In case you missed it Louie Giglio was scheduled to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration but has chosen to withdraw from the ceremony due to questions about an “anti-gay sermon” he gave in the mid-1990s.
Here was part of his formal reply …
“” … dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration … Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing.”
and part of Addie Whisenant’s spokeswoman for the Inaugural Committee, response …
“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural … As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.”
First things first, what is up with that committee? They are 0 for 2 now, which is mind-boggling. Their job does not look that hard to me. History class told me the date has been preselected for January 20th (which falls on a Sunday so this year it will actually be the 21st – not hard), the elections pretty much create the guest list, and just about everything is delegated. I assume the Secret Service already know they’re handling security detail, I assume the audio/visual team is available as they mic the President every day, I assume the media will play their part as well. So what does this Inauguration Committee really do – pick a couple musicians, pick a few speakers, remind the Chief Justice, find the President’s Bible of choice and order the cake.
Now I’d like to assume they are not literally the same members from four years ago, but it hardly makes a difference. Not trying to be mean here but do they really not know anything about American Evangelicalism? I’m not asking them to listen to anyone’s sermons for the last 20 years and I know we are told “initially” that it was the President himself who wanted Giglio because of their common interest in fighting human trafficking and so the Committee went on that but it seems some research and a phone interview could have not only avoided this type of embarrassment but also avoided fueling the fire of the culture war.
Second, I like how they conveniently forgot that this is actually an enormous cultural debate today. You know it’s still a cultural debate when gay marriage has not been made a federal law yet and you also know that it’s a cultural debate when the President himself did not hold this position until six months ago. …. you put the President and millions of other Americans in an awkward position when you use such absolute language “this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans” so close to when he’s changed positions. It’s almost as if Whisenant is rolling her eyes as if to say, “Thankfully the President changed his mind so that he could attend his own inauguration.” I’m sure she’s not intending on saying that but that is what I am hearing. Further, you remember that whole thing with Chick-Fil-A and the millions of people who bought chicken in one day? It seems clear that all sides need to work on civil cultural discussion so we can live up to these words.
As you can tell, I am disappointed in how all this and countless years of name-calling, bullying, marginalizing, and out-right hating has gone on by all sides. I confess it’s difficult to know and then apply the Christ-like response in episodes like this, especially ones attached to an enormous societal conversation.
If you know me or have been following this blog closely, you know that I am sympathetic to the gay community. I am not afraid of gay marriage and further, I have freely admitted that I and my fellow evangelical believers need to do a better job in conversation and true friendship with those who identify themselves with LGBTQ Community. I believe we are all sinners, that we are all born flawed, sinful and broken and that each aspect of our lives can only be restored by our faith in Jesus who gives forgiveness and grace freely to those who place their trust in Him. Sentences like these tell you that I frustrate my fellow evangelicals and that I frustrate members and supporters of the gay community as well. I want it to be true when I say that I love people, all people, so may God give me strength but I don’t take any of this lightly and I remain grateful for the discussions I’ve been able to have with those who are willing to listen and I hope I am regarded as a good listener as well.
All this points to just how complicated these conversations really are. I am a firm believer that the way forward is not by continuing the culture war. This is not to say “they” are right, this is not to say “we” are wrong, but this is to say that as Christ-followers, we need to speak to one another in love and be Christ-like.
I caught a tweet from a guy I follow on Twitter, (Jimmy Spencer Jr.) who said, “Can Evangelicals imagine they’re simply reaping what they’ve sown w/ #Giglio events? Shoe’s just on the other foot now.”
Now I don’t really care too much about things like inaugural prayers just like I don’t care about nativity sets on public spaces and so forth. You want prayers and nativity sets? Come to my church, come to my house, hopefully we’ll show you something even better than a fancy prayers and plastic babies.
What I do care about is how people are treated. I do care about public discourse and cultural engagement. Things felt pretty harsh if you were on the wrong side of public opinion yesterday. Admittedly, I am irritated by how Louie has been treated in all of this. He was thrown to the lions in thousands of comment sections, labeled a “bigot” in national newspapers, obviously the Inauguration Committee’s statement threw him under the bus and the President looked the other way. Now I know the comment sections are akin to virtual gutters in our society but Louie Giglio is not like the Fred Phelps’ and those types who only condemn the sins they don’t have. So labeling him a “bigot” for a sermon he preached 15-20 years ago on a subject that he probably would likely be addressing much differently today seems woefully ignorant on a societal level.
So, what is the Christ-like response?
It seems easy to say, “Well, shake the dust off your feet and move on.”
And I do think that’s part of it. But it depends on how we (or Louie in this case,) apply the metaphor. What exactly is moving on to the next village in this case? To turn our back on the conversation that we’ve already done a terrible job with seems unwise and illogical for the metaphor.
A lot was said yesterday, a lot needs to be processed, some needs to be critiqued and refuted. But still, let us shake off any of the anger, the resentment, the unfairness that came upon us. Because what this world needs more is for Christians to respond in true compassion, rooted in Scripture and prayer, led by the Spirit and resolved not to gain power or status but rather to humbly serve the Father and truly love others as Jesus did.
To my fellow brothers and sisters who have either told me that I am naive about the culture war, that have warned me of the “slippery slope,” and who want to say, “I told you so!” I am working on a post for you next week. In the meantime, grateful that you reading these thoughts, would be honored if you passed them along to those who might benefit from them.
In the meantime, here’s Louie’s full statement that he released to his church Passion City that includes his White House statement:
Dear PCC Family,
Though I was invited by the President of the United States to pray at his upcoming inauguration, after conversations between our team and the White House I am no longer serving in that role. I sent the following statement to the White House today:
I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.
Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.
Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.
Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever we need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.
The issue of homosexuality (which a particular message of mine some 20 years ago addressed) is one of the most difficult our nation will navigate. However, individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.
As a pastor, my mission is to love people, and lead them well, while lifting up the name of Jesus above anything else. I’m confident that anyone who knows me or has listened to the multitude of messages I have given in the last decade would most likely conclude that I am not easily characterized as being opposed to people—any people. Rather, I am constantly seeking to understand where all people are coming from and how to best serve them as I point them to Jesus.
In all things, the most helpful thing I can do is to invite each of us to wrestle with scripture and its implications for our lives. God’s words trump all opinions, including mine, and in the end, I believe God’s words lead to life.
My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.
Honored to be your pastor,