church location a few miles away.

        I think Dr. Leon is intelligent enough to be progressive without stirring up unnecessary political rhetoric on Easter.

        My own rector has brought up the controversy of gun violence numerous times in sermons, but she has never used terminology that might put someone in a defensive reaction.

        I will listen to the sermon as you suggest. Thank you for giving us a healthy forum to vent and rant!

      • ejochs

        So, he’s a moral coward telling a congregation of left wingers that it is the other guys who are evil? That’s a flattering view of a moral coward. As to the Catholic priests railing against abortion and gay marriage, I attend a Catholic Church and don’t hear it. I do hear criticism of it but I have yet to hear a priest say that the left wing morals free Episcopal Church probably favors abortion up to about the age of three (Am I being harsh? The EC doesn’t want to be judgmental on these issues).

        • The congregation isn’t full of “left-wingers.” Feel free to join us if you don’t want to believe me.

  • c.tucker

    Jesus told Mary not to hold on to Him..cling to Him..touch Him because He had not ascended yet.

  • Grace

    Dear Brian,

    Thank you for writing this article and responding to everyone’s comments. Your well reasoned article and patient discussion is helping further constructive debate.

    Keep up the good work! How left/right I am on the political spectrum depends on where I am, and over the last ten years, that has been South Carolina, California, Tennessee, and France. The very scary talk around religion alienates people, and I think if Republicans want to have a sustainable party, they do need to rethink how they respond to issues and differences of opinions. I do hope that we are successful in making public debate more civil.

    Thank you again.


  • Awakened Patriot

    Things are NOT better now than they were in the past! Morals and values and ethics have not only been compromised, but lost. And Luis Leon should be the one explaining his remarks. He knows best what his intent was–not any pundits, including those who attended the service. As for Luis’ interpretation of the scripture, it begs critique. ” Apparently, then, when Mary recognizes Jesus she approaches him and touches him. John does not describe what exactly happens. It is possible that she is touching him on the arm or hand, to be assured that he is really there (H. C. G. Moule 1898:64-66). In this case, Jesus would be saying, “You don’t have to continue to touch me since (gar) I have not yet ascended to the Father–I really am here.” Or perhaps she kneels before him and grabs his feet (Mt 28:9; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:376), not just touching him, but holding onto him, as in the NIV. Such clinging may suggest she is not only trying to assure herself that he is really there, but expressing her desire that he not leave again. In this case, Jesus lets her know that she must not try to restrict him, for he has not yet ascended to the Father.”

    • Things are certainly better today than the days when blacks were forced to ride in the back of the bus, aren’t they?

      • Awakened Patriot

        No, things today are NOT better. How about partial birth abortion–you know, the kind of abortion where some babies are born alive but put aside to die? It didn’t exist at a time of African Americans being forced to do things–but it exists today. The American government assists the assault on the divine marriage covenant by assisting those who want to “redefine” the word marriage, thinking they can remove the divinity of the union of a man and a woman. It didn’t exist at a time of African Americans being forced to do things–but it exists today. My prayer for you and Luis: Psalm 119:18

        • The kind we’ve banned? Yeah, I’m aware of it. That did exist in the past – since 1983, back when gays were still in the closet.

          Who is the American government? The representatives of the people.

          Things are far better for far more people today than they have ever been in the past.

          • Awakened Patriot

            BANNED?!?!?! Your esteemed guest Obama supported such murder in Illinois when he was a state senator LONG AFTER AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE FORCED TO RIDE IN THE BACK OF A BUS. WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON? Supply studies that support your claim that people are better off. Ask Coptic Christians in Egypt. Christians in Sudan and Nigeria. Ask them if they are better off now…..You sound like a wealthy, bigoted, self-aggrandizing ill-informed elitist Marxist who pretends faith in Christ. Visit this site an learn: http://www.persecution.com/

          • No, just a Republican who is really tired of the nonsense from folks like you who would rather cast aspersions on people they’ve never met then actually do something constructive to fix these problems. I’m pro-life, I hate partial birth abortion as much as you, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

          • Awakened Patriot

            Your esteemed guest Obama has this kind of supporter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnJBW49afzg

          • Are you honestly going to attack us because Obama chose to walk to the nearest church on Easter? Really?

      • mickeymat

        You have chosen one example of conditions today that are better than in the past. There are numerous examples of the opposite. It is a matter of opinion and a case can be made for both. As I love to say, change is when the roof blows off your house. By itself it is not good or bad. This is not the issue. Obama’s attendance is not the issue either although I can certainly understand a jump to that conclusion by some given Obama’s twenty year history of listening to the well documented race baiting, hatred and calls to violence from the Rev. Wright recorded on CD’s and DVD’s sold in Wright’s church gift shop.

