Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio was disinvited from delivering the invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration ceremony after ThinkProgress unearthed a 20-year-old sermon in which he called homosexuality a sin, endorses ex-gay therapy, and utters the usual hyperbole about homosexuality “undermining the whole order of our society.” This isn’t the first time: similar outrage was directed at Obama’s choice of Rick Warren, who believes the same things, though Warren wasn’t stricken from the lineup in 2008.

Evangelicals are predictably up in arms about the whole thing, making all kinds of dire proclamations about how people who hold orthodox Christian belief are now automatically disqualified from participating in public events. Al Mohler is calling it “moral McCarthyism.” On Twitter, Joe Carter quipped, “Those who oppose Giglio’s giving a prayer at the inaugural b/c of his sermon on homosexuality would really hate the guy he’d be praying to.”

I have a mix of feelings about this. First of all, as Andrew Sullivan says, it’s lamely negligent of the White House not to do some basic googling themselves, especially after the same damn thing happened last time. Why is it so hard to pick an Episcopal priest or some other clergy member who comes from an LGBT-supportive denomination? No one would have ever thought anything about it, and the Obama team would have avoided annoying both gay rights supporters and religious conservatives who now feel persecuted by the disinvitation.

The second reaction is broader, and somewhat sympathetic to Mohler’s complaint about the perpetual inquest into decades-old statements and beliefs. I don’t think Obama could in good conscience have kept Giglio on the lineup, as I’ll explain in a moment, but, taken more generally, I agree that this is a big cultural problem. We have the same going on at the moment with Chuck Hagel and his comment about the “Jewish lobby” (as opposed to the “Israel lobby,” which is the Washington-approved non-anti-Semitic way to say it) and about a former ambassador being “aggressively gay” (15 years ago). While there’s nothing wrong with investigating a public official’s views, I think the constant, perpetual inquest into every statement every quasi-public person has ever made, followed by rounds of (often) manufactured outrage, is childish, silly and oppressive. There is a punitive, Puritanical character to it, a hubristic attitude that perfect behavior and perfect ideology is possible, and anyone who has ever expressed anything divergent from the politically correct line is disqualified.

This case, however, is one where it matters. As I suggested above, it’s pure carelessness on the part of the White House that this happened in the first place. But since it happened, kicking Giglio off the program is basically the only option. The theocons are right that basically half of the country agrees with them about homosexuality, and that Giglio’s views shouldn’t be taboo. But that’s precisely why it’s so important that the president, who is on the other side of a culture war that splits the country pretty much perfectly in half, not appear to be compromising his principles. Gay rights are the leading social issue of the moment, and are still in a very tentative position. While public opinion seems to be tipping decisively, this is all very new: states are only beginning to legalize gay marriage, DADT and DOMA have just ended, etc. Progress in religious communities is even slower and harder won. Whether he likes it or not, Obama is the most powerful figure on the “side” of gay rights, and his statements, positions and relations carry immense weight. A president who just endorsed gay marriage less than 6 months ago probably shouldn’t hire a preacher who appears to still believe crazy, apocalyptic things about a still very much embattled American minority.

Giglio’s views are not extreme relative to public opinion, but they are extreme relative to the Obama and the side of the culture war that he is on. There may be a day when pastors with Giglio’s views are the minority and don’t have any real influence over the lives of people living amid a tentative cultural shift. Maybe when that happens, it won’t be necessary to be very careful of the kind of views invited onto a presidential stage. If it were some other issue this guy disagreed with Obama about, something less sensitive and important, then I’d say liberals should get over it. But right now this issue matters enormously, because there is still that other half of the country out there.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He studies intellectual history at New York University; his writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • Brendt Waters

    Yeah, I totally agree. Here’s to the day when guys fighting against slavery and sex-trafficking are a non-influential minority!!

    :sarcasm off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zach.lorton Zach

    I disagree with your opinion here, David. Obama could have easily kept Giglio on the ticket as an act of tolerance, which the liberals seems to embrace wholeheartedly, especially in their push for homosexuality to become a more welcomed way of mainstream life. To not stand behind the original decision in the name of tolerance and diversity is hypocritical.

