Interview with Rev. Gary Hall, Episcopal priest who’s new dean at Washington National Cathedral

Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington National Cathedral. Photo credit: Washington National Cathedral

The new dean of Washington National Cathedral, Rev. Gary Hall, made headlines in recent weeks with his calls for gun control and announcing that the cathedral – considered America’s house of worship – will perform gay marriages.

His previous position was rector of the biggest Episcopal church in Michigan, Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. Before he left, Rev. Hall spoke with Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press on a range of issues.
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Cranbrook rector bound for D.C. talks religion, politics

 By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Published in Detroit Free Press on Sunday, 10/7/2012

Page: 7A

     Raised in Hollywood amid celebrities as the son of a noted actor, Rev. Gary Hall wasn’t into church during his early years.  But that changed after he learned about the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. He remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visiting southern California and hearing Malcolm X speak when he was a teenager. He once wrote jokes for TV host Steve Allen, who influenced his social views. And during his freshman year at Yale, the university’s chaplain was arrested on the steps of the Pentagon, another act that drew Hall to liberal Christianity.

Last week, Hall, 62, became dean of Washington National Cathedral, the national seat of the Episcopal Church and considered America’s house of worship. The move came after he served as rector at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, the biggest Episcopal Church in Michigan. He was also the chaplain at Cranbrook’s high school.

“There are people in this parish that think I have dangerously, crazy ideas about things, ” he jokes about his progressive beliefs.

Hall’s new position will put his liberal views on the national stage at a time when religion and politics are hotly contested issues. He wants to make the cathedral a place of interfaith dialogue and “conversation about the role of religion in public life, ” Hall said.

There are churches that “show you a kind of angry, not welcoming Christianity, ” Hall explained from his office. “We want to be the other side of that, to show there’s a humane, hospitable, inclusive, tolerant Christianity.”

Hall, who received a doctorate in English, spoke with the Free Press on a range of topics, from marriage to politics to other religions.

Among the conversation topics:

On religion and public policy: “I’m a believer in the separation of church and state. The First Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof…. It’s a very hard case to make that America ever was a Christian nation. I think it’s naïve to say the founders were Christian, that biblical values are behind the Constitution…. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean (religious people) shouldn’t have a voice in public policy. Faith communities taking positions on public policy matters is an important and established part of our public life.

“What I don’t think is appropriate is for one tradition to try to impose its own moral point of view on the populace.”

On the role of religion in presidential politics: “I get nervous when certain religious groups want to make religious faith a sort of litmus test. The religious affiliation of any candidate is unimportant to me. And whether or not God is mentioned in (either) party platform is unimportant to me. What’s important to me are the social values that are being advocated in that platform.”

On non-Christian faiths: “I do believe there is truth in every tradition. I’m not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me….

“I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians. The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism….

“I taught at Cranbrook a class (this year) where I had to teach the Quran, which I read for the first time in my life. I was stunned by how beautiful it was.”

On gay marriage: (Hall edited and contributed to a 2009 book used by Episcopalians: “Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, ” which supports gay marriage.) “I don’t understand the argument when people say: ‘Gay marriage threatens your marriage.’ I want to say to them: ‘No, Britney Spears being married for a day and a half threatens your marriage. Or these reality TV shows. The gay and lesbian people I know take marriage as seriously as straight couples….

“I think straight people have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian families, about what real mutuality and real sharing is. (With gay couples), things are much more mutual and shared and equal. And I think that’s a powerful witness that straight people like me can learn from.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter.com/nwarikoo

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