The Story: Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Conferences, an organization that brings college students together in prayer and worship, was selected by President Obama to deliver the benediction at his inaugural this month. He was disinvited, though, after it was discovered he had delivered a sermon about homosexuality in the mid-1990s.
The Background: According to Addie Whisenant, the spