I wrote a short thing some time ago about the garb of non-ideological non-partisanship in which a younger generation of conservative evangelicals have cloaked themselves. They often explicitly and forcefully position themselves against the religious right, but there is very little substantive difference when you get down to it, especially on some of the most important social issues of the moment.

Now, in the wake of the Louie Giglio ordeal, along comes Gabe Lyons to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about, in an even more cartoonish fashion than I ever would have expected from him. If there’s anyone who stands for the new evangelical tone, it’s him: he’s the co-author of unChristian, the founding text of that point of view, and the man behind Q Ideas, the website/conference that features moderate, civil discourse by young evangelical writers. The endlessly repeated revelation of unChristian is that the broader culture dislikes Christians because it perceives them as too political, too judgemental, too hard-line, etc. The whole mini-industry and ideology that has sprung up around those conclusion seems to assume, like some parts of the Republican Party, that what is primarily needed is a new style of discourse. They like to affect an aura of progressivity, especially in comparison with the old religious right.

But things like this show how shallow these reinventions really are. Because an evangelical pastor backed out of the inauguration over criticism of statements and beliefs that harshly clash with the president’s position on a very sensitive social issue, Lyons unleashed a stream of hysteria that not only belies everything he preaches about civility, but reveals the fundamental political orientation of the old religious right still intact. Let’s start looking at some of these lines:

January 21, 2013 may go down in history, as the day Americans lost their most important freedom—their freedom of conscience.

This is an absurd and irresponsible statement that wouldn’t be at all out of place in an American Family Association action alert. The president and an evangelical pastor disagree on an important social issue, and appearing to endorse Giglio’s views in a highly public, staged manner could negatively affect Obama’s message on that issue. That’s it. You can disagree all you want with Obama’s position on gay rights or the way this was handled (I think the White House was extraordinarily incompetent), but no precedents have been set, no law has been changed, no one’s “freedom of conscience” has been denied. This is a matter of political staging, not political freedoms.

But we’re just getting started. Next, Lyons blames this on an “extreme and small faction of outspoken gay activists.” In a broad sense, I take the point about the manufactured outrage of some liberal groups, and even conceded it yesterday. ThinkProgress can at times be as sensational as the religious right. But there claim that Giglio’s sermon was “vehemently anti-gay” is not unsupported by the evidence. This was a long time ago, and his views may have changed, but what is in this sermon is crude, culturally and scientifically dishonest, and openly fear-mongering. The groups who raised this to the White House are mainstream advocacy organizations, and are not “extreme,” and their objection to Giglio was not hateful or ad-hominem. Any organization that advocates for civil rights would have handled this exactly the same way.

But Lyons begs to differ:

Mr. Giglio is the victim of a kind of hate crime. He is being singled out for shame and ridicule by an intolerant minority.

You have got to be f—ing kidding me. A hate crime? Even a kind of hate crime? This is not a crime, Mr. Lyons, this is a disagreement over political staging. It is private citizens and advocacy organizations exercising their democratic right to object to what the president does, particularly a president their constituents worked hard to elect. This is democratic debate, and a politician answering to his constituency. What is so horrible about that?

Lyons has made this into a grave violation of the First Amendment, and claims darkly that Americans’ right to their freedom of conscience is “up for debate.” I’m sorry, but that’s insane. No it’s not. Only one pastor in America can pray at the inauguration, and no one has a “right” to do it, even after they’ve been asked. That’s solely the White House’s prerogative, however carelessly they handled it. Giglio has the right to all the conscience he wants, and all the free speech he wants, in his church, in public spaces, on the internet, just about everywhere except one particular stage on one particular day. The president picking people who model his political beliefs is not a sinister wave of discrimination, it’s a banal fact of politics.

One of the most salient features of the old religious right that Lyons and friends have so consistently criticized is its inability to deal with the facts as they are, without sensationalism and exaggeration. I’ve written about this again and again and again and again. They don’t seem to trust factual arguments, so everything has to be a dramatic, hysterical tall tale designed to frighten their armies into action. I realize that one can reasonably disagree with me on the question of whether it was right for the White House to disinvite Giglio. But that’s not what Lyons is doing; this is classic fearmongering hysterics worthy of all the people and groups he has built his career criticizing.

I mean, his headline is “Bullied on the President’s Stage,” and the text basically—not basically, unequivocally—argues that gay bigots have committed a kind of hate crime against an innocent Christian pastor, and freedom of conscience and speech are being taken away. Where have I heard that before?

The bully bigots at Big Gay win huge victory for fascistic intolerance. Louie Giglio forced out of inauguration.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) January 10, 2013

Bouncing Giglio a shameful display of intolerant anti-Christian bigotry and hate. Welcome to Obama’s America.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) January 10, 2013

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • Josh

    “The president picking people who model his political beliefs is not a sinister wave of discrimination, it’s a banal fact of politics.”

    Well said. My thoughts exactly.