    I understand why he made the decision he did, and in either case, I can see where he would have felt he’d have been alienating somebody no matter what choice he made.

  • Brendt Waters

    By the way, let’s go for just a little accuracy here. Contrary to your opening line (and implications later in the article), Giglio was not disinvited. He backed out of his own volition.

    (Will your next article be about how Lou Gehrig was cut from the Yankees?)

    If you actually read the article you linked, you’d know that. Or *did* you read it and it’s simply a case that you *willfully* and *knowingly* made a fallacious statement?

  • Chris M

    Much of what Jesus would have to say would anger both Republicans and Democrats. Plus Christianity is monotheistic which upsets the polytheists and the atheists. The selection process for who it is acceptable to “offend” will be determined solely by voter demographics.

    Seriously, just eliminate this farce called the “inaugeration ceremony” altogether. I’d rather Christianity not be used as a tool to serve the state with its Presidential ambitions

  • KLP

    “I disagree with your opinion here, David. Obama could have easily kept Giglio on the ticket as an act of tolerance, which the liberals seems to embrace wholeheartedly, especially in their push for homosexuality to become a more welcomed way of mainstream life. To not stand behind the original decision in the name of tolerance and diversity is hypocritical.”

    No, no, no. You have to understand that one side in this matter has framed the issue as something that only an irrational person could have a problem with. Therefore using “tolerance” to justify it would make as much sense as balancing things between civil rights groups and segregationists back in the day.

    of course the nuances of the issue tend to be pushed aside. Is homosexuality like race? Yes insofar as it’s inborn, although given the existence of the “B” in the obligatory LGBT acronym, as well as certain people (however marginal the number) who have been lesbian for a certain period of time and later switched without religious ex-gay prompting, it’s unclear whether that’s true 100% of the time.

    of course some people’d say that doesn’t matter, but regardless of your views I think it’s an interesting topic. I don’t subscribe to the Kinsey scale where “everyone’s a little gay” or “everyone’s a little straight” (caricaturing but you get the point) but I do think sexuality can be a bit of a grey area, even if that’s only true for a select number of people.

  • AC

    David, Christianity does not evolve. It’ll never be PC and it should not be ‘used’ to advance an ideology/agenda. Sin is not PC, hell is not PC, the idea that we didn’t accidently evolve from mindless chemicals/matter is not PC. Doesn’t make it a superior, or less absurd that this new sense of entitled purposelessness is the new normal…. Heck people don’t even accept a historical Jesus anymore, despite expert historians believing the contrary

    Why is gay marriage a state issue, who deems it so…..we have unborn babies slaughtered with taxpayer funds by an organization founded by a racist, demonic, eugenicist kook….there’s something to get outraged about….

    Why doesn’t the state recognize all nonTraditional unions? Aren’t we being bigoted by just advocating the state recognize gay marriage, what about incestuous? Polygamous? Heck, marriage should be anything goes! As long as everyone is happy…. Or miserable, how ever you want to look at it…..what a proud generation we are, we should be quite pleased with ourselves, maybe we should take religious freedoms & rights of conscience away too…. Oh wait

  • AC

    David, I hope you see the writing on the wall….traditional/conservative Christians are being ridiculed, silenced, and labeled bigots….

    If PC-related peer pressure & the domonization of a Christian moral standard continues….

    In no time, us Christians will have our freedoms taken away & eventually be persecuted if we don’t submit…..

    Before you support (via vocal support/or silence, indifference) the progressive trends that lead this country in such a direction, I would pray that you take a closer look at this nations foundation/heritage, the historical veracity of Jesus & His early church, & the presuppositions & consequnces of Evolution on worldview, culture, spiritual realities (salvation of the soul) human dignity and new atheism….. At least take a closer look at the conservative side of the debate yourself, thanks!

  • KLP

    AC:

    I read this site occasionally and I don’t get the sense that there’s really anything that separates it from conventional liberalism, except maybe thinking certain liberal politicians are too “right-wing” economically.

    don’t want to presume to speak for anyone, but given modern liberalism’s tendency to attempt to write conservative opposition out of rational discourse — well, there ya go

    • AC

      Yeah, I know, I’ve spent some time at BWC and even wrote a few music blurbs for them…..what is Sessions 26? I thought he might be open to a fresh reconsideration but after pursuing his last offering….I guess it’s a long-shot.

