The nice thing about talking about religion and politics is that you never have to fear about running out of things to talk about.
President Obama’s upcoming inauguration has already generated a relevant topic for discussion. The Washington Post is reporting “Conservative pastor drops out of Obama’s inauguration because of 1990s anti-gay sermon”:1
A conservative megachurch pastor [Louie Giglio] was wiped from the inaugural program Thursday after a strongly anti-homosexuality sermon he gave in the 1990s surfaced, evidence of how fast Americans’ views on gays and lesbians are shifting and the political pitfalls for a liberal president attempting to reach out to religious conservatives.
Now, the 1990s are an increasingly long time ago, but the issue (as was made clear later in the article) was that — while he may not be as outspoken about his views now — he was clearly not ready to renounce them either. To me it sounded like he just didn’t want to talk about it.
Well, um, sorry, but you can’t just not talk about it when you’re being asked to be a religious representative at a political event and this is the most charged political and religious issue.
Perhaps he thought he could get away with it because Rick Warren did four years ago. As the Post went on to say:
The quick departure of Giglio from one of the country’s most prominent prayer platforms shows how much has changed from four years ago, when Obama selected prominent evangelical Rick Warren to pray at his historic swearing-in. The best-selling author and megachurch leader had been outspoken against the march of legal gay marriage and controversy ensued. Neither Obama nor Warren pulled back, however.
It’s my recollection that Warren did an acceptable job at the inauguration itself speaking the words of inclusion of all people without getting into saying exactly who he was talking about or who he wasn’t… but I also seem to remember there was some significant disappointment afterwards that he didn’t go far enough.
The numbers the post cited are impressive:
But between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of all Americans who support same-sex marriage has climbed from 36 to 53, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
And those who say gay and lesbian “relations” are morally acceptable has gone from 48 percent to 54 percent.
Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 was ‘towards the front end of the middle’ of that 2006-2012 time span, and if I had to guess I’d say that more changed between 2009 and 2012 than 2006 and 2009.
In any case, the numbers are moving towards acceptance and support of people who are gay and lesbian. (More on that in a moment.)
But Obama has made symbolic efforts throughout his presidency to include religious conservatives, particularly evangelicals.
Now some are interpreting Giglio’s withdrawal as a rejection of religious conservatives who don’t accept homosexuality — regardless of what other good works they do.
“Is Mother Teresa now banned? ” said Ed Stetzer, president of the Christian research firm LifeWay Research. “We’re in a post-Rick Warren era.”
First off, I don’t even know what he meant by “We’re in a post-Rick Warren era.” Admittedly, I have no idea what Rick Warren has been up to since the 2009 inauguration, but it seems like a strange comment.
Secondly: Louie Giglio is not Mother Teresa. She was born in 1910 and died in 1997. It would hardly be unusual for someone of her generation to not “accept” homosexuality. Secondly, if you decide to spend your life with the poorest of the poor in the world and spend decades living in conditions that most of us would not tolerate for a month, I might be able to cut you a little more theological slack.
While his views on the topic now are unclear, Giglio’s language on homosexuality appears to have changed over time.
His views are unclear only because he refused to speak clearly about them.
In the mid-1990s sermon (whose location of delivery was not clear), he called homosexual relationships immoral and said gays and lesbians are “not entitled to be recognized as a married couple and a family under God that can adopt children and have co-benefits in your health insurance plans and live as if that were a normal thing in this society.”
That would not have been an unusual position for him to hold in the mid-1990s. But does he still believe that?
But in a statement Thursday on his church site, Giglio said his work “in the last decade” has been one of inclusion.
“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.”
With all due respect, those are weasel words.
"God’s words trump all opinions" sounds like a dog whistle to say “I’m not the one who says homosexuality is a sin, the Bible does!” to any conservative Christians who are reading his words.
If that’s what he believes, then that’s what he should say. It sounds like he’s trying to have it both ways.
Ross Murray, director of the program on religion at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he didn’t want to set up a “false frame” that a person has to be “Christian or pro-gay,” but felt without a disavowal from Giglio, an inaugural prayer would send a subtle message to gays and lesbians: “God bless America, except for them.”
Religious invocations at political events already walk right atop the thin line that is the wall of separation between church and state in America. Having someone who believes in a de facto ‘separate but unequal’ status for some group of American citizens seems hard to justify.
He is perfectly free to believe that gay and lesbian people shouldn’t be allowed to be married, or adopt children, or have co-benefits.
He is perfectly free to teach that in his church if that is what he believes.
But in the role that he was being invited to fill, he was being asked to speak on behalf of all Americans, not just the ones he thinks are “normal.”
At certain points in the past, it might have been deemed acceptable to have someone give a religious invocation even if that person believed that gay and lesbian people should not have the same rights as heterosexuals.
At certain points in the past, it might have been deemed acceptable to have someone give a religious invocation who believed that African Americans did not deserve the same rights as whites.
I am absolutely sure that at some time in the past, someone who believed women shouldn’t have the right to vote gave the invocation.
What Ed Stetzer fails to understand is that his words sound suspiciously like the man who, 50 years ago, might have said “Look, I don’t have any problem with ‘colored’ people, I just don’t want them joining my country club. Does that make me a bad man? I do lots of good things!”
Well, Ed, it may be true that you do a lot of good things. But in 50 years someone will look back on your words like we look back on those who resisted equal rights.
In case you’ve forgotten, many people back then — most of them who called themselves Christians — invoked the fear that ending segregation would ruin the country.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend watching this 3 minute video: A preacher gives an interesting gay rights speech. (Wait for it..)
Again, I think that Mr. Stetzer and Mr. Giglio should have the freedom to believe whatever they want, about God, about gay/lesbian people, about which football team to support or whether they like sports or don’t. But when you are being asked to fill a public role, I think it’s acceptable for us to say, “Your views and your beliefs do not speak adequately enough for the rest of us, therefore we can’t ask you to file this particular role.”
Of course if we spent enough time asking enough questions, we might be able to find reasons to disqualify anyone for one reason or another. But it appears that we may have passed a tipping point on this particular issue.