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Reverend Luis Leon and President George Bush

The normally restrained Rev. Luis Leon, seen here with President Bush, adopted a divisive tone in his Easter Sunday sermon. (Photo credit: Color Lines)

By Charlie Butts and Jody

[Editors note: This article originally appeared on the Instant Analysis website, quoting an interview with Mark Tooley.]

The Episcopal priest who brought politics to the pulpit on Easter Sunday is being accused of taking “cheap shots” at conservative Christians in a Washington, DC, venue while the First Family was in attendance.

St. John’s Episcopal Church – located across from the White House – is often referred to as the “church of the presidents” because for almost 200 years presidents have attended the church on occasion. That includes President Barack Obama and his family for Easter services this past Sunday.

The priest at St. John’s, Luis Leon, has preached there for 18 years and, according to reports, has attempted to remain non-partisan. In fact, Leon spoke at George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2005 and Barack Obama’s in January. But in his Easter sermon this week, Leon delivered a scathing attack on conservative Christians in a criticism of those who call for a return to “the good old days.”

“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back … for blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet, and for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” he said during his sermon.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) said Leon delivered “cheap shots” during a political message. “It’s sad when clergy egregiously politicize worship,” he added.

Tooley tells American Family News the priest was trying to portray the religious right as “racist and chauvinist and bigoted” – and that his message was inappropriate because the focus of Easter is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“[He] made it centrally a political message – and it’s sad on several different fronts,” says the IRD president. “But it means in essence at least under this particular priest, that that church cannot be a ‘church of the presidents’ but it can only be a church for liberal presidents.”

Tooley says Leon has aligned himself with the very liberal theological and political trends in the Episcopal Church – a move he says “has had a disastrous impact in reducing membership and overall spiritual and cultural influence” of the denomination.

Doesn’t Implicate the President

While many conservatives have taken the opportunity to criticize the president for Leon’s remarks, a respected Fox News political commentator says it should all be laid on the pastor – not on the president.

“The guy [Leon] knew that the press would be there. This was a way for an ambitious cleric to make himself heard and to make news,” said Charles Krauthammer. “But I would give the president a pass on this. This is not like Jeremiah Wright, in whose church he sat for 20 years, who was his mentor, who married him.”

And like Tooley, Krauthammer sees in Leon’s sermon the downward spiral of the Episcopal Church as it reflects more and more a liberal theology.

“The Episcopal Church, it used to be said of it a generation ago it was the establishment at prayer. And now, it’s the American left at prayer,” added the Fox News commentator. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why it and the other mainline denominations are in such decline. Because if you want a message like what Reverend Leon delivered, you go to a Democratic Party meeting or a pro-choice rally – you don’t go to church.”

On Monday, when asked about Luis Leon’s remarks, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined comment. Krauthammer believes Carney “has every right to stay away from this” because it does not “implicate” the president in any way.

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