Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Last October, the Very Reverend Gary Hall became the 10th dean of Washington National Cathedral. Having led Episcopal dioceses in Massachusetts, California and Michigan before coming to D.C., Hall demonstrated early on that he’s willing to make waves. He is an outspoken advocate for gun control and announced that same-sex marriages will be held at the cathedral. Kojo talks with Hall about his reputation as a fixer and his plans for the nation’s landmark church.
- The Very Reverend Gary Hall Dean, Washington National Cathedral
Photos: Updated Look At National Cathedral Earthquake Repairs
Renovation efforts continue at Washington National Cathedral, and are expected to continue for years to come, after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast in August 2011 and damaged the landmark. Officials estimate initial repairs will cost $15 million and take at least 10 years to complete. Some decorative elements will be re-carved, some will be replaced, and all will be strengthened for long term preservation. The base of the cathedral oscillated slightly during the 40-second quake, and protective netting now engulfs the main level’s ceiling. But the bulk of damage affected the 300-foot bell tower, situated at the center of the church and also the highest point in Washington, D.C.
Learn more about the earthquake repairs, find answers to frequently asked questions and contribute to the restoration fund.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The spires of the Washington National Cathedral loom large over the District. It's the grand home of a national institution whose creation our forefathers planned for with George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant envisioning a sort of Westminster Abbey for America.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut it's a project that took over a century to get started, and construction of the cathedral itself wrapped up just over two decades ago, completing a place meant to give the nation a spiritual home. Now, after decades focused on establishing roots, the leadership of the cathedral is shifting its energy and sharpening its mission. Here to help us explore the cathedral's place at the intersection of the sacred and the secular in both D.C. and the country as a whole is the Very Rev. Gary Hall. He is the dean of the Washington Cathedral. Thank you so much for joining us.
THE VERY REV. GARY HALLOh, it's a great pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd if you have questions or comments for the Very Rev. Gary Hall, you can call us at 800-433-8850, or send email to kojo -- K-O-J-O -- @wamu.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. It took a lot, I guess, to figure out who should get this job because I looked at the job description that was put forth while searching for the 10th dean of the National Cathedral. It's a big job. How do you define your role as dean, and what drew you to it?
HALLWell, that's a really good set of questions to start. I, you know, it sort of when I read that job description, it was sort of like they're looking for Jesus with an MBA, you know? I'll take a step back. I actually got that -- I got -- I came back. My wife and I were away for a week on a vacation. I came back from the vacation, and there was this big FedEx box from the cathedral on my desk saying that their search was almost closed, but they'd hope to hold it open if I wanted to be a candidate because a couple of people put my name in.
HALLAnd I read the job description, as you say. It was a little daunting, but I've had a kind of weird career. I've -- I'm a parish priest and a priest for 36 years. I've been an academic. I've -- basically and my late wife come into kind of establishment institutions and help them rethink themselves for the current set of challenges they face. And when I read that position description as bizarre and difficult as it was, I felt I really was kind of because of my experience I was uniquely qualified to try it on. But it is a huge job and a big challenge.
NNAMDIWell, one aspect of it, I guess, is if you can explain for us the difference between the Episcopal Church as an organization and the cathedral as a place for people of all faiths to worship.
HALLThe Episcopal Church is, as you know, a denomination. It is the -- where the inheritors of the Church of England and...
NNAMDITo be a member of it.
HALLThat makes me relaxed even more. The Episcopal Church is the Church of England in America, the Anglican Church in America, and we're the inheritors of a kind of established church tradition. And you're right that when the Washington National Cathedral was founded, it was founded with the expressed idea that it be a kind of public church for the nation in the same way that Westminster Abbey is for England. But we're not the established church in America.
HALLAnd so we've always had this dual role as a cathedral that we're the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and we the cathedral where the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has his or her seat. So we are the kind of focal point for American Anglicanism, but we've also because of our long history of comprehensiveness been a faith community that encompasses people both from a variety of Christian denominations and now interfaith perspective. So we are of the Episcopal Church, but we also have a mission that goes beyond it.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that in a way activism brought you to the church in the early '60s. Why did you decide to pursue activism by way of religion, a field that a lot of people consider simply a stronghold of tradition than pursuing it, say, through politics?
HALLI grew up in Hollywood, and both my parents were people who've been alienated from the church early in their lives. And so when they had me, they said, well, we'll just let him decide what he's going to do. And I never -- I'm one of those people that never walked in a church door until I was in college. And -- but I did because my parents were both very progressive people, I got involved in civil rights at an early age in high school.
