This week the White House announced that Louie Giglio would offer the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration. Giglio isn’t a stranger to Obama or official White House events. Last year he prayed with the President at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast which I attended. At the time no one raised any objection to Giglio’s participation either in the media, or at the event which included those with more progressive views on the issue of gay rights. That is no longer the case. It seems that after the inauguration committee announced Giglio’s role, the Center for American Progress Action Fund discovered a sermon by Giglio from the 1990s titled “In Search of a Standard–Christian Response to Homosexuality.” In the message Giglio identifies homosexual activity as “sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin in the word of God.” He warned that the movement to normalize homosexuality “is not a benevolent movement,” and added, “It is a movement to seize by any means necessary the feeling and the mood of the day, to point where the homosexual lifestyle become accepted as a norm in our society.” (The full sermon can he heard here.) If you recall, President Obama provoked the anger of some gay rights advocates by selecting Rick Warren to pray at his first inaugural. Warren had supported Proposition 8 in California which sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. By selecting Louie Giglio this time, some in Obama’s coalition of supports are saying he failed to learn from the backlash four years ago. Attacks on Giglio have already begun. John Avarosis, who writes for Americablog, a site the covers LGBT issues, said, “You’d think that once burned, the Obama inaugural team would be twice shy about picking an antigay bigot for the swearing-in ceremony. Well, meet Rick Warren-lite, Pastor Louie Giglio.” Other gay rights activists are postponing judgment. Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, said, “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. It would be a shame to select a preacher with backward views on L.G.B.T. people at a moment when the nation is rapidly moving forward on our issues.” Obama’s inauguration committee said Giglio was selected, in part, because he is a leader within evangelicalism on the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery. He has organized the Passion Conference to tackle this problem and brought awareness to the church of the importance of freeing the oppressed. In the eyes of some gay rights advocates, however, Giglio’s positive efforts to end slavery do not outweigh his words regarding traditional sexual mores which some are labeling “hate” and “bigotry.” Giglio has not responded to the controversy or demands for clarification on his current views on the subject. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior religion editor at The Huffington Post and also a critic of Obama’s choice of Giglio, has expressed difficulty understanding why the president would chose another white evangelical when the group has never been part of his coalition of supporters. He writes:
After Obama won the presidency he held out an olive branch to the group that had most opposed his candidacy, white evangelicals, by asking their most visible leader to offer the most important prayer in the nation….Although there was quite an uproar, the Obama team stuck to their choice and Rick Warren offered the inaugural prayer. Unfortunately, the hoped for rapprochement never came as white evangelicals continued their suspicion and hostility towards the president, again overwhelmingly voting against him in 2012.
This unfolding drama raises a number of questions for me. 1. Given President Obama’s historic support of same-sex marriage, and his administration’s repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which now allows openly gay Americans to serve in the military, are there any lingering questions about his commitment to gay rights? The outcry over Louie Giglio might be more justified if the president were appointing him as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, but I don’t see how his offering of a blessing at the inaugural threatens gay rights in any substantive way. 2. I do not know what Louie Giglio’s current views are regarding homosexuality or the legalization of same sex marriage, but given the rapid shift that’s occurring in our culture on these matters–including within the younger evangelical community which is the segment Giglio’s ministry most engages–I’m not sure a message from two decades ago is enough to discern his present beliefs or attitude. 3. Even if Rev. Giglio continues to hold a traditional, conservative view on the matter of marriage and sexual activity, should that automatically disqualify him from any role in the public square? As I’ve written and spoken about elsewhere, the winner-take-all framing of the battle between traditional religious values and those advocated by the gay rights movement over the last 30 years, has been damaging to everyone and particularly the church. For decades conservative church leaders tried to push gay and lesbian Americans out of the public square. Now they are getting a taste of their own medicine as some LGTB activists, emboldened by a series of political and cultural victories, are saying religious Americas with traditional beliefs should be labeled “bigots” and barred from the public square. At some point justice, compassion, and common sense must prevail and acknowledge that both LGTB Americans and conservative religious Americans should be welcomed into the public square and affirmed for their commitment to sharing it with those holding different beliefs. A winner-take-all approach might make sense in a courtroom or legislature, but it cannot apply to a national public event like the inauguration. This new backlash over Louie Giglio shows we have a long way to go before the idea of a shared public square is embraced. I only hope President Obama, Pastor Giglio, and thoughtful leaders from both the LGBT and evangelical communities can model for our country a wiser, more nuanced, and Christian approach in the days ahead. **UPDATE** Statements from both the inauguration committee and Louie Giglio indicate he will no longer be offering a prayer at the event. From the Presidential Inauguration Committee:
“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. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. 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.“ – Addie Whisenant, PIC Spokesperson
From Louie Giglio:
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 need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.