[The Episcopal News] Uplifted by interfaith solidarity and a sermon that sparked dancing in the aisles, the people of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena claimed “higher love” over homophobic threats to bomb the sanctuary and use a gun to “kill the pastor” in opposition to the parish’s LGBTQ-affirming ministries.
With local police and heightened security in place for May 7 Sunday services, the Rev. Mike Kinman, All Saints’ rector since 2016, preached “the gospel according to Steve Winwood,” highlighting the songwriter’s lyrics “bring me a higher love” and leading the congregation in dancing to Kygo and Whitney Houston’s recording of the pop hit.
Video of Kinman’s sermon and the full service is here.
Kinman also used his homily to address the “people who made the death threats … I can only imagine you have deep wounds to lash out against us in this way … Everyone has wounds, and those wounds cause anger. Please hear me; taking that anger and turning it into hate isn’t going to give you what you need. … So, what is the way? Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life … What Jesus offers is the higher love for which we long.
“You can hate us, but we will not hate you.”
Bishop John Harvey Taylor joined the congregation for both 7:30 and 10 a.m. services and gathered with speakers on the parish lawn for an interfaith rally organized by CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) with support from the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. Video of the full rally is here.
“I’m here on behalf of the whole Diocese of Los Angeles – all the saints gathered in solidarity with all the saints of All Saints – reflecting this morning on how two measly acts of hatred – a phone call and a bomb threat – have resulted in this outburst of love and solidarity,” Taylor said in an interview before the rally started.
“As all gather in support of the All Saints community, we’re standing up for inclusion across all barriers of identification and orientation, race and national origin,” Taylor said. “This is the heart of Christ here, and the darkness will never overcome the light. May all the angels protect the people of All Saints Church.”
Kinman thanked interfaith rally speakers and attendees, underscoring the resilience of LGBTQ people “created in God’s image,” and commended the All Saints wardens and staff for their responsiveness to the situation. To interfaith guests, he added, “Know that if you are ever in need, All Saints Church stands with you as well; we are one.”
Rabbi Neil Commess-Daniels, a founding member of CLUE, led singing to open the rally attended by representatives of groups including the Immaculate Heart Community; members of Pasadena’s Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church; and actor Mike Farrell, a longtime ally of CLUE and All Saints Church.
Before offering the invocation, the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, assisting priest at All Saints and diocesan canon for engagement across difference, observed: “This, my brothers and sisters and gender-fluid siblings, is what beloved community looks like. This is what it looks like when people of God stand because of, not in spite of, but because of what draws us together …
“This is what it looks like when we stand here on this sacred ground, as many of us have done far too many times … as we’ve stood in the breach … with Muslim colleagues, we’ve stood here for refugees, against those who would stand in the way of gun control; we’ve stood here for those who would block women’s reproductive rights, and we’ve stood here for LGBTQ people.
“And having been at this for decades, I just want to note, there was a time when we queer people could not depend upon our interfaith allies to show up for us. We knew you were there in your hearts, but you just couldn’t do it. And I look around and I see now that you are here for us as we are there for you, and what that tells me is that if we can make that progress, if we can be this people gathered in this moment in solidarity for LGBTQ people, there’s nothing else we can’t accomplish.
“In the face of this solidarity, in the face of the power of this love, in the face of the power of this witness, anyone who comes for any one of us comes for all of us, and we will not be moved,” said Russell, who offered the Prayer for the Human Family from the Book of Common Prayer.
CLUE board member Bridie Roberts, community organizer for UNITE HERE Local 11 and associate pastor at Hollywood United Methodist Church, introduced interfaith allies, starting with Rabbi Sarah Hronsky, president of both the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, also senior rabbi at Temple Beth Hillel, Valley Village.
“We stand with our neighbors, we stand with our brothers, our sisters, our gender-fluid family,” Hronsky said. “My friends, I’m wearing a shirt that says ‘repair the world.’ Tikkun olam is a value in Judaism that says that we must, in our days, repair this world. We are imperfect people; we make errors. But it is our job to repair … whether they are our errors, our neighbor’s errors, our sister’s errors, our brother’s errors. It is our job to repair the world, and we do it best hand in hand together.
“There has been a deep hurt inflicted upon this community, and it is our job to stand side by side, brothers, sisters, neighbors, strangers, created in the image of God we are, but we are strongest together when we stand side by side …
“My friends, let us stay together, not just this day, but all days going forward. … I pray that we walk hand in hand in this journey, in tikkun olam.”
Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, spoke of personal connections to All Saints. “I’m here for several reasons; first and foremost, this is my church, and if anyone is going to attack this church, it’s an attack on all of us, and we are here to defend it because this church means so much. It means so much to the Muslim community.
“Every Muslim has a safe space in All Saints Church; every Muslim will be defended by all of you. Whenever there’s an attack at the mosque or at a synagogue, we’re there together.
“So even though we’re dealing with this new normal of attacks on houses of worship, which is … outrageous, the response is amazing and beautiful. I see the beauty and the love in all of you … in the belief in God, that God means love. That’s why we’re here. We will prevail; love and justice will prevail.”