HALLI got involved in anti-war protests in the Vietnam War when I was in high school and college. And when I went to college, I spent my first year at Yale, and my freshman year of college, William Sloane Coffin, the great chaplain at Yale, there was a big march on the Pentagon on October of 1967, and he and the poet Robert Lowell and Dr. Spock were all arrested on the steps of the Pentagon.
HALLAnd I got very much involved with Rev. Coffin because he was to me a kind of an image of what a Christian clergyman was, and so I came into the church through activism. And actually, it was Dr. King was assassinated on Maundy Thursday in '68, and so I first went to church actually on Easter Sunday 1968 basically trying to understand, make sense of King's assassination. And it was from that that I entered the church.
HALLAnd so my whole early sense of the church was as a place where I could pursue both social justice issues but also spirituality. And actually over time, my appreciation for the other parts of the church's life have grown. So I wouldn't be comfortable being an activist only. I mean, it's the other worshipful parts of -- and the pastoral part of Christianity that's also spoken to me with great depth.
NNAMDILet's talk about the policy issues for a second. Since coming to Washington last fall, you've hit the ground running, instituting some big changes at the cathedral and speaking out in favor of gun control. On that issue, you have said that you don't see gun violence only as a political issue but as a religious one. Why?
HALLWell, I'll speak as a Christian first. You know, Christians follow someone who was killed at the hands of violent human beings. And so Christianity has always had a kind of preference for an orientation towards empathy with and caring for the victims of violence. I mean, our early saints were all martyrs, were all killed by their own empire essentially for refusing to worship the emperor. We have a long history of being oppressed. We've been oppressors as well as Christians, but we have a long history of being oppressed.
HALLAnd so to me the issue of gun violence is really a theological issue in the sense that if we're really going to follow Jesus, then we need to stand with and stand for all those who are victims of any kind of oppressive violence. And in America in the 21st century, not only in places like Newtown but in our street corners across America in urban neighborhoods, it's gun violence that is the major cause.
HALLSo this is really kind of a pastoral theological issue for me. It does have political implications, obviously, because it involves the public's fear, and it involves organizing for change. But it's root is a kind of empathy for those who suffer.
NNAMDIWe're talking with the Very Rev. Gary Hall -- he is dean of the Washington National Cathedral -- and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Should religious organizations and their leaders be outspoken on policy issues? Why, or why not? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The other hot-button topic you've made headlines on is same-sex marriage...
NNAMDI...with an announcement that the cathedral will begin hosting ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. It's my understanding that you were instrumental in shaping the Episcopal Church's overall views on gay marriage. What went into that process, and why are you opening the cathedral to same-sex couples now?
HALLI -- in 1990, I went to work an All-Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., which is a large parish in Los Angeles. It has about a third to 40 percent gay and lesbian members. And that -- and when I went to work there, I wasn't necessarily a strong advocate of LGBT issues. But All-Saints had an AIDS service center. It had this large population of LGBT members. And over the course of my 11 years there, I not only got to know gay and lesbian people up close and personally, I officiated at the blessings of their relationships.
HALLI sat at their deathbeds. I baptized their kids. I began to understand that the church had to figure out how it was going to call all people into faithful Christian life. And it seemed to me that if we're offering straight people marriage as a way of organizing their lives and responding faithfully to God in their sexual and family life, we needed to offer something like that for LGBT people as well.
HALLAnd so over the last two decades, I've been very much involved in this issue of same-sex marriage, of same-sex blessing and then same-sex marriage. What happened to the cathedral was twofold. First of all, we -- the Episcopal Church in July of last year, after two decades of studying the matter, decided to approve a ritual, a rite for the blessing of same-sex covenants with the proviso that in places where same-sex marriage was legal that service could be adapted for same-sex marriage.
NNAMDIThen in November last year, Maryland passed the referendum that approved same-sex marriage in Maryland. So the Episcopal Diocese of Washington where the cathedral is, that diocese, suddenly in the entire diocese both the District and in Maryland, same-sex marriage was legal. And so Bishop Buddy, the spiritual leader of our diocese, articulated a new policy about same-sex marriage for the entire diocese.
HALLAnd I felt that the cathedral needed as the cathedral, the diocese needed to implement that, and that it was really kind of a done discussion in the Episcopal Church. I think it's been a little bit more newsworthy than I thought it would be, frankly, because, as you alluded to earlier, we have a kind of role beyond the Episcopal Church. So even though the Episcopal Church has come to kind of consensus about same-sex marriage over the last couple decades, there are other parts of the Christian community that have not.