        The real issue here is Rev. Leon’s choice of words to make the point of his sermon. He should not have made a reference to the “captains of the religious right.” The reference is nebulous and broad. It is political. Listeners are left to try to figure out who he was talking about and can’t help but think it is aimed at anyone who disagrees politically. The structure of his sentence makes it clear that he was accusing the more traditional religious of racism with his back of the bus comment. He could have made his point without that reference and it would have had even more resonance because of its universality.

        The Rev. Leon use of political tropes and cliches are beneath him given his background and education. For example, there are all kinds of implications surrounding the rise of women in the work place and many unintended negative consequences for our families. Rev. Leon must be aware of that yet he oversimplifies in order to accuse. It was unseemly and ignorant.

        Little has been said in these comments about Rev. Leon’s reference to illegal immigration. Every country in the world including ours secures their borders if they have the resources to do so. There are many reasons for this as both you and Rev. Leon know and examples are plentiful throughout history of negative implications for countries that fail to do so. What Rev. Leon was calling for is law breaking. Render to Caesar, please and do not characterize secure borders as something nefarious and evil. Our nation is a welfare state. We cannot continue to provide a safety net for both our own people and all the suffering peoples of the world without destroying ourselves in the process. Jesus did not ask us to push government to care for the poor. He asked us to do it ourselves. But the Episcopal Church continues to involve itself in politics as solutions to problems when it should be focused instead on it own good works and mission.

        As an Episcopalian it pains me to see the consistent decline in our membership as our church is approaching extinction. There is a reason for this and I can’t help but think that with a little less of what we have just heard at St. John’s Easter service sermon and like sermons in Episcopal churches across the country we might be able to begin to recover.

        • This wasn’t a situation where he was exhorting a political position from the pulpit – something the Catholic Church does routinely (and I don’t see their numbers dwindling). It was simply a turn of phrase to emphasize a greater point, and one that his audience could understand.

          We can argue all day over what words he could have or should have chosen, but I don’t think it does anybody good and I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell Luis how to write his sermons.

          My point is and remains that the phrase was mischaracterized in the media and the reaction from my fellow conservatives to it was inappropriate.

          • mickeymat

            Those of us who are disappointed in Rev. Leon’s sermon cannot answer for others who may have mischaracterized it nor can we answer for the Catholic Church and its practices. Most of us decide for ourselves after reading the text of his remarks and do not rely on what others say about it. That’s what people who think for themselves do. Your reference to “a turn of phrase to emphasize a greater point” is a pretty shocking example of relativism. It makes me shake my head. It is admirable of you to defend your friend. But it would be better for him if he apologized.

          • You can decide for yourself after reading the remarks, but unless you’re reading them in the context of the entire sermon, simply looking at that paragraph provides a skewed perspective. You ask us to look at the structure of the sentence to tease out a meaning that you find offensive, but you apparently are ignoring the entire point of the sermon which shouldn’t be offensive to any Christian.

            As for not relying on what others say about it, you’ve just condemned the entire news industry. It is entirely possible for two rational, reasonable people to hear the same speech and get two completely different messages from it. I am explaining here what message I received, which was clearly different from what you or some others who weren’t there got from reading press accounts.

          • mickeymat

            You are incorrect in saying his message was not received by me. I certainly understand his “greater” point, appreciate it and do not find it at all offensive. In fact, it is a good point. Sadly, because of his decision to condemn and disparage those who disagree with him politically his greater point was damaged along with any positive response listeners would have to him personally. There was no need to “tease out” his meaning. It was received loud and clear. As far as condemnation of the entire news industry, that is a matter about which we could discuss for an eternity. The industry is a fine example of a cultural bubble-isolated and out of touch and greatly committed to group think.

      • ejochs

        What’s the murder rate in DC?

        • 21.9 per 100,000 individual. Both violent crime and property crime are down 50% since 1995.

          • ejochs

            How do the numbers compare to the national rate? Maybe Luis can hit the streets and make some real good occur.

          • We’re 21st among major cities.

