On January 8, the White House announced that the Rev. Louie Giglio, of Atlanta’s Passion City Church, had been asked to deliver the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration.
On January 9, the website Think Progress announced that, in the mid-1990s, Giglio had preached a sermon full of “rabidly anti-LGBT views.” They offered extensive excerpts from the sermon, which argued, based on passages from the Old and New Testaments, that “homosexuality . . . is sin according to the word of God,” and that “we must lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community.”
Later that day, the New York Times picked up the story, running the following quote from Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out: “It is imperative that Giglio clarify his remarks and explain whether he has evolved on gay rights, like so many other faith and political leaders.”
On January 10, as “criticism over the selection swirled” (in the words of CNN), Giglio withdrew from the inaugural ceremony.
If Louie Giglio’s fellow Christians aren’t taken aback by the ruthless efficiency with which he was disposed of, they should be. A mainstream evangelical pastor, teaching views derived from careful study of Scripture and held by millions of Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, around the world—while emphasizing that Christians should treat their opponents with love—has been publicly treated as some sort of extremist freak.
I can’t wait to see what happens the next time the pope and President Obama want to meet, can you?
The fact is, the way that Giglio was pilloried by the press and hung out to dry by the administration—a presidential spokeswoman hastened to put plenty of distance between Giglio and the White House as soon as he withdrew—reflects a shift in our culture that has been going on for quite some time. As LGBT advocates have worked to make acceptance of same-sex relations into a civil right, the fallout has been that traditional Christians, who see such relationships as contrary to God’s Word, have been increasingly portrayed as bigots.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that word myself. So have many other Christians. We’ve learned through experience that there’s an increasing number of people in this country to whom you can’t even mention that you hold traditional Christian views about sexuality. For if you do, they will consider it their moral duty to shun you. The Puritans had nothing on the modern enlightened liberal.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying that this is the way it is: Many of us have grown used to routinely hiding important truths about who we are and what we believe when we’re around strangers or even casual acquaintances. It’s all part of being a conservative Christian in the age of tolerance.
Chuck Colson used to speak of a “spiral of silence,” a cultural process in which people are made “afraid to express a position contrary to the acceptable one out of fear of reprisal.” This is exactly the kind of thing he was talking about.
There are those who defend Giglio by deploring the way that the media went digging into his past, without even considering if he had changed his views. And they have a point. The hysteria over a 20-year-old quote, as the Rev. Al Mohler pointed out, was worthy of Senator Joseph McCarthy. But they’re missing a bigger point: Giglio did not deserve to be treated this way even if his views hadn’t changed.
Wayne Besen’s words strike a particularly ominous note, with his insistence that Giglio demonstrate whether he had “evolved.” The underlying message seems to be “Evolve, or else.” The ominousness grows to positively Orwellian proportions when one looks at some of the other wording being thrown around.
For instance, there’s White House spokeswoman Addie Whisenant’s comment that Giglio’s sermon didn’t reflect “the strength and diversity of our country.” And then there’s Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, saying that “Participants in the Inaugural festivities should unite rather than divide.” “Unite,” in this context, apparently means “force to agree.”
All views are equal, but some views are more equal than others.
(Of course, nothing can beat the supreme irony of Thursday’s announcement that President Obama would take the oath of office on a “stack of historic Bibles.” Will the passages cited in Giglio’s sermon be clipped out of those Bibles?)
I can’t imagine the pressure Giglio was under, and it’s hard to blame him for withdrawing. He was worried, he said, that his prayer—not to mention his other ministry efforts—would be “dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” That’s a valid concern.
But I can’t help wishing he had refused to withdraw. Such a refusal would have reminded the nation that the president, as our elected leader, represents all Americans, not just his own party. And it would have demonstrated what it looks like for those of truly diverse views to work together for the good of the nation. Such sights are becoming all too rare.
Where the culture goes, the law often follows. Will we one day reach a point where conservative Christians will face the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of a church that calls homosexual relations a sin?” It seems far-fetched now. But when a pastor is driven out of the public arena in a democratic country for holding mainstream religious views, it starts to look as if almost anything can happen.
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