Sally Quinn can be a charming and entertaining writer, especially on the topic of throwing a great party. With her Saturday op-ed for The Washington Post, however, Quinn calls more attention to her poorly informed and utilitarian understanding of why a church exists. Quinn's column is a sales pitch for why President-elect Barack Obama and his family ought to attend Washington National Cathedral.
Quinn's lede bears an uncanny resemblance to what Amy Sullivan wrote a week ago for Time, but there the similarities end. Quinn shows no understanding that churches strive to draw people closer to God. She doesn't refer to the content or quality of sermons (other than mentioning that Congressman John Lewis preached one), or to a sense of community or even to social service. Instead, her appeal is to a hackneyed form of inclusivity:
Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness.
. . . "We are a place that welcomes people of all faiths and no faith," says [cathedral dean Sam] Lloyd, echoing Barack Obama's words of two years ago. "Whatever we once were," Obama said then, "we're no longer just a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers."
. . . I am drawn to the cathedral over all of the other sacred spaces in Washington because it is the most pluralistic of the places of worship I've been to.
Obama's words are an apt description of the United States in the 21st century. Applying those words to a Christian cathedral is an act of theological incoherence. Even if the President-elect believes that pluralism is the most important factor in choosing his family's church, he deserves a more spiritually informed invitation than Quinn offers.
Photo of Washington National Cathedral from Wikimedia Commons.