  • srbboo

    Brian does his damnedest to defend the good pastor but when you get to the bottom of the comments page
    that is now showing, the actual verbiage is given- as opposed to Brian’s interpretation of the statements.
    To me, a simple and ignorant pissant, it does sound like it was hate speech against
    the captains of the religious right- whoever those guys are supposed to be- and he did say they (the
    captains) are trying to put blacks back in the back of the bus etc etc etc.
    So… Brian keeps trying to defend, and the Episcopal leaders are letting Brian take the heat, and
    the good pastor has nothing to say and doesn’t have to address his hatespeech.
    Brian is willing to accept it as non-judgmental and non-hateful but I’m not buying it.
    All of us religious right wing bitter clingers were defamed in that church that morning. Guilt by
    association. And the godless left wings their way to their version of nirvana, which is
    socialism and equal misery for all. The only thing that keeps me going is the belief that
    the day will come when all of the godless left, who so stridently yearn for the day of
    equality for all, will find themselves sitting out on the curb with the rest of us… because there
    ain’t gonna be room enough at the big table for all of them… but they’re probably so stupid they
    won’t even realize that they’ve been used. Buncha Homers. OOPS- is
    that hatespeech?

  • acorn

    I have listened to the sermon as posted on St. John’s website. Notwithstanding Mr. Schoeneman’s recollection and spin, there is no subjective ambiguity to what Dr. Leon said on Easter Sunday, as he very clearly accuses the “captains of the religious right” of calling “for blacks to be in the back of the bus, women to be back in the kitchen….” etc. There is no nuance to what he said so let us not pretend that he didn’t say it.

    • vallusCivus

      sometimes there is nothing context can do to add or takeaway. This pastor should have known better. When Paul spoke to the Greeks in a way they could understand by appealing to their desire to honor their many gods, (and the “unknown god”) he did not talk in a way that interjected politics. Schoeneman let his personal relationship with the Pastor cloud his judgement, IMO. Yes, there was a desire by many to use this as a cudgel against the President but that doesn’t make what the Pastor did any better.

      • Are you making an argument that nobody should be interjecting politics into a sermon? If so, you have alot of clergymen, from the Pope on down, to criticize. You’re going to be a busy man.

        • vallusCivus

          “Someone else did it first… someone else does it more…. someone else said something worse” deep……..

          • All I’m trying to point out is that you’re targeting my pastor for this criticism, while ignoring others.

    • I don’t see how anybody listening to the totality of that sermon can arrive at the conclusion that Luis meant that all captains of the religious right are racist, etc.

      That point, taken alone, is a complete non sequitur with the rest of the sermon and with that section of the sermon in particular. You guys are willfully ignoring the entire context of the sermon to arrive at a conclusion you want to find.

  • Carol

    Here is the ” tell ” in my mind. If the Reverend did not mean what most listeners think he meant- that those on he religious right are racist, misogynist zenophobes- why wouldn’t he clarify his statement? He has not, to my knowledge. He stands by his statement. He meant what he said, and he said what he meant.

    • Most listeners don’t think he meant what the press has claimed he meant. And by most listeners, I mean the people along with me who actually heard the sermon. Have we seen one press account from anybody there who was shocked and appalled? Nobody walked out of the service – at least, I didn’t see anybody walk out.

      • ejochs

        Why would you walk out if you agree? We are talking about a left wing church with a left wing congregation getting their confirmation bias fed to them about the evil right wingers. It’s not like the reverend was saying anything that his flock doesn’t eat up with a spoon.

        • We aren’t a left wing church with a left wing congregation. I’m not left wing. There are a number of high ranking officials who happen to be Republican who are members of the church. President Bush joined us routinely when he was in office, and many senior White House staffers when he was in office joined as well.

          We are a mainstream episcopal church.

          It always amuses me the things people say with no knowledge of reality.

          • ejochs

            Mainstream Episcopal Church means left wing. Does Archbishop Spong ever drop by for a visit-he’s pretty conservative, right?

          • We don’t have Archbishops in the Episcopal Church.

  • Joel Solliday

    This article is intellectually dishonest. First, the “captains of the religious right” phrase carried political connotations and was a vague stereotypical reference that remains inapproapriate and unfair-minded even in the context expalined above. Second, the “back of the bus reference” was a direct falsehood when applied to the “religious right.” Third, all the criticism of Leon that I read and heard was not hateful or vitriolic. If any was, then name and blame that source. But the criticism I have seen was fair and balanced. As far as Republicans losing election, so what? All I want is honesty and this reverend did not offer it.

    • Really? What part of the comments on Breitbart where someone said Luis should choke on a chicken bone and die was not hateful or vitriolic? Everything I quoted in the article was a quote from the comments on Breitbart.