HALLAnd there's been some confusion about that. But I would say largely that same-sex marriage strikes me as the right thing for the church to be offering to gay and lesbian people. I think it's very consistent with the church's historic teaching over -- about marriage over time. And largely, it's been very positively responded to by people in our life.
NNAMDIIt did cause for a while some schism in the church.
NNAMDIThe church, it's my understanding, is in the process of rethinking its position about marriage. The Book of Common Prayer has not been amended. What's that process like?
HALLWell, there is actually now a study group since this last general convention over the next three years, that's going to be studying marriage. You know, the teaching about marriage is very interesting. I mean the people that are opposed to same-sex marriage have said, well, this is the deal breaker, and we've got to leave because the teaching about marriage is central to our definition of the church.
HALLIn fact, the church's teaching about marriage has never been a core part of our doctrine. I mean, we didn't even start marrying people for the first several 100 years of our existence. Marriage has always been a kind of secular social arrangement that religious communities have come into and made a theology of. But, you know, the Bible itself has several understandings of marriage. I mean, there's polygamy in the early parts of the Bible. There is levirate marriage, where, if a man dies, his brother marries his widow.
HALLThere's all kinds of different variations of marriage in the Bible. And our position about marriage has been evolving even as recently as 19 -- 1896. Our vows were love, honor and obey for the woman. Love, honor and cherish for the man. So we're in a long process where our teaching about marriage has tried to keep up with our understanding of what God is up to. And I think we're in a process of redefining marriage in our own tradition. But we still do technically define marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on line. We're going to take a short break. But when we come back, we will take your calls. The number is 800-433-8850. Our guest is The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral. Do you think of churches as places that encourage and foster social activism? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you a regular visitor to Washington National Cathedral? What brings you there? You can call us at 800-433-8850. Before you go to the phones, it turns out your father was an actor. I didn't tell you this before the show because you mentioned your parents several times in our earlier conversation.
NNAMDII guess I should believe -- begin this part of the conversation by saying, Father, forgive me because I did not who your father was.
NNAMDIWhen I was growing up in Guyana, South America and first started going to the movies on my own, so to speak, my parents sent me there with my older brother in the 1950s. He immediately took me to what he always felt were his favorite movies featuring The Bowery Boys.
HALLOh, my goodness. My goodness.
NNAMDIYour father, Huntz Hall, was Sach...
NNAMDI...one of The Bowery Boys that my brother admired the most. And because I admired everything my brother did, I ended up admiring him the most. And so when reading about you, I discovered that your father was Huntz Hall, I said, oh, we have an even greater connection than the Episcopal Church.
HALLWell, it's a pleasure because, you know, The Bowery Boys, for some reason, have not caught on in the culture the way The Three Stooges have.
HALLAnd so my father is not as well-remembered or well-known as, say, Shemp Howard, who is my godfather, actually, one of The Three Stooges. But I'm always pleased to meet someone who remembers The Dead End Kids and The Bowery Boys and The East Side Kids. And actually, they're re-releasing their -- The Bowery Boys is now on DVD through Warner Brothers. So I'm hoping -- and they're on Turner Classic Movies every year.
NNAMDIYeah. When I first came to this country in the 1960s, I was able to see them on TV.
HALLThey were on TV all the time.
NNAMDIPlus The East Side Kids, The Dead End Kids. Your mom was a costume designer. And for a time, you wrote jokes for comedian Steve Allen, who's really much more than a comedian.
NNAMDIDid that experience and exposure have any influence on your later life, maybe help you to be more at ease when you started delivering sermons?
HALLOh, sure. I mean, my mom -- actually, just to give my mom -- my mom's still alive. She's in the Motion Picture Home. My mother did the clothes for big TV shows: "Bewitched," "Get Smart," Mary Tyler Moore and then all the MTM shows after that. My mother is hugely influential. Mary Tyler Moore's whole look in the '70s was really my mother's creation. And she was very prominent in that work for a while.
HALLAnd then Steve was a huge influence on me. I mean, I got involved going to "The Steve Allen Show" first and then submitting jokes and writing jokes when they'd give me things to write about through Steve's office. And I actually stayed close with Steve for the rest of his life and did his funeral when he died in 2000.
NNAMDIAnd for those of you who may not know and who watched "David Letterman" today, Steve Allen created "The Tonight Show."
NNAMDIHe was the first host of it, yes.
HALLHe was the first talk show host and had a number of talk shows over the years. I think -- a couple of things about show business. First of all, it made me decide I didn't want to go into it after a while. I mean, I flirted with it up through the time I got to college. But then I decided really to do something more -- the seminary was much more down my -- much more focused with my interest.
