Glass Houses

In my last post I compared modernism and postmodernism. This past week an important example of modernist architecture has been in the news: the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA. Televangelist Robert Schuller’s once thriving megachurch is now in bankruptcy, and the Archdiocese of Orange County has agreed to buy the property for $57.5M in order to make the Crystal Cathedral into a Catholic cathedral. In addition to the sleek glass structure, the property includes the original drive-in church building designed by the Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra, who along with others defined California Modernism in the mid 20th century. (One of the few East Coast examples of Neutra’s work is Mellon Hall on the St. John’s College campus here in Annapolis, right across the street from the Naval Academy where I teach.)

A strange footnote to the story of the Crystal Cathedral’s demise was the announcement earlier this year that choir members would have to sign a covenant which included an anti-gay statement. (You can read a news story about the policy here.) Although it did not specifically forbid gays from singing in the choir, the statement certainly would make them feel unwelcome. The policy is ironic because the towering glass sanctuary where the choir sings was designed by the famous architect Philip Johnson who was an openly homosexual man. The now retired founding pastor Robert Schuller denounced the anti-gay covenant approved by his daughter and current senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman. To the younger Schuller I say, those who preach in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

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