The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision granting same-sex couples the constitutional right to marry set the tone Thursday evening at San Francisco’s iconic Grace Cathedral.
There, a reformed Baptist minister delivered an impassioned sermon in favor of same-sex marriage.
The guest preacher, Rev. Dr. David Gushee — a distinguished university professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University — was so moved by the court decision that he flew to The City just to give his sermon at the Episcopal cathedral.
Coming from a conservative Protestant background, Gushee originally opposed same-sex marriage. When he moved to Atlanta in 2007, however, he encountered gay people in church and grew sympathetic to their suffering.
Last year, Gushee published that personal and theological journey in a book, “Changing Our Mind,” and has since argued that a literal reading of Biblical references to gays and lesbians without proper context and a broader interpretation has led to a great deal of harm.
“Tonight we celebrate a moment of righteousness,” Gushee, 53, said in his sermon. “We pray that it will grow and that we will learn to live into its meaning more and more each and every day.”
His sermon wasn’t the only part of Thursday’s marriage equality themed evensong — a traditional Episcopal evening service with a large musical component — that touched attendees.
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus filled the sanctuary with their voices. The third and final song, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” composed by Elton John, made San Francisco resident Kathryn Jordan cry.
“I really felt the peace of God,” Jordan, 56, said. “San Francisco can be kind of icy, kind of unforgiving, unrelentless and I don’t know, I just got emotional.”
A member of the chorus, San Francisco resident Michael Levy, 50, said he felt support from the audience and particularly from Gushee’s sermon.
“As he pointed out, the Bible talks about loving each other,” Levy said. “I thought it was a very poignant message.”
The cathedral has hosted blessings and weddings for same-sex couples since 1998 and has a long history of acceptance, said Elizabeth Grundy, a reverend canon with the church.
“It’s a house of prayer for all people, so it has tended to attract people if they are not in the same place, they are at least serious about having a dialogue about it and having a change of heart and mind,” she said.
Speaking from experience, Gushee said he did not envision any revelations from churchgoers Thursday night.
“I don’t see anybody’s opinion changing except for a meaningful, personal encounter. That’s how my opinion changed,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. He added of his sermon, “Maybe it will be one more step in the journey for somebody. I hope so.”