Are we really going to make this a thing? It appears so. Every inauguration, we put a famous or influential member of the clergy up on the podium to voice a prayer for the new administration and for the country. Ideally, it seems to me, this prayer should be heartfelt but innocuous. You are praying for the country. This is not the time to judge or proselytize or celebrate a particular doctrine. This is a time for a homogenous expression of faith in a power greater than ourselves. The only ones who should be a bit offended should be the atheists, who actually take that separation of church and state idea to heart. They’ll roll their eyes and curse at our silly superstitions, they may even mutter something about a flying spaghetti monster, but, as usual, they’ll get over it and move on with their lives.
This year, the DC (designated clergy) was to be Louie Giglio. He is pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta. I’m not entirely familiar with his work. I only know that he runs a series of college student-oriented conferences (Christians LOVE their conferences!) called Passion Conferences. He has also become a bit of an Internet You Tube sensation as several of his sermons have gone viral. According to Wikipedia, “the ‘Laminin’ clip from his message ‘How Great Is Our God’ has been viewed over 3 million times.” I have no idea what “Laminin” is, but I plan to check it out this weekend. Probably the key reason he was selected has been his stance against human trafficking and slavery. His recent conferences have focused on this issue and have raised more than $3 million dollars to combat the problem. But then, some blog (ugh!) found a mid-1990s clip of Giglio that it characterized as “rabidly anti-LGBT.” It is a 54-minute sermon in which Giglio advocates for “ex-gay” therapy and “references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed and impels Christians to ’firmly respond to the aggressive agenda’.” This mirrors a similar problem they had with Pastor Rick Warren at the first inauguration. And it’s a bit awkward because the ceremony will also feature Richard Blanco as the inaugural poet, the first Hispanic and gay person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony.
Personally, it’s hard for me to get worked up over this. I would have been okay with Giglio praying. It’s just a prayer. What member of the clergy is all of America ever going to agree with? And in the mid-1990s, even Barack Obama had a different view on LGBT than he does today. A lot of us did. It’s still a little unclear whether Giglio withdrew on his own or was pushed. All statements from both sides make it sound like the withdrawal was a mutual decision. Fine. I’m sure the inauguration committee can find someone whose theology is more in line with the administration’s policies. I’m more amazed that they couldn’t have seen this coming sooner. I could have told them that just about any member of the evangelical clergy is going to be an uneasy fit. There are plenty of progressive Christians out there who would be a safer pick. But here’s another idea: why not stick with Giglio and simply say, “We don’t agree with everything he believes, but we celebrate his influence over the evangelical community in the cause of opposing human slavery.” There. Would that be so hard?
Of course, this whole brouhaha has enraged the righties. Their indignation is leading them to jump to the conclusion that they are no longer allowed to have their voices heard in the public square. It only feeds their irrational fears of government overreach, jack-booted thugs coming after their guns, and a trilateral global commission in the U.N. promoting the rise of the Antichrist. In fact, it really seems that the currency for many in the evangelical community over the last decade or so has been manufactured moral outrage. It is their “bread and butter.” Whether it is over slights to Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby or a sales clerk offering a cheerful “happy holidays,” moral outrage has proven to be very useful for them. It raises money; it pushes voters to the poles; it unifies their mission; it circles their wagons. If it’s not abortion, it’s Hollywood or gun control or the war on Christmas or the war on families or prayer in schools or just about anything that Obama ever says or thinks.
I’m not sure where Evangelicals get their expectations from. The Bible certainly doesn’t promise that, as a Christian, you will be honored and put up in plush hotel in order to voice a prayer that will be listened to and embraced by the world. It’s just not in there. Jesus does say, however, that “all men will hate you because of me” (Mt 10:22; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17). It also says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12). But insisting that the world puts you at the center of their policy, culture, and government? Not so much. Followers of Jesus were always meant to be more of a beneath the surface, behind the scenes kind of thing. That’s when it works best. Of course, I think Jesus meant that people would hate you because you stood up for the neglected and downtrodden, not because you condemned “sinners” to the fiery pits of hell. But, whatever…
I would love for Obama’s team to make this a teachable moment. Instead of condemning their enemies, as some evangelicals tend to do, they should reinstate the invite to Giglio to come and say his prayer. Highlight the work he’s done for good. Allow the LGBT discussion to be had.
The Bible says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). Why not show Giglio some love in an attempt to drive away the fear, rage, paranoia, and threats of eternal divine punishment. Highlight the value that we should be able to get along with, and even pray with, anybody.
It’s just a thought.
And besides, once I noticed that no one had used “American Giglio” for a headline yet, I just had to write this post. You can’t waste these things.