  • KLP

    So orthodox Christians have held on to their essential beliefs, but, realizing people’s dislike for certain prominent evangelicals of the past, have decided to shift their tone…

    guess I’m not seeing what the big deal is about the “non-ideological” garb? It’s clear you think certain beliefs are beyond the pale, which is fine, but I’m not sure what your answer is for them, other than “agree with me”

  • KLP

    anyway I’m not commenting on this specific situation, just this idea that a more “non-ideological” (less confrontational?) form of evangelical Christianity is somehow sneaky. If you think particular beliefs are extreme it means there’s no real discussion to be had on them between opposing groups. that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just is what it is

    • http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/david-sessions.html David Sessions

      @KLP I have no objection to these people’s being nicer and less confrontational. That’s a great development that will do them good. But certain young-ish evangelical writers have built careers on the idea that they represent something new, and are very critical of the old religious right for being “too political,” “too partisan,” etc. But push them hard enough, as this Giglio situation seems to have done to Mr. Lyons, and you see that they aren’t any less political or (much) less conservative than the people they’re always boasting about being so different from. My objection is that the whole image they project of themselves as “post-partisan” or whatever is at least in part a matter of careerist branding, and that their evolution or shift or whatever is not really all that significant.

  • JRH

    The “bullying” rhetoric is over the top, and the idea that this is a loss of “rights” also. So Lyons’ response doesn’t seem accurate or appropriate. In addition, I am not going to express support for the specifics of Giglio’s 20-year-old statements.

    However, it does seem there are more interesting things to say than, “Move along; nothing to see here.”

    It’s true, of course, that the President would want people who generally support his viewpoints to be given a voice at the inauguration. But there isn’t a single person who agrees with the President 100% on everything. So there is some “viewpoint variation” which is acceptable, and some that isn’t. There is some divergence which can be glossed over, and some that will make you a pariah not worth interacting with.

    It’s true that Giglio can still express his conscience in the “public sphere,” as you say. But the direction of things seems to be toward the shrinking of the sphere in which viewpoints opposing gay marriage can be expressed without opprobrium.

    So the fact that a particular issue (gay marriage) seems to be becoming a pariah-making one for the influencers of American culture is a development worth thinking about. Some might welcome that development, and some might think it diminishes our civil life.

    There are some voices in the pro-gay-marriage camp (I think I am correct in citing Jonathan Rauch) who warn that such exclusion in the wake of gay marriage winning the day would be a loss for us as a society.

    • AC

      ‘It’s true that Giglio can still express his conscience in the “public sphere,” as you say. But the direction of things seems to be toward the shrinking of the sphere in which viewpoints opposing gay marriage can be expressed without opprobrium.

      So the fact that a particular issue (gay marriage) seems to be becoming a pariah-making one for the influencers of American culture is a development worth thinking about. Some might welcome that development, and some might think it diminishes our civil life.

      There are some voices in the pro-gay-marriage camp (I think I am correct in citing Jonathan Rauch) who warn that such exclusion in the wake of gay marriage winning the day would be a loss for us as a society.’

      I don’t know or care about this Lyons dude but I think you’re on to something here…..take this fiasco & the healthcare (contraception mandate)… Things are moving in a certain direction very rapidly…. The reason for the near-hysteria is not rocket science, regardless of how hip & progressive a fundamentalist is trying to market himself

    • http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/david-sessions.html David Sessions

      @JRH: You’re right, of course, that there is viewpoint variation, and that some differences are “more equal than others,” as Orwell put it. But I tried to explain in this post and the previous one why I think this is a particular difference that has to be taken more seriously than others at this particular moment. We are in, as you suggest, a “turning point” for gay marriage, where it has finally begun to win. But it hasn’t won yet, and it matters a great deal what Obama says and does (even in small symbolic ways) about it. So in a way it’s true that yes, right now, there is a particular sensitivity to dissenting views of homosexuality, and they can’t be part of a gay-rights-supporting Democrat’s message.

      But the key word there is “right now.” We’re just talking about the stagecraft of a socially liberal political party, not American law or public spaces or political discourse in general. It’s nothing shocking that a socially liberal party should want to have nothing to do with conservative religious viewpoints on social issues; this can’t really be called “exclusion” or “pariah-making.” It does exclude certain views, but only in a certain sphere where one wouldn’t really expect them to be anyway (ie, an anti-gay pastor at a liberal president’s inauguration.)

      One of the big fears of the religious right has been that the acceptance of gay marriage will mean that they and their views are increasingly ostracized and unwelcome in more and more venues, and made illegitimate by law. I think some of that is overblown, but some of it is right. But it wasn’t like they didn’t have a fair chance to argue their case, it’s that they argued a weak, unpersuasive, losing case. And there’s nothing wrong with weak, unpersuasive, losing cases on social/moral issues, what some call the “wrong side of history,” becoming stigmatized minority opinions.

      • AC

        Sure, when orthodox-Christianity is deemed mythical, & fanatical rather than a universal truth…..

        Anything we stand for becomes weak & unpersuasive….