      I just wish there was more equal representation of the views. I would prefer more open, civil discourse….maybe David should ask Lyons, whoever that is, ‘why do you feel the way you do?’ instead of going postal….. Oh well, I give up…… I’ll leave it alone

      Regardless, God Bless

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  • AC

    David regarding your (below)claim that all Evangelists are anti-intellectual (do you hear how arrogant & self-superior you sound???), do you want to give the other side a chance or remain biased & closed to some of the presuppositions on your own side? I at least try to engage the other side….

    If evolution was reasonable I would give up the ‘myth’ but it actually runs counter to what’s observable & testable….scientists will keep plugging away while leaving an open possibility….but the crucial proofs never pan out the way they are suppose to…
    http://vitalcommentaries.blogspot.com/2012/12/debating-disciples-of-evolution-part-2.html?m=1

    http://m.blogs.christianpost.com/science-and-faith/paul-nelsons-talk-at-warrens-saddleback-enrages-evolutionary-biologists-13655/

    ‘Instead of attacking Giberson and Stephens for pointing out something that has been obvious for a long time, evangelicals should be very soberly reflecting on why they have not been able to correct this “scandal of the evangelical mind.” I tend not to believe this is possible; I’m more of the opinion that anti-intellectualism is foundational to evangelical belief, that an assault on knowledge is the only means of defending some of the key tenets thereof. But I know and love a number of people still committed to the project, and my advice to them would be that people like Karl Giberson are their best hope of survival. Evangelicals should be thrilled that bona fide scientists like Giberson, Francis Collins, Warren Throckmorton, etc., are willing to publicly identify as evangelicals while refusing to tolerate the kind of distortions and outright lies that have characterized the evangelical relationship with science. But I must say the way these people are treated—called “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” for instance—does not make the outlook very bright.’

  • Rev. Marie

    Some key facts regarding Giglio are not being addressed by the media. The now 20 year old sermon is the easiest to discover (think Wiki). In the decades since ,Giglio has continued to fund, promote,support and encourage organizations and leaders who are decidedly “anti-gay”. Just last week at his Passion 2013 convention, 3 of the 4 chosen speakers (by him) include Beth More, Francis Chan, and John Piper…all who have written and preached extensively their beliefs in reparative therapy, and homosexuality is a sin which can only be erased by Jesus Christ. Giglio himself has donated to American Family Association and was a keynote speaker in 2010. Of course there is more. It is not based on a one time sermon, as people do change. Not him.

  • AC

    My very last point to David, then I will leave him alone….

    I don’t believe homosexuals should be a target for discrimination & slander, I believe homosexuality (the act) is a sin, just as any lust outside of traditional marriage is, but we are all sinners, gays have one particular unique sinful disposition (lusting after same-sex individuals, but we all struggle with lust)

    but I love individuals with same-sex desired and desire them to be reconciled and hold fast to Jesus above all else…..

    David, you have to decide whether Biblical Christianity is true (I realize there are different interpretations) but the foundations are the same….

    If you don’t believe God created the universe, men are fallen sinners, and God wants us reconciled through Jesus (and sin no more) ….. You reject Christianity…..

    You can’t be ‘progressive’ & a Christian because the Gospel has & always will be offensive to man….

    So you need to be honest about where you are coming from, either you are a progressive secularist or a Christian but you can’t be both, you have to pick a side, God Bless!

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    • AC

      Pretty good article from Dr. Moore.

      All things considered, Christianity is the best explanation for all natural/experiential realities …….even if you look at evolution (with a skeptical eye)….Historical, existential & naturalistic claims/proofs support Christianity as the best option for the meaning of life & ultimate truth

  • Joe

    Gee, gay rights are so important no one who argues the traditional or orthodox Christian perspective should be heard. Those views are “crazy” and “apocalyptic”! That is not “moral McCarthyism”? I think Sessions has consumed too much of his own kool-aid. No wonder so many believers are apt to see Obama as anti-God, when “Christian” writers like this find traditional church teaching so alarming they want to make sure voices are crowded off the platform. Nice.