HALLBut I think, you know, the church right now is at a period in its life when we really need to reposition ourselves. We need to be able to get our message out in a variety of ways: the media, the Internet, social media, things like that. And I think the ability to communicate across the spectrum is really important. And I think, you know, the ability to write a joke probably keeps people awake a little bit during the sermon time.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Michelle in Washington, D.C. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. And first of all, I want to welcome you, dean. I am a third generation Episcopalian, and I am a member here in the Washington Diocese but originally from Wilmington, Del., where Canon Lloyd Casson has been a mentor to me all of my life in social justice.
HALLOh, sure. He's a great guy, great guy.
MICHELLEYes. And so, therefore, that said, it has -- I had taken a strong and active position in that of environmental racism and environmental justice and climate justice, and we really need the church. We -- there was a time when the church was really, really, really strong and active with us, and I'm sure Kojo Nnamdi can further stand on that when Damu Smith and others were really in the frontlines of this. But we really need the resurgence of that. And I want to know, and we can talk offline if I can share information with you...
MICHELLE...as to how we can work together. But I also would like to encourage you to look at The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew's website on their (unintelligible) where they're asked me to do a message for the Mother Earth on Sundays, and this is where we're speaking from it. So thank you so very much. And I wanted to know your thoughts on environmental justice and racism and climate justice. Thank you.
NNAMDIMichelle, thank you very much for your call. Her reference was to the late Damu Smith who is a friend of mine and an environmental justice activist who died a few years ago.
HALLI -- two thoughts about that, one of them is in my lifetime, the environmental theology has actually become, I would say, the major contribution of the 20th century to theology has been environmental consciousness. A number of major theologians, Sallie McFague and others, have really written significantly about our need to care for the earth as a kind of theological demand on Christian people. I'm knew the District. I need some schooling on the environmental justice issues here. I'm from Los Angeles, and at Pasadena, we did a lot of work on environmental justice.
HALLThere is -- for example, in Los Angeles, there's the Interstate 5 corridor where people on both sides of Interstate 5, the cancer rate is much higher because of the pollution that is -- and that's obviously poorer people are on either sides of Interstate 5. And I know that those -- that environment is a justice issue, and it goes beyond just care for the planet, but there is kind of social justice advocacy issue. And I really need to be schooled about that as a new person in the District and understand the implications for this area.
NNAMDIWell, maybe you can school some other people on this issue. Raymond in McLean emails, "The National Cathedral has held itself out over the years as a house of prayer for all people, not just Episcopalians, not just Christians, but all people. Is that still the cathedral's intention? And if so, how does that work?"
HALLThe Episcopal Church is, you know, one -- is the technical denomination in which the cathedral stands. Many people think, for some reason, we're nondenominational church. And when I got this job, a number of my friends said, how did you get the job 'cause I thought it went from Catholics to Protestants to Jews or something? And I said, no, it's a -- it really is a -- it's an Episcopal church.
HALLBut it's always -- part of our mission is to be a spiritual home for the nation and a house of prayer for all people. And so, yes, we sort of stand in our denominational identity, but we stand in it expansively and inclusively. And we have a number of events, Lutheran events and other faith tradition events there that are not Episcopalian. And we host, you know, we just hosted the inaugural prayer service.
NNAMDII was about to say you recently hosted the inaugural prayer service which had a lot of influential attendees, many of them non-Episcopalians.
NNAMDIWhen you prepare a sermon for an audience like that, do you approach it differently than you would a Sunday sermon when you were at church, say, in Taunton, Mass.?
HALLOh, absolutely. I mean, although I think we're at a period in interfaith life where when I was first in this -- in the ministry, we tended to try find some lowest common denominator where Buddhist, Muslims, Jews and Christians could all talk to each other. I think we're at a point now in our life in the interfaith community where we're really realizing people need to stand in their traditions and reach out to each other across the traditions and engage each other critically in their tradition.
HALLSo one of the groups I'm most interested in is -- there's a new group called Scriptural Reasoning, which if you go to their -- if you look them up on Google, they're a group of people centered in Cambridge, Mass., that bring Christian, Jewish and Muslim bible scholars together, and they all look at a piece of scripture. So they'll take a piece of, say, they'll take a passage from the Quran, and the imam will look at it, the rabbi will look at it and the Christian Bible scholar will look at it.
HALLAnd rather than trying to say what some sort of lowest common denominator thing we can find about it, let's find out how the different traditions all can inform each other in their own traditions, and so I think that's the place we're in now. So when I speak to a multi-faith audience, I try to speak from a Christian prospective, realizing that if I'm authentic in my own tradition and they're authentic in their traditions and we're open to each other, we can really have a deeper dialogue than trying to find places where we're all going to necessarily agree.