        The mainstream media doesn’t want historical, existential & objective consideration/analysis (including views on natural order [reproduction/importance of gender-oriented parental roles]) to be explored. They want to dismiss & characterize us homophobic, archaic, & ignorant

        Control public opinion, invalidate the Bible & the Christian worldview, and the rest is easy…..it’s not even a level playing field…..

      • AC

        If you want some fairly competent offerings defending the other side…. Check here: http://www.apologeticspress.org/

        As Im sure you know, if you & your young writer friends were actually persuaded to consider the other side, and actually saw some truth in it (and dare I suggest, wrote about it!)… You’d be out of a job! Ahhhh, the lack of intellectual honesty & due diligence that plagues the journalist who is part of the mainstream media machine

      • Rob

        David,

        I’m not sure I understand your conclusion in this comment. Or rather, I think I understand it, but find it too troubling to believe you’ve said it in good faith.

        Are you really suggesting that it’s acceptable for “unpopular” opinions–which, in a flourish of Whiggish-liberal determinism, you seem to equate with “wrong,” “weak,” and thus “losing” arguments–to be excluded, trivialized, or marginalized, not only by majoritarian public opinion, but even by law?

        I deny both the antecedent and the consequent. Your more moderated and thus probably more legitimate point–that Giglio’s exclusion isn’t necessarily a bellwether for a new age of Christian-conservative persecution–is well-taken. But I don’t like your broader point. Your seeming faith in a “wrong side” of history is absurd, and your implication that ideas which have “already” had a “fair chance” to argue their side are now fair game for (coercive) marginalization is problematic in the extreme, even if empirically true.

        Also, can’t we at least agree that this is a huge PR-blunder for Obama? Doesn’t he pay folks to do adequate background checks? Is Obama trying to depict himself as anti-religious, what with the totally excessive HHS mandate, etc.?

        • http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/david-sessions.html David Sessions

          Rob, that being a comment, it wasn’t particularly clear, and your questions are fair. I don’t believe certain opinions should ever be outlawed and legally persecuted by the state. I said that’s what conservative Christians fear, but I was speaking more about the court of public opinion. I defend absolutely the right to believe, say, and disseminate any opinion, no matter how noxious. But I’m totally fine with public stigma, disgrace, etc being associated with certain views (i.e., racism, pseudoscientific views of homosexuality). The religious right has had its chance to argue its side on gay rights (marriage is man and woman, homosexuality is a sin) and it has failed to persuade a growing majority of the public. I see no problem with “society” (from the media to public officials’ official staging) this as a matter of social justice proceeding to treat the conservative religious view with an appropriate amount of disgust.

          I don’t believe in the “wrong side of history,” as if history were ordered and teleological. But at this moment in American politics, it’s not particularly difficult to see where things are going, and which side is going to taken to by a majority to be on the wrong side of an important issue. I never said anything about “coercive marginalization.” But organic social marginalization? Bring it on.

          • Rob

            That’s fair enough. Thanks for clarifying.

            And as a fan of “social marginalization”–though probably not for the reasons, and not in a direction, you would condone–I think you’re right, both as a matter of factical experience and of normative preference.

            That said, how often does organic social marginalization stay merely “social” (insofar as a social realm can be clearly distinguished from a political, private, or other realm)? After all, it seems to me that as soon as it becomes acceptable to marginalize certain opinions in the public/social sphere, they will be marginalized in other more political and thus more problematic realms as a matter of course. For example, is it not already the case that such opinions as you find “weak” are already verboten in most public schools, particularly given increasing federal control of school curricula?

            What happens, in short, when dissensus becomes consensus, with all the oppressive possibilities attendant thereto?

        • AC

          Rob, we are in the last days…. Be prepared

          Mark 13

    • http://www.brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

      It’s true that Giglio can still express his conscience in the “public sphere,” as you say. But the direction of things seems to be toward the shrinking of the sphere in which viewpoints opposing gay marriage can be expressed without opprobrium.

      Being criticized for views that you have the right to express is not equal to (and not even comparable to) having the right to express those views being taken away.

  • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

    I’ve always suspected that most of the new generation of evangelicals would end up replicating the views and sins of their parents. Too much of their counter-cultural beliefs are ill-defined and vague, whereas their overall theological and political conservatism is more clearly established. The Lyons post reminds me of the recent happenings at The Gospel Coalition. I guess the big question is whether Lyons and TGC had suppressed their reactionary beliefs until now, or whether they’ve been assimilated into the fundamentalist establishment.

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  • Joe

    “The president and an evangelical pastor disagree on an important social issue, and appearing to endorse Giglio’s views in a highly public, staged manner could negatively affect Obama’s message on that issue. That’s it.”

    If you really believe that, you ought to be speechwriting for Obama. A MINISTER was disinvited, or felt obliged to go, based on his basic moral creed, not a ‘social issue.’

    As for this being a PR blunder for Obama, not really. No one on the Right likes him, so he has little to lose. All it shows is he is clueless when it comes to religion, which he apparently is.

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