UPDATE: Audio of Leon’s sermon here.
Here’s the Fox News headline in Chris Stirewalt’s article:
“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.”
— Sermon by Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church, in his Easter sermon to congregants, including President Obama and his family, according to the press pool report of the first family’s visit.
There was then a rush of the cry of using Easter for politics, with people suggesting Obama now had “another Rev. Wright” on his hands. Rush Limbaugh for one blamed President Obama for inspiring racism in the Easter service. (NBCNews)
The Huffington Post reports in an extensive article by Jaweed Kaleem reports that Rev. León stands by his words.
“It’s in there. People will do what they want with it,” said Leon, referring to the sermon in which he said it drives him “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 key part of this version of the quote are the “…”s (which were found in the excerpts released via a White House pool report), for this leads to what long-time Republican party activist Brian W. Schoeneman (and member of Leon’s church, St. John’s Lafayette Square), in an excellent op-ed in Bearing Drift (Virginia’s Conservative Voice), says he heard while attending church:
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.
Schoeneman then laments the bitterness and hatred that came out over what people thought someone said. He sees that “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.”
Perhaps best is his closing words, in which he invites people to learn the truth about his church and 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.
Isn’t this the critical message: Come and See? Isn’t this our only hope in stopping the demonizing that we have fallen into: to remove the tinted lenses of the other, and instead witness the humanity (and God’s image) in each other?