NNAMDIOn to Bobby in Washington, D.C. Bobby, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBBYHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on the show today. How are you, guys?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
BOBBYWell, my question is kind of going back to what you guys are talking about earlier, Christians involved in the political arena. I've been involved in a number of churches in my life, and I guess I find myself getting frustrated that all I see on the national political stage is sort of the Christian coalition, the right and these very specific issues of abortion or gay rights. And my question is, how do we as Christians get involved in the political arena when most of our churches, they all get involved in non-profits?
BOBBYAnd there's no real direct way for me as a member of a church to be involved in politics and in issues beyond gay rights and abortion such as gun control or even economics. Or how do we engage as a church, our local politicians? I'd like to hear your input on the organizations that are doing a good job or what's needed to do a better job.
HALLWell, that's really, you know, a good question. You know, the people in the '80s when the evangelical conservatives became so active, they essentially took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King and William Sloane Coffin Jr. I mean, King -- the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was a church group. And the activism that led to the Civil Rights Act and the desegregation of America was essentially a church -- it started -- I mean, it had allies from beyond the church, but it essentially started as a church movement.
HALLAnd when a lot of these more conservative groups started, they essentially kind of took a page from the progressive book and organized themselves. And I've never been opposed to them organizing. My point has been always that the kind of mainline denominations, for some reason, sort of lost their steam about standing for issues. You know, the Episcopal Church -- many people that go to our church probably don't know the Episcopal Church has been opposed to the death penalty for the last 100 years.
HALLMany people probably don't know the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty because a lot of their energy goes into other social issues. There are some really good groups. I mean, we're working with a group called Faith United Against Gun Violence. Vinnie Demarco is the leader of that. That's been a very helpful group. And that's entirely inter-faith organized group.
HALLJim Wallis, the head of Sojourners here in Washington, D.C., the Sojourners community, if you go to their website, they've been the kind of evangelical, much more evangelical than I am as an Episcopalian. But Jim Wallis is an evangelical progressive leader, and that group, Sojourners, has been doing wonderful work about issues for years.
HALLThe other thing I'd say is that every mainline Christian denomination has a Washington -- we wouldn't call them lobbyist because we're a little too polite for that, but we'd call them the public affairs office. There's an office down at -- there's a building down near Capitol Hill that has all of our public affairs offices. And you can contact the public affairs office of your own denomination and find out what their position papers are in issues and find out how to get involved that way.
NNAMDIBobby, thank you very much for your call. We move on to John in Bethesda, Md. John, your turn.
JOHNYeah. Let me start this off by saying that I'm a non-believer of either religion. It's one of the biggest cons ever put on human beings. It would be nice if it got with all the other religions, Jews, Muslims and all the other religions and come to a conclusion that you should be just doing good just because we're human and drop the religion part. I'm coming at this from, I guess, the John Lennon perspective. But what I want to say is...
NNAMDIWell, let me deal with one question at...
JOHN...I don't believe in...
NNAMDIWait. Hold on a second, John. I want to deal with one question at a time. I'll let you get to the second of the question because a recent study found that one-fifth of Americans have no religious affiliation. I wonder what you make of that and of the overall state of religion in the U.S. and how you see that reflected within the Episcopal Church. And then we'll go back to John for the rest of his question.
HALLSure. I think, you know, again, as I said, you know, earlier, I came out of -- I came from no religious background essentially. You know, the religion in my family was, you know, in some sense, progressive politics. And so I really do have some -- I have a lot of friends especially my California friends who are not religious. And I understand that point of view, and I have a lot of respect for that point of view. I have a lot of respect for the humanistic point of view and for the John Lennon, you know, "And no religion too." It was Cee Lo Green that changed it to "all religions' true." But John Lennon...
NNAMDISo you keep up?
HALLYeah. John Lennon was it's -- "And no religion too." So, you know, and in some sense, I think Jesus -- this will really probably get me in trouble, but I think Jesus is, in some sense, being critical of religion. He's being critical of established religion. One of the great ironies is that those of us that follow Jesus have, in a sense, built up a system that is, in many ways, similar to the system that he was criticizing.
HALLI mean, he was criticizing a kind of religious establishment that said it was the authentic way towards the holy, and Jesus was kind of challenging that and critiquing that. And I think Christianity at its best is always closest to Jesus when it is closest to the kind of critique of religion, John, that you're raising. So I actually see your thing, and I'm very congenial to your point of view.
