“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.”- Rev. Luis Leon
My biggest pet peeve in the world of journalism is when quotes are taken out of context. It is done all the time and in the world of social media it is rampant. So when I began to see the quote from Pastor Luis Leon spoken on Easter Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, I decided to go to the source. The reason why it was given so much attention was because President Obama and his family were attending that morning. My first reaction to the quote was outrage but as a writer I know my responsibility is to find out the context in which the pastor used these lines.
After listening to the sermon on-line, I realized that Rev. Leon and I differ on some scripture interpretations but we are from different religious backgrounds and that is to be expected by two people of two separate denominations. His sermon was based on John chapter 20 and he refers to the passage where Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus after He calls her name and tells Mary not to hold on to Him. Here is the quote in a fuller context of his speech:
“When we dwell on the past, when we dwell on the “if only’s” of life, we forget that God addresses us in the now. Jesus’ response to Mary Magdalene and I think that Jesus’ response to us is gentle, but it is firm — Jesus says, “Don’t hang on to me. Don’t hang on to the past. Don’t hang on to the way things were.” I hear all the time the expression “the good old days.” Well, the good old days — we forget they had been good for some, but they weren’t good for everybody. You can’t go back. You can’t live in the past. It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling people back, never forward, forgetting that we are called to be a pilgrim people who have agreed never to arrive. That’s true to our faith. 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. But you and I understand this, that when Jesus says you can’t hang on to me, he says, “You know it’s not about the past, it’s not about the before, it’s not about the way things were, but about the way things can be in the now.”
Some people have accused Rev. Leon of using the pulpit to preach a political message. I agree that he was trying to make a political point while referring to the explanation of Mary trying to hold on to Jesus after His resurrection. I think his point was divisive and inaccurate about the religious right but my biggest outrage is the hypocrisy in his message. Pastor Leon was using the race card, the feminist card and the homosexual card to somehow preach a message on forgiveness and redemption in the context of Christ’s death and resurrection. If you can’t see the hypocrisy in that then you might need to reflect on why Jesus died for our sins.
Rev. Leon urged his congregation to not live in the past—however, Easter and the message of the cross is all about the past. Without the reflection of the past we wouldn’t be able to reflect on the cost of forgiveness. Easter Sunday brings a body of believers from all different races, backgrounds and religious denominations back to the reason why we can rejoice and celebrate about the forgiveness of our sins. It reminds us all that Christ died so that we could have eternal life. I don’t want to ever forget about the past because the past is why I have a future.
So while Rev. Leon might have wanted to encourage more unity, love and forgiveness among the congregation he was preaching to, he actually divided them from a group of believers that were celebrating the very same thing. The message of the cross and resurrection has nothing to do with political opinions or social stances. In fact, Jesus was crucified by people who were politically motivated. The message of the cross is that even in the historic injustices of our society and political, social and religious disagreements among our nation we all have a great historical story to reflect on. It belongs to all of us no matter what creed or race we come from. Rev. Leon can go ahead and crucify people, like me, on the religious right but I know that Easter Sunday is about the past that sets all of us free!