Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Louie Giglio, the evangelical pastor of Atlanta’s Passion City Church, was originally selected to give the benediction today at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. But he withdrew after it was discovered that he once delivered an anti-gay sermon. Below, two members of his church denounce our culture’s unyielding political correctness, while a religion historian writes that the pastor made the right decision.
Commenting is open below Gary Laderman’s column.
By Ruth Malhotra and Jennifer Keeton
We wish we could say we were shocked by Pastor Louie Giglio’s withdrawal from President Barack Obama’s Inauguration today. Giglio was invited to deliver the benediction based on his commitment to justice and inspiration to our generation, and we are certain that his prayer would have been characterized by grace, humility and wisdom.
We have been profoundly impacted by Giglio’s teaching and leadership and have witnessed lives transformed through his ministry. His concern for all people and focus on Jesus is evident.
Recently, we participated in the Passion 2013 Conference at the Georgia Dome with 60,000-plus students and leaders. Giglio highlighted the injustice of modern-day slavery — including human trafficking, forced labor and child labor — inviting abolitionists to communicate the plight of 27 million people enslaved and launching the “End It Movement.”
Through Passion City Church, we’ve seen him facilitate efforts to collect school supplies for children, relocate families displaced by apartment fires, and reach out to refugees. This intersection of worship and justice is exactly the work our faith compels us to carry out. It’s also what secular progressives say Christians should focus on, rather than engage in “culture wars.”
Against this backdrop, our nation witnessed the uproar surrounding Giglio’s inaugural invitation. Sadly, we are unsurprised.
This opposition exemplified a tragic lesson we learned as students: Unless you endorse homosexuality, your voice and even your humanitarian work are not welcome in the public square. There’s a rabid insistence that to do anything in the civic arena, you must never have spoken in a way disagreeable to certain activists. The far left attempts to shame and shun those they disagree with, or actually uses the force of law to silence different worldviews.
We have both been plaintiffs in federal cases for free speech and religious liberty against our schools (Malhotra filed suit against Georgia Tech in 2006, and Keeton, against Augusta State University in 2010). We were repeatedly censored and condemned for refusing to conform to a narrow agenda regarding human sexual behavior. Our lawsuits defended Christian and conservative students’ freedom to speak and pursue degrees without compromising our convictions. In response, we faced everything from snide insults and false character attacks to threats of rape and murder so serious that one of us was put under police protection.
We don’t expect everyone to agree with us. But it’s frightening that a small faction can exercise such absolutist control of public discourse, resorting to censorship and smear campaigns rather than engaging in our uniquely American marketplace of ideas. Since when does expressing views that sex should be reserved for the sanctity of marriage — Giglio’s “unpardonable sin” — mean exile merely because some disagree?
The Giglio controversy once again demonstrates that often those who proudly and loudly proclaim “diversity and inclusion” in reality only welcome and tolerate conformity.
Ruth Malhotra is a 2006 graduate of Georgia Tech and works in public policy research. Jennifer Keeton is a 2008 graduate of Georgia College and State University and works in education. Both live in Atlanta.
By Gary Laderman
The Rev. Louie Giglio, head pastor at Atlanta’s evangelical Passion City Church, recently gave up his assigned role giving the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. After being invited to participate, Think Progress, the blogging arm of the Center for American Progress, discovered and posted a sermon of Giglio’s from the 1990s that describes homosexuality as a sin along with other negative statements about gays and lesbians.
The president’s inaugural committee admitted it had made a mistake and did not catch these sentiments in its vetting process. Giglio graciously decided to withdraw out of respect for the event and not wanting to be a distraction. Acknowledging the difficulties surrounding current public debates about sexual orientation and gay rights, Giglio does not back away from the earlier comments but makes clear in his official statement that he will “continue to pray for the President.”
Is this inaugural benediction blunder a case of political correctness dictating the narrow limits of tolerance in one of America’s most significant civil ceremonies? Is it a political statement of clear and unequivocal support for the LGBT community from a president who is now fully advocating the gay rights movement? Well, as is often the case when it comes to religion and politics controversies, it depends on whom you ask.
Obama’s first inauguration was also controversial thanks to the anti-gay views of a prominent evangelical, that time the Protestant media heavyweight, the Rev. Rick Warren, who was invited to give the invocation. The highly symbolic and political value of the inaugural proceedings make the planning and execution of them a significant statement about fundamental civic ideals in national life.
The president’s inaugural ceremony is at its core a religious ritual that includes but transcends parochial Christian interests and divisions. It is a sacred national moment of social unity and cultural cohesion, even if only temporarily glossing over all the conflicts, contestations and collisions so common on the contemporary political scene. During the inauguration, presidents have sought to project images of unity and common cause when they ultimately place their hand over the Bible and make their pledge to American citizens and to God.
Let’s face it: Christians, who still outnumber all other religions combined in the United States, can’t seem to agree on much of anything, especially highly divisive issues tearing our country apart — gun control, reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, to name only a few. Many do not agree with Giglio’s statements about homosexuality; many others in conservative and evangelical circles concur with his sentiments. But his decision to bow out and not give the presidential prayer is a sound one that is respectful of the need, in this specific public ritual, to transcend difficult differences among Christians and ensure the focus remains on the victor of the recent presidential contest.
Gary Laderman is professor of American Religious Cultures and History at Emory University.