HALLI think also, though, this -- we are at a point -- and one of the reasons I think why I wanted to come to the Washington National Cathedral is that we are at a point of changing attitudes about religion. We are at a point of great changing demographics about church attendance. Church attendance across the board is declining precipitously. Fewer and fewer people are going to church. I think for a lot of people, that's because they think the church is not a credible place to pursue their experience of God.
HALLThey see us as kind of obsessed with our own issues and concerns. And I think if a place like Washington National Cathedral has a future, which I think it does have a future, and that I think if we have a future as a kind of iconic representative of religion in America, we have to be much more focused on how we're engaging and help -- how we're engaging the world and making change for the good, that we have to be much more missional and much less institutional in our understanding of ourselves.
HALLSo I think we are facing great changes in church attendance and great decline in church membership. And I think for us to be relevant, and we have to continue, you know, I'm very pious traditionally. And, you know, I actually believe all the stuff I preach on a Sunday. But I think we need to live out our faith much more programmatically and missionally in the life of the world for people to see that we're actually making a difference.
NNAMDIAnd, John, for the rest of your question. Hi, John. Are you there?
JOHNWell, yes. I'm here. I -- well, I mean, that's good. It's all good, but still have this church thing, and it's -- to me, it gets in the way. It's the reason there's a lot of wars. Do you -- I mean, you just called conflict just by the nature of being. And the truth of the matter is -- and the realism as it is -- all there really is is us human beings, and religion is just made up. I mean, I'm just reminding you of what you said about 20 minutes ago.
JOHNYou're thinking about what God is thinking to change these guys' rituals on religion. I mean, that's an insane statement right there. And I would interject that the only reason churches are leaning towards gay marriage is -- which I think you should because they're human beings just like me and you -- is a business reason: money. There's a lot of gays in churches, and I'm sure they feel neglected by the way you've been treating them so far. And I'm glad to see that things are changing, but I can't help but believe that it's done for a monetary reason just like...
NNAMDIWell, John, you are entitled to your cynicism about the church. What we were trying to get -- what we are trying to get from the Very Rev. Gary Hall are his views on how the Episcopal Church at this point in history should be playing a role in the social and religious life of the country and indeed the world and how it should be establishing local ties. So thank you very much. But I want to go to another individual who identifies himself as an atheist but seems to bring another perspective -- Carl in Arlington, Va. You're on the air, Carl. Go ahead, please.
CARLHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me. I just wanted to, maybe as a counterpoint, say that I consider myself -- I describe myself as devout atheist, but I still love visiting the National Cathedral. We take our kids there, and I just view it as kind of a work of art and a local landmark. I mean, I think it speaks far beyond religion as an institution.
NNAMDIWhat say you, Rev. Gary Hall?
HALLWell, a couple of things. I want to get back to John, too, a little bit. You know, I think ultimately, the atheist-believer divide is probably a kind of inexplicable thing. And I think, you know, I tend to use -- even before I was a church person, I had a kind of profound sense of the reality of God, and that's just been a part of my life. I can't rationally explain why that is. It just is part of my experience.
HALLBut, again, I do think -- I have many atheist friends. I would actually describe myself as a kind of non-theistic Christian in the sense that I think that, again, part of what Jesus is critiquing in his teaching is a kind of construction of God that he feels gets in the way. But I also am very congenial to your idea that -- of the cathedral as a kind of cultural landmark and a kind of work of art.
HALLAnd I do think part of the reason for the cathedral's existence is to be a kind of transcendent space, however you understand that, whether you understand that theistically or whether you understand that aesthetically. There just needs to be more beauty and transcendence in our life, it seems to me, as human beings for us to live abundantly.
NNAMDIThere are probably a lot of people who live or work in this city who have never set foot inside Washington National Cathedral or visited its grounds. That's something you would like to change. How do you plan to go about it?
HALLI will -- I feel very strongly that the cathedral continues to have a national ministry. I mean, it was founded with the idea of its being a kind of house of prayer for the nation, and we have always been a kind of larger-than-Washington institution. I'm concerned, as is the bishop, that at this next phase of our life, we need to continue that national trust. And we also need to be much more the cathedral for the Diocese of Washington, and we need to be much more connected to the other parts of the District of Columbia.
HALLFor example, I'm keenly aware, having spoken out about gun violence and preached after Newtown, I'm keenly aware that the church has largely been silent for decades of urban gun violence in our cities. The Episcopal Church in Chicago, where I recently served, has been really ahead of many other parts of the country on this. But I think for the cathedral really to live out its ministry, we need to be present in the other parts of the District than the Northwest.
