By now you’ve probably heard about Baby Jack, the child in Orlando whose two fathers hoped to have him baptized in April at their church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral. They went through the mandatory instruction and preparation, scheduled the service, invited family members in – and three days before it was to happen, the dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Anthony P. Clark, called to put it off, saying some people in the parish objected to holding the service because the married dads are Gay.
When the dads couldn’t work it out with the dean, one of them posted a statement on Facebook. Their story went viral. A member of a Facebook group called Episcopal Church Chat got up a petition, and in just a few days 20,000 people signed it. I also posted the dean’s photo on The Daily Office site. Soon the story spread further, to The Huffington Post and the Orlando Sentinel, as well as some other church sites. Twitter came alive, Bishop Gene Robinson wrote an article and so did the Rev. Susan Russell, former president of Integrity.
As the pressure grew, someone at the cathedral started firing off angry scripture-quoting tweets, and the Bishop of Central Florida, the Right Rev. Gregory Brewer, was drawn into the controversy; he’s the rector of the cathedral, over the dean. The bishop announced that he would meet with the two dads and try to smooth things over. They would issue a joint statement, he said.
He met with the dads, apologized and supported the baptism, which he said would take place later this summer. But no joint statement occurred; he issued one and so did the dads, a very thoughtful and gracious acceptance, which nevertheless didn’t back down from acknowledging that a wrong had taken place.
The internet cooled off—until Monday, when the cathedral posted a podcast of the sermon delivered by one of the staff priests, the Rev. J. Gary L’Hommedieu, at the main Sunday service the day before.
It’s the angriest, most bitter and self-justifying sermon I’ve ever heard – including 40 years’ worth of Christian hate and vitriol from homophobic preachers around the world.
This is not how Christians should conduct themselves, much less priests. Followers of Jesus are supposed to be known for our love and compassion. When we are wronged, Christ said, we should turn the other cheek.
I guarantee we haven’t heard the last of these guys. They have plunged the Episcopal Church, the diocese and the cathedral – the Gospel of Christ itself – into public scandal.
The bishop will survive this, because he met with the parents, apologized and tried to help.
But Dean Clark and Canon L’Hommedieu are going down in flames.
Their defense all through this has been that they didn’t “deny” the baby baptism – it was merely put off, postponed, pre-empted, suspended, delayed, deferred, adjourned, shelved. They took a rain check, put it on ice, stuck it on the back burner.
What they did not do was reschedule it. And that amounts to denying the sacrament of baptism to an infant who has never sinned one minute of his life.
If you were a judge in a courtroom, and the defendants tried to use semantics to save their necks, would you believe them? Or convict them?
Social media – that is, individual Christians talking to each other – forced the bishop to intervene. Public outrage, however it came to develop, trained a spotlight on injustice at this cathedral. L’Hommedieu can blame “West Coast bloggers” all he likes, but it wasn’t bloggers who committed Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy.
The baby did nothing wrong. He ought to have been baptized with joy as one of Christ’s own – not used to advance the hateful agenda of anti-Gay priests.++
[UPDATE: I’m taking bets on whether L’Hommedieu was the one who first objected to this baptism.]