“If you are visiting for just a few moments or a few hours, please know that you are granted immunity from the painful ravages of religious bigotry and intolerance. St. Paul’s...is a place where a loving God who sees all life in a sacred and unbroken unity receives your thoughts, reflections, meditations, prayers, tears, anger, and joy.”
— from the mission statement for St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral
That mission statement made the gray concrete majesty of the cathedral a natural location for the June 1 “Interfaith Service of Consolation and Determination,” in response to the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, which effectively outlaws gay marriage. Several pews were reserved for the organization Building Bridges for Pride.
The organ thundered, and clergy and choir processed up the aisle and up the Sanctuary steps to the strains of “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past.” “Under the shadow of Thy throne, Thy saints have dwelt secure/ Sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.” The clergy took their seats to the sides of the altar: Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and Religious Scientists draped in stoles, shawls, and robes of red, blue, black, white, and purple. The choir sat behind, and vergers guided the many speakers who climbed into the pulpit.
But first, Cathedral Dean Reverend Scott Richardson gave the welcome. “We are here as people of peace,” he reminded the congregation. “But we’re also people who are here to pray with a purpose, and that purpose is full equality for all people. We understand that peace is always rooted in equity and justice. We gather for a holy purpose, and that purpose is the justice of God.”
Lesbian couple Jan Garbosky and Bonny Russell from the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego took turns speaking on why they were there. Said Russell, “Many of us have been church-damaged by the experience of our youth — told we are an abomination, that God hates us, that we are going to hell. We need each other to surround us with love, to acknowledge the dignity and inherent good in each of us, to quench the burning fire of anger that could destroy us.” Added Garbosky, “The faith communities gathered here believe our faith shows us the way to build the world about which we dream.”
Psalm 118, read by the cathedral’s own Rabbi Laurie Coskey, illustrated that world. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is God’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.” Rabbi Rochelle Robins, director of Sharp Memorial Hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education, commented on the text: “The cornerstone refers to the structure, the building of our society. We are the builders of this long-awaited goal of civil rights across the board, with no exclusions for anyone. If you feel rejected, may it be only momentary. We are the builders and the stone that holds the structure. Our lives and activism are already the foundation of justice in our society.”
Songs — including “For Good” from the musical Wicked — were sung, and many prayers were offered by many clergy. Prayers that announced intentions: “We come together as a community, as a family to understand the acts that threaten our world.” Prayers that praised those “whose outrageous faith has caused the mighty to tremble.” Prayers that petitioned the “Divine spirit of love”: “We pray that we will be wise enough to seek justice that is not just for us,” and named God as “Love...as we seek to love and be loved to the glory of Your name.”
Reverend Mary Sue Brookshire from the United Church of Christ in La Mesa took up the theme of love, reading Paul’s famous passage from Corinthians. “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.... Love is patient, love is kind...it does not insist on its own way...but rejoices in the truth.”
St. Paul’s Reverend Canon Albert Ogle gave the homily. “Paul is talking about equality in this letter,” he said, noting that gifts of great faith and eloquence were here rendered meaningless without “self-giving, sacrificial love.” In so loving, he said, “we are able to experience the mystery of God in each other.” Ogle noted that Paul, who wrote so eloquently about love, “was once a great hater of Christians.” He quoted Jung: “Paul owes his conversion neither to true love nor to true faith...it was solely his hatred of Christians that set him on the road to Damascus.” He warned against giving in to hate, asserting, “That’s the invitation for us today; we have to let go and give it to God.” And he closed with a line from David Augsburger (a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary): “He delivers a message to the whole church: ‘The ultimate religious question of the 21st Century is: how do we find God in our enemies? Loving the enemy has become key both to human survival in the nuclear age and to personal transformation.’ Amen.”
The organ blared and the congregation belted out “America the Beautiful” before heading to the courtyard for refreshments. There, I asked Reverend Richardson what he meant when he said that “we’re in this for the long run.” “Whatever happened at the court level,” he replied, “either side was prepared to go back through the initiative process. I think it’s going to come back on the ballot in 2010. For me the critical issue is, how do people of faith — who are very charged up about this on both sides — do this work in a way that we’re not demonizing each other or seeing each other as fallen. We have a profound disagreement on the nature of marriage and, I would say, even Christian marriage. But there has to be a way for people of faith to figure out how to have this conversation, instead of screaming at each other at city hall.” —Matthew Lickona