HALLAnd so one of the ways I would like to get the cathedral to be more on the map for people in the District is actually to restart some of the programs. We used to have a program in the District where kids, elementary public school kids, came through for tours about Gothic architecture. We had to stop those several years ago when we went through a kind of a budget crunch.
HALLI would like to restart a program to bringing kids on to our campus to really just experience, again, the kind of thing that John was talking about, the kind of artistic treasure that's at the cathedral. But I also want us to be much more in partnership with churches in other neighborhoods in the District so that we really are a presence, that people come to us, but that we're also a presence in other neighborhoods in D.C.
NNAMDICarl, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation with the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral. If you have called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. If you have never been to Washington National Cathedral and you live or work in D.C., what has kept you away? Send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral. We got an email from Betsy, who says, "So much has changed in the last few years that it became difficult to pin down the cathedral's mission, and finance has dominated. I would like to hear the new dean's thoughts on where the cathedral is financially and whether it's refocusing its mission."
HALLThat's actually central to my work. The cathedral did get itself in a bad place financially. And I think it -- and, again, having served institutions that were similar, both seminaries and parishes in Chicago and Detroit and in Philadelphia, there is a tendency of established Episcopal institutions to just think of themselves as part of a culture that was going to go on the way it was forever.
HALLAnd four, five years ago, when the economy went through the recession, the cathedral really had to do a serious rethinking of itself. And it cut about 60 percent of its staff, and it reduced its budget from about $25 million a year to about 15. When -- they also did a strategic planning process, and it really has been clear that for the cathedral to have a future, a robust future -- I mean, it's got enough endowment, and it's in financially -- now we are in good, stable financial shape right now. We have a bunch of earthquake damage.
NNAMDII was about to say millions in earthquake damage.
HALLTwenty million dollars.
NNAMDIHow are those restoration efforts coming along?
HALLWell, what we've done is we haven't -- we basically stabilized. We have a very generous grant from the Lilly Endowment for $5 million. So we're beginning some of the work on the east end of the cathedral and the ceiling inside the cathedral so the netting can come down. But essentially, we have about another $15 million to raise, but the cathedral's been stabilized. That's probably going to take a good decade to get that work done. Our -- but our finances are basically stable. Our budget is basically stable.
HALLBut our mission -- we need to really refocus ourselves on being more than just the place that does large public ceremonial events for the nation. We need to really have a kind of programmatic and missional future. And for me, coming out of that strategic plan in terms of my own vision, it's tied to the intersection of faith and public life not only things like gun control but how are we as the kind of faith community involved in issues of poverty and justice and...
NNAMDIYou want to reach out to younger people. You'd also like to see greater diversity within your congregation. Why is that such a challenge not just for the Episcopal Church but, as you point out, all mainline religions?
HALLThe Episcopal Church has 81 percent white. And as the demographics -- the two kind of hard statistics to hold in your hand at the same time is the Episcopal Church is 81 percent white. In 2040, there will be no majority race in America. And so, you know, the same things that are affecting the Republican Party and other institutions are affecting the Episcopal Church.
HALLWe have to become -- not only for good theological reasons but for survival reasons, we've got to become more attractive to people of color and to people of varieties of ethnic and national traditions. And we have done a very good job of -- we have historical black congregations in America. We have growing ethnic ministries. But our big churches, like the cathedral, and our big suburban churches have got to become more diverse and more welcoming to people across the color scheme because America is not going to look -- is not going to be majority white in 2040.
NNAMDIHere is Turaj (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Turaj, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TURAJSure. I just want to say thank you. I think this is a very provocative discussion. It's been a great topic. And by way of and sort of environmental racism, I was just beginning to understand not only the local issues. I suggest you reach out to Brett Williams at American University, which is just up the road there from the National Cathedral. But my -- I'm trying to think whether I want to make a comment or give an invitation. I think an invitation at this point is best.
TURAJAnd my invitation regards sort of issues of the sort of demographic changes happening in D.C. It's clear that African-Americans are being pushed out on Washington, D.C., and most forcibly from public housing. You mentioned the earthquake just a few seconds ago. And the earthquake also impacted the infrastructure in Barry Farm, knocking off the external stucco, revealing that the led-base paint and asbestos-made structure wasn't remedy in their closing off in 1990 but, in fact, was just...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time pretty faster. Barry Farm is a public housing development in Southeast Washington. Go ahead, please.
TURAJSure, and I'm sorry. And -- but these people are now being told that they are -- will have to move and, oh, we will bring you back. But its clear that black people are being pushed out of the city...
