Washington, D.C. — During an Easter service attended by the Obama family on Sunday, the presiding Episcopal priest bashed the religious right for its social views, remarking that such groups move America backward instead of forward.
Luis Leon of St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, began his sermon by quoting from John 20:1-8, noting that when Jesus rose from the dead, He told Mary Magadalene not to hold onto Him. He then made the comparison to the religious right, stating that it is wongfully holding onto old ways of thinking regarding homosexuality, women’s equality and racial issues.
“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,” Leon declared to those gathered.
Reporter Jeff Mason Tweeted, “Pastor at church Obama is attending says captains of the religious right want blacks at back of bus, women in the kitchen, gays in closet.”
Leon stated that Jesus was in essence telling Mary Magdalene, “You cannot go back.” He opined that America needs to have “Easter vision” like Mary and stop holding onto its beliefs about the cited societal and moral matters, and see the world in a “wonderful” way.
Following the service, The Washington Post spoke with Leon, who did not wish to discuss his statements further.
“That is the invitation for all of us,” he told reporters. “I will keep my thoughts there.”
Leon also delivered the closing benediction during Barack Obama’s inauguration in January. He had replaced Pastor Louie Giglio of Passion City Church of Roswell, Georgia after Giglio later decided to bow out of the event due to criticism of a sermon he had preached many years ago on the issue of homosexuality. Leon specifically mentioned same-sex relationships in his prayer.
“We ask that You will bless us with Your presence because without it, hatred and arrogance will infect our hearts,” he said. “We ask for Your blessing because without it, suspicion, despair and fear of those different from us will be our rule of life. … With the blessing of Your blessing, we will see that we are created in Your image, whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation immigrant American or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor.”
Barack Obama did not speak during the service, but greeted attendees by saying, “Happy Easter.” His wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia also attended.
Reaction to Leon’s comments Sunday have been mixed.
“[These are] not the teachings of a Christian church! Not the teachings of Jesus Christ. This church is not a Christian church if this is what they preach and teach,” one commenter wrote. “Might as well go to Starbucks.”
“What is all the fuss about? He is a pastor in DC; he is not a pastor in Iowa nor Georgia,” a man named Robert stated. “A pastor delivers his sermons to his congregation and to their concerns.”
“Does this make the minister a captain of the religious left?” asked a third commenter.”Seriously, talk about being biased to appease your flock, and drifting away from the teachings of the Good Book.”
“He was trying to please our president, not God,” remarked a woman named Jane. “The Bible speaks about men like this. I’m not surprised by this at all, are you?”