The Weekly Standard obtained a copy of the program for President Obama’s Easter service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and reports a few “highlights” from Rev. Dr. Luis Leon’s sermon:
We often want things to go back to the way things used to be, before “work got difficult and faith got confused, and life got more confusing,” but when we dwell on the “if only” of life we forget that “God addresses us in the now.”
As Jesus told Mary not to hold on to the past, “You cannot go back.”
“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 immigrants to be back on their side of the border.”
The message of Easter is about the power of love over loveless power.”
“Easter vision” will allow you to see the whole world in a different way. “There is no injustice so insidious that there can be no truth … no war so deep that there can be no peace … no enemy so bitter that they can’t become a friend.”
(Emphasis in the original.) I don’t know what condensed remarks might lurk in those ellipses, or what else Rev. Leon might have said to provide “context” during his sermon. I’m not sure how much it could change the clear direction he was taking with this rant about the “captains of the religious right.” I have seen confirmation of his remarks in other media sources, including the Washington Post, but if either St. John’s Episcopal Church or the White House believe these transcripts to be inaccurate, they should speak up quickly.
If the account of his sermon goes unchallenged, I would invite Rev. Leon to either back up his allegations with actual quotes from specific “captains of the religious right” in which they call for blacks to be back in the back of the bus, women to be back in the kitchen, or legal immigrants to return to their country of origin. In fact, I haven’t even heard much in the way of calls for a reduction in the level of ongoing legal immigration, never mind ejecting those who have already completed the process.
If these excerpts from his Easter sermon are accurate, and Rev. Leon cannot back up his slander with sourced quotes, he should either apologize or face public shame, and Barack Obama should lead the way in the shaming. It might be a lot to expect him to stand up and object during the sermon, but there’s no reason he should be shy about speaking up afterward.
It is a catastrophic failure of leadership for him to remain silent, because silence in the face of this paranoia ill-serves all Americans of every racial background. Obama sold himself as a unifying, healing figure. If he swallows this divisive rhetoric without thunderous condemnation – more than just some quiet, mild expression of disagreement with Rev. Leon’s perspective – then we must chalk it up as one more entry on the long list of broken Obama campaign promises.
I would point out to anyone who applauds this sermon that the ugly bit in the middle directly contradicts the rest of it. Who is more hopelessly stuck in the past than someone who thinks the “captains of the religious right” (a term clearly meant to evoke mainstream leadership and influence, not obscure weirdos) are calling for segregation, xenophobia, and the indenture of women?
And if Rev. Leon truly believes “there is no war so deep there can be no peace, no enemy so bitter that they can’t become a friend,” then it’s long past time for him to stop digging new trenches in old wars, while dishing out plenty of “insidious injustice” of his own. It has always been up to us – the people living right here, right now – to declare peace and brotherhood between us. There is no way to declare, or legislate, some certain future date upon which harmony will be achieved. Should we allow the present, and future, to be judged forever guilty of our grandparents’ sins? What hope does that give us of turning bitter enemies into friends?
It’s not clear from these excerpts, but I would guess that the President’s Easter sermon included much talk of love. Faith is an essential component of love. If we are to love our neighbors, we must have faith in them. Rhetoric that weakens our faith in one another is contrary to the cause of brotherly love, just as words meant to weaken our faith in God would be an obstacle to loving Him. It must be possible to disagree with our fellow citizens without slandering them, and it should be possible to set aside such disagreements for an Easter sermon.
We have been far too tolerant of this foolishness. Some of our leaders are far too reluctant to speak out against it. It has no place in an Easter sermon attended by the President of the United States in 2013. I hope our current President has the wisdom and character to understand that, and strongly declare his understanding.