NNAMDIAnd you like to know what Very Rev. Gary Hall feels that should be done about that? I'll have him his respond. Mayor Vincent Gray last night in his State of the District Address saying that he was going to be putting a $100 million toward affordable housing in the District of Columbia. But, I guess, that's one of the issues you have to catch up on.
HALLWell, but I have some track record on that issue. You know, it's interesting. My dad, First Avenue and 29th Street, New York City, Manhattan now, you got to be a millionaire to live in Manhattan. I mean, my family -- my dad was a working class guy, and he, you know, it sounds like the District is turning into Manhattan in some way. And I think that's a real concern.
HALLAnd in L.A., also East Pasadena and Leo Baeck Temple, the reform temple on the west side of L.A., started the Church and Temple Housing Corporation, which actually bought up affordable housing so that it wouldn't get redeveloped, so that there could actually be affordable housing in certain parts of Los Angeles. I think the cathedral and, again, nonprofits that have endowments and resources to think about this. I think public housing is probably a really important issue especially so that we don't become, you know, a gentrified urban place.
NNAMDIOn to -- thank you for your call. On to Arlene in Springdale, Md. Arlene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARLENEHi. Thank you. And thank you for reading my mind. My question when the screener asks was, what do you want to talk about comments and questions? And I said I want to talk about the renovation project...
ARLENE...as a result of following the earthquake. So you answered that. And I am African-American. And my other comment is the fact that I had a granddaughter that go to the National Cathedral School for girls. After transferring from Holton-Arms, she went to the lowest school in the upper school and got a wonderful education there. I had a nephew who go to St. Albans. My granddaughter was in the class of Sarah Gore, Al Gore's daughter...
ARLENE...and had a wonderful time there at the school. She was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. She turned down MIT to my husband's chagrin and went on to get her masters at Stanford in engineering. So...
NNAMDIWell, on either side of the cathedral, you'll find the story of educational institutions St. Albans and the National Cathedral School. What's the relationship between the schools and the cathedral? And is there anything you'd like to see change there?
HALLWell, one of the reasons that they -- one of the reasons I think that I was chosen also, I have a long history as working in schools. I was the -- an -- a division head at Oakwood School in Los Angeles, and then I was a chaplain at Cranbrook School in Michigan. And I care a lot about both the future of public education, but also I think the church schools have a real role. The cathedral and the schools have some work to do, but we've got a really good relationship.
HALLThe heads of the three school -- we have a new head coming at Beauvoir. But the heads of the schools have been very supportive of me. You know, when the Cathedral and the schools were founded at the turn of the 20th century, the constituencies for the Cathedral and the schools were basically the same people. And over the last century, those constituencies have diverged. The parent body has become much more religiously diverse.
HALLThe cathedral, frankly, has become much more socially diverse so that it's not all prep school folks to go to the cathedral. It's not all Episcopalians that go to the schools. We are really working together to find a common mission together for the cathedral and the schools. We are yoked together, we're all part of the same foundation, and we're going to continue to be very closely related. And I want to deepen that connection as much as I possibly can 'cause those places so much.
NNAMDIArlene, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Jeff, who says, "My partner and I happened to attend the MLK Sunday service at the National Cathedral, and we were bowled over by Dean Hall's powerful anti-gun violence sermon. Bravo, sir. I say we happened to attend the National Cathedral that Sunday because we are currently feeling estrange from our current church home, a prominent local United Methodist Church."
NNAMDIAnd then we got this email from Peter in Falls Church, who says, "Over the last 30 years or so, religious leaders who have taken conservative political stance, such as Jerry Falwell, have often been strongly criticized for doing so, so, hence I expect you anticipate and are OK with getting equal criticism for taking liberal political stance."
HALLSure. I mean, that's just part of the territory. You know, again, my issue is how do I stand in my, you know, I believe that the positions I'm taking are the public positions of kind of consensus Christianity from my position. I realized there are people that differ with me. And I am sorry that my brother and sister Christians and others denominations of Christianity have not -- have been slow on the LGBT issue. But my feeling is that that's a moving train.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Will you come back and visit with us again?
HALLOh, I'd love to.
NNAMDIThe Very Rev. Gary Hall is the dean of the Washington National Cathedral. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo and guests explore what you can learn about D.C. by riding its bus system.
T.C. Boyle's latest novel explores the darker side of the American ideal of freedom, from a woman who follows the extreme libertarian "sovereign citizen" movement to a disturbed young man who models himself on the pioneer John Colter.
It's your turn to discuss these topics or whatever is on your mind.