Last week Louie Giglio found himself at the center of controversy. Giglio, who pastors a church in Atlanta, had accepted an invitation to offer the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration. Giglio had been approached by the Obama folks because of the work that he and his church have been doing to end human trafficking. Then someone dug up a sermon from the 1990s in which Giglio says that homosexuality is a sin, and the political left demanded that Giglio be uninvited because of his bigoted views.
The upshot is that Giglio will not be delivering the benediction at the inauguration, though in a statement he released on Thursday Giglio says, “I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.” It’s still not clear whether Giglio removed himself or whether the Obama people asked him to step aside. Reading between the lines, I think that the White House asked Giglio if he could distance himself from that 20-year-old sermon, and when he said “no,” they respectfully asked him to step aside gracefully. No hard feelings, right?
Everyone else, however, on both sides of this controversy immediately went into hysterics. The left seemed unable to cope with the fact that such a hip and socially conscious pastor would say such mean and hurtful things. The right started yelling about freedom of religion and the eroding of protections of conscience. I don’t think, however, that this issue is that big a deal, and here are my thoughts.
1. Why did Obama invite Giglio in the first place? Many commentators have claimed that Obama’s people dropped the ball on this because they should have vetted Giglio better, realizing that he wouldn’t be acceptable because of his views on homosexuality. I don’t think, however, that the administration cared. Obama wanted an evangelical in order to throw a bone to the Christian right. He got away with having Rick Warren pray last time. How was he to know that the media would pitch such a fit?
2. Why did Giglio accept in the first place? Some Christians wonder why Giglio would associate his ministry with an administration committed to anti-Christian policies like abortion and gay-marriage. The Bible says to pray for your leaders, and being on the inaugural program is an honor. I’m sure that Giglio felt that this opportunity might further build awareness concerning human trafficking. I probably would have declined the invitation, but I can understand why Giglio accepted.
3. Is this the end of religious freedom in America? No. Far from it. The left is crying for Giglio’s head, and it seems that politically-correct views on homosexuality have become a litmus test for Obama’s administration. But this doesn’t really threaten freedom of religion. Why isn’t anyone concerned about Obama’s freedom of religion? Doesn’t he have the right to expect a prayer of his choosing at his inauguration? Doesn’t he have the right to only allow prayers to the Great-Tree-Spirit if he sees fit? It’s imperative that people remember that this dis-invitation is not the law of the land; it’s merely the personal preference of one politician and his team. Let’s not act shocked. We should have expected this.
The government is not a church, and the inauguration is not a worship service. I am pleased when Christianity does not masquerade as a civic religion. A civic religion promotes patriotism, and Christianity promotes Christ. A civic religion seeks national unity, but Christ said that he came to divide sons from fathers and daughters from mothers. A civic religion offers a hope in temporal stability, while Christianity offers a hope in eternal salvation.