After Max Lucado Apology, Is Justin Welby Welcome at National Cathedral?

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The Episcopal Church’s Washington National Cathedral stumbled into another controversy last week, this time centered upon an invitation to Evangelical author Max Lucado to preach. The professionally aggrieved class quickly asserted hurt at the invitation, and both cathedral and diocesan officials begged forgiveness.

If a mild and winsome Evangelical like Lucado isn’t acceptable to preach at the National Cathedral, what Evangelical who holds to the church’s historic understanding of Christian marriage is?

Lucado offered a pre-recorded sermon this past Sunday addressing the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. The Texas megachurch pastor isn’t the first Evangelical to speak at the Cathedral, but his invitation incensed LGBT activists who launched a petition drive in protest of the invitation.

The widely published author’s transgression was a 2004 sermon in which he regarded homosexual practices as sinful, alongside polyamory, incest and bestiality. On February 11, Lucado issued a letter addressed to the cathedral community stating that he believes in the “traditional biblical understanding of marriage” but apologized for words which he termed disrespectful and hurtful.

Both Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith and Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde have offered apologies for not rescinding the invitation.

“In my straight privilege I failed to see and fully understand the pain he [Lucado] has caused,” Hollerith wrote to the cathedral congregation. “I failed to appreciate the depth of injury his words have had on many in the LGBTQ community. I failed to see the pain I was continuing. I was wrong and I am sorry.”

The controversy has generated enough hand-wringing to justify three separate articles from the Episcopal News Service. I won’t attempt to replicate that work (which you can read herehere and here), except to note that many of those protesting the invitation appear to have been unfamiliar with Lucado or his writings until this month’s controversy. Lucado himself has spoken before theologically liberal audiences before (I last heard him address the Wild Goose Festival, an annual Religious Left gathering of mostly post-evangelicals and older Mainline Protestant clergy patterned after Britain’s Greenbelt Festival).

The National Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul as it is formally known, regards itself as not just home to an Episcopal congregation but also as “A Spiritual Home for the Nation.”

It’s worth looking back at other evangelicals who have spoken or preached at the National Cathedral. Are they still welcome to preach at the “House of Prayer for All People”?

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has preached from the cathedral’s Canterbury pulpit, most recently providing a prerecorded video addressfor the September 27, 2020 Sunday service. Welby, in his capacity as top cleric of England’s established state church, has a vote in the U.K. House of Lords, as do the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester. In 2013, Welby voted against Prime Minister David Cameron’s legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Russell Levenson, rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston (the largest parish by attendance in the Episcopal Church) has also preached at the cathedral, offering the sermon message at the December 2018 funeral of President George H.W. Bush. Levenson is associated with the theologically traditionalist Communion Partners group of rectors and bishops and does not officiate same-sex weddings.

Other evangelicals who have preached at the National Cathedral include California Megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Theologian and The Crucifixion author Fleming Rutledge, and Evangelist Billy Graham.

To my knowledge none of these preachers addressed marriage or sexuality in their National Cathedral messages, but neither did Lucado.

Former Iranian President and Islamic cleric Mohammad Seyed Khatamialso spoke at the cathedral. Presumably his views on same-sex marriage would be ruled out of order today.