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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