If a “nicest guy in the world” award was given to famous American pastors, few would disagree New York Times best-selling author Max Lucado should find himself toward the front of that line. He’s the consummate cuddly bear whose central message is God’s boundless and unmerited grace for all people, regardless of their story. This is the hallmark of his ministry and life. It oozes from his pulpit and the pages of his books. He speaks of it in a thousand different ways, always seeking to help people understand this glorious truth from yet another creative, illuminating angle.
Lucado’s message is clear: No one is too far from God’s inexhaustible love. No. One. If you are human, this includes you. Full. Stop. All you have to do is accept it. It was this very message that earned him the prestigious invitation to preach this past Sunday to the congregation of the celebrated Washington National Cathedral in D.C. This is the church where our national leaders hold their largest and most solemn official religious gatherings.
But Lucado’s invitation to preach was surprisingly controversial and his cancelation was publicly demanded, according to the Episcopal News Service. Why? Because he has publicly stated that God instituted marriage between a man and woman and only condones married sexuality. And his great “sin” was not so much how he said it, but that he said it. This was enough to spur calls for his cancelation and for the National Cathedral’s leadership to say letting Lucado speak was a “mistake.”
When the Washington National Cathedral announced on their Facebook page Lucado would be preaching their Sunday service, calls for him to be disinvited flooded in. Someone on the Cathedral’s Facebook page baselessly explained, “This man’s theology makes some people want to kill themselves.” The director of faith outreach for the highly influential LGBT lobbying group Human Rights Campaign made their thoughts known about the invitation to church leadership. Activists started an online petition to have Lucado’s invitation rescinded.
Pastor Lucado’s message was delivered to the congregation on February 7th. But only after retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first ordained openly gay bishop, was recruited to preside over the Sunday morning service as a calming device. Robinson provided a meticulously worded eight minute-long explanation for why Lucado’s was invitation was not revoked. To his credit, Robison’s speech was a thoughtful and a classical liberal explanation for why inclusion “sometimes … includes people we don’t agree with much at all.” But he put his explanation to the congregation in the simple and binary context of good over bad, right over wrong, us against them.
Let me just say this carefully to those of us who are LGBTQ. …We’ve won. We’ve won! We know how this is going to end. This is going to end with the full inclusion of gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people, non-binary people, all kinds of people. We know how it ends.
He concluded his side the zero-sum victors, “good” over “evil.” That pulpit is their pulpit and they will manage it according to their ascendent beliefs. And Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, was also compelled to distance himself from his gentle guest during the Sunday service and did so in his carefully threaded introduction to Lucado’s sermon.
Max and I differ on many issues, but I know him to be a person of goodwill and deep faith. …He has said things in the past that have caused the LGBTQ community great pain. Let me be clear. I don’t agree with those statements. And the Cathedral does not agree with those statements. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings are the beloved children of God, just as they are.
Lucado’s basic position on the nature of marriage and sexuality is what made his invitation a bridge too far for the LGBT political class. This incident demonstrates it is no longer possible to hold a belief contrary to LGBT orthodoxy, even in the most genuinely kind and gracious way, and still be considered a decent person by those on the left. It is no longer a matter of how you disagree, but simply that you disagree. That is the take-away here. And every person involved in this decision got the message loud and clear.
Washington, D.C.’s Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde told the Episcopal News Service, “I would do it differently now” regarding Lucado’s invitation. “My biggest mistake,” she explained, “was not reaching out to some of my colleagues who are LGBTQ.”
Budde, who certainly didn’t rise to her position in that denomination without being acutely mindful of and dutiful to LGBT concerns, confessed, “It took me a while to appreciate the magnitude of the issue and the magnitude of the concern” from those who protested the invitation. Hollerith said, “In my straight privilege I failed to see and fully understand the pain he has caused.” Gay activists’ most faithful allies have a hard time keeping up with their demands.
It is critically important for all Christians, and any informed observer of religion in public life, to take note of what this incident marks. Two of the most powerful Episcopal clergy in the nation had to carefully explain, within minutes of his talk, why an evangelical preacher whose whole message is God’s limitless kindness and grace to everyone should be allowed to address the Sunday morning congregation of one of our nation’s great cathedrals. They admitted Lucado’s sermon that morning titled, “How God Helps Us Through Our Trials,” was not controversial in any way.
This pastor is not political, nor a culture warrior, and their concern was with what he wrote 17 years ago. His singular message is God’s unending love for everyone. He has sold over a hundred million books explaining that very truth. His disqualifying feature was not greed, arrogance, graft, sexual misconduct, or abuse of power. It was not ugliness toward any person. It is simply and singularly that he holds to the historic and clearly scriptural teaching of what marriage is as God’s clearly stated plan for human sexual expression, that which is held by nearly all major religions through the millennia and most clergy today.
To this, all orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as any other traditionally-minded individuals, should ask their LGBT neighbors this question: Is it possible for me to not agree with what you believe about sexuality and gender and still be considered a decent person in polite company?
Max Lucado got the answer to those questions this week in a dramatically stark fashion. Yes, Pastor Lucado was permitted to speak, but only by the skin of his teeth. And only with very public and deft distancing from the very people who invited him. Even the liberal clergy of the Episcopal Church received the message loud and clear: Don’t invite his kind ever again. No matter how nice and inclusive they might be. It’s not how you disagree. It’s that you disagree.
This turn should jolt everyone who values civil society, the necessity of religious freedom, and the essential virtue of differing ideas. A new kind of fundamentalism is taking over liberalism, and it is doing so ironically, in the name of inclusion and free-thought. The Lucado incident is simply the latest dramatic dispatch in that story.