      I gave you honesty here. Luis was not attacking the religious right. He was making a point about nostalgia and the dangers of ignoring that the “good old days” weren’t great for everybody, and calling us back to those times is effectively calling us back to the bad old days of segregation and homophobia. That was the clear implication of the sermon, and that’s what those of us in the audience heard.

      • ejochs

        Choke on a chicken bone? If “Luis” said that, you would probably be arguing that he meant it as a wish for long life and prosperity. It makes as much sense as your don’t believe your ears argument.

      • Joel Solliday

        I said the criticism I had seen and read was fair. Did I ever say that I read some unnamed alleged individual on Breitbart? I tend to read sources that are reliable, fair and grounded in integrity. It is from THAT perspective that I criticize the Reverend’s comments. The nostalgia poit is just poor exegesis. But the attack on the “religious right” is clear and you are intellectually dishonest to deny it.

        • There was no attack. He was using an analogy to make a point. Reading the sentence your way creates a complete non sequitur out of that entire part of the sermon. So instead of trying to read into it things that aren’t there in an effort to make a political point, I will focus on what was actually meant, which was the point about nostalgia.

          This isn’t intellectually dishonest. It’s actually listening to and understand the broader message, not taking sentences or words out of context in some kind of misguided effort to attack Obama.

      • oeb25

        So was the guy who said the bit about “chicken bones” a “captain of the right” or just an ignorant pissant? Do you honestly think anyone would take him for a “captain of the right?” Just how deluded are you?

        • I think he was another guy, like you, who needs to back away from the keyboard.

  • brigin

    Times are so much better now for black folks if you ignore the 10’s of millions of aborted black babies. the epidemic of Aids among blacks, and illiteracy rates, crime, family break down.

  • Eleanor McLaughlin

    Dear Brian Schoeneman, I truly appreciated this article, and as it happens my spouse and I are going to be in DC we may very well turn up at St. John’s Lafayette SQ on April 14. I am an Episcopal priest, retired most recently as Rector of St. Barnabas, Berlin, NH, a struggling dead-paper mill town in Coos County, NH. We are both active politically here, I have been presiding at a weekly Eucharist in the State Prison, Hillary Clinton was a student of mine when in those days I taught medieval history at Wellesley College.and of course we met again during the Campaign up here…we get to see Everybody…but few Republicans! We should be very pleased to meet you…this post leads us also to want to worship with your Rector and congregation. We are going to be in Washington from this Tuesday…I have visited the city only 3 x in my long life, the first as Governor of Massachusetts Girls’ State at age 16! I discovered the radicality of the Gospel during two years in Germany working on my diss. for Harvard…became a christian socialist…the miseries of life in the North country confirms this tendency and I was so impressed with your comments would love an opportunity for conversation…perhaps more than coffee Hour! My e-address: is revmchess@gmail.com; cell 603 915-0051
    Yours, in Hope for better times!
    Ellie McLaughlin

    • Ellie, thanks for the note. I don’t know if we are going to make it in tomorrow (some kind of crud has hit me and my son) but we should be there next week. Hope to see you there!

  • Joel Solliday

    It has not occured to this author that good people on the religious right are tired of being lied about. Rhetoric attacking us as racist and backward DOES win elections (it works like a charm with the ignorant) and thus it is used constantly — but it is still dishonest!

    • This author doesn’t believe what Luis said about the captains – not all – of the religious right is either a lie or an attack. When you talk about how we’re sliding towards Sodom and Gomorrah and point out that the good old days are long gone, you’re obviously ignoring that the good old days weren’t that great for everybody. If you want to go back to the days of the 1950s when single parents were a rarity, when abortion was illegal, when nobody was arguing for gay marriage, or any of those other social issues, you are – by implication – wanting to go back to the days when blacks couldn’t vote, were lynched for looking at white women, gays were beaten to death for approaching the wrong guy, and our borders were closed. That’s the point Luis was making. Do you disagree with that point?

      And, no, calling us racists doesn’t lose us elections. Nobody was seriously calling Mitt Romney a racist. They were saying he was out of touch. There’s a difference.

  • oeb25

    You are a NAIVE FOOL!!! May what’s left of the honest Episcopalians jump ship to the new Ordinate. Leon is nothing more than a bigot, and a 4 star moron. What reasonable person wants “blacks in the back of the bus?” The hell he wasn’t bending over and grabbing his ankles for your scum of a pResident. O’Butthead hasn’t had such a good time as “back in the good old days” where he supposedly sat in “Rev” Wright’s “church” listening to him bag on the honkies and giving awards to that Jew-baiter Farrakhan.

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