The Rev. Jennifer Gutierrez, executive director of CLUE Los Angeles, and a United Methodist clergyperson, noted the work of CLUE immigration director Guillermo Torres in helping to organize the gathering. She pointed to the national rise in violent acts, including “the latest shooting in Texas. It seems like it’s happening every day. But as Pastor Mike said, the irony of all of this is that it does make love more visible. It brings us together to show that love together to one another, and it brings us together to spread peace throughout the world. I’m so pleased to be here with all of you this morning. It’s just what my heart needed in these difficult times.”
Bishop Taylor was next to address the gathering. “To communities of faith – and I can only speak for Christians in this context – but to communities of faith in this nation and in this time, justice and the complexities of the 21st century demand that at long last Christians live into a fully lived-out conception of the image of God. It’s a simple, basic thing: all people made in the image of God. But for too long, in Christian leadership in particular, that has meant, at least in our context, male supremacy, white supremacy, and heterosexual supremacy, and churches enduring waves of misconduct and predation know how it could have been different if we had lived into what it meant to govern in the image of God,” Taylor said.
“Similarly, in the 21st century as Americans we have some basic propositions, which is simple civics stuff … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all against all barriers of race and national origin, orientation and identification. At long last, pluralism is our destiny; it’s the place we’re headed. If we don’t make it there, all is lost – but we’re going to make it there together because moments like this give us such faith,” Taylor said.
“I invite you, if you’re praying people, to pray that that all the angels of heaven will attend the justice-drenched community of All Saints Church and its courageous rector who has been personally targeted. God bless All Saints, and God bless you all.”
The Rev. Denyse Barnes shared her perspective as director of justice and compassion ministries and the LGBTQ work program of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church. “I’m a queer pastor in a church that says homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It is my life’s work to change that. There’s a song that’s got me through by Mark Miller, and some of the words in that are, ‘No matter what the world says, you are a child of God.’ My fellow queers, All Saints, look around you; you’re all beloved children of God, and you are not alone right now.”
The Wall/Las Memorias founder Richard Saldovar said, “On behalf of my community – I am gay, I am Latino, and I’m Roman Catholic – I think it’s important that when we see the audience here today, that though hate has brought us all here together – different faith-based communities, different leaders of communities – to say that we denounce the hate, but more important of all, we feel the love here.., and we know that Los Angeles, Pasadena, is full of love. And so we stand in solidarity with you, my brother pastor, the members of All Saints Episcopal Church, and the entire community, for we will become teachers through our acts of love, compassion and respect.”
Representing the Sikh community, Nirinjan Singh Khalsa noted that “times are changing, and this scares the dickens out of some people. The time has come when we no longer just talk about freedom for ourselves, we must have freedom for all. The time has come when we can no longer talk about love as long as it’s convenient for us; that there must be freedom of love for all. The time has come when people can no longer hide in their own little valleys of hatred and fear without having an effect … There’s no freedom unless there’s freedom for everybody. There’s no peace unless there’s peace for all. There’s no prosperity unless everybody is lifted up. And if you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.”
Randy Dobbs, who coordinates external affairs for the Los Angeles Baha’i Center, pointed out “how this is not a matter of being left or right on the spectrum of politics; this is a matter of being right or wrong – and hating someone else because they’re different than you are, is wrong. So I’m proud to be among you standing in solidarity that we all believe in God, we all believe in virtue, and in that way, we are all one big religion.”
“This is how God works,” said Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints representative Matthew Neeley. “Two members, gay members, of this congregation, are dear friends of mine. I came quietly today, just to stand, and then I found all these other friends. And I want you to know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does stand with you in defense of religious freedom, in defense of right of conscience. And we will stand with you and defend you … I’m honored to share that message based on my faith. Let’s do this together.”
Omar Ricci of the Islamic Center of Southern California said, “There is a verse in the Koran that is the only verse in the Koran that is repeated back-to-back. It says, ‘With every difficulty comes ease; with every difficulty comes ease.’ And in this moment of difficulty, where the good Rev. Kinman has been targeted, let the ease come in what you see behind us. Let the ease come in the love that is expressed here. We stand in solidarity.”
Lo Sprague, president of The Guibord Center, Religion Inside Out, Los Angeles, noted that “Antisemitism, violence against black and brown people and Asian people, against trans people – it’s the same thing: it’s about being disconnected, it’s about being isolated. As the president of the Guibord Center, which is an interfaith organization, what I see is the miracle of the creator who has created us in many different facets, but we believe in the spirituality that says that we are all one, we are in this together. That includes perpetrators as well, and the thing that we have for them is an answer of love to hate. We come together without fear to stand beside one another, and we have love that is enough to change the world.”
After the group sang “We Shall Overcome,” the Rev. Sally Howard, senior associate at All Saints, offered a closing prayer: “Thank you for this great cloud of witnesses, our friends, who stand with you, and with you and with us in solidarity with our beloved LGBTQ siblings and all those targeted in hate and exclusion. With your love, touch and transform those imprisoned by hate and fear. May we do the work you have given us to do in truth and beauty. By your spirit, lift us; by your love, unite us; by your presence, empower us to stand together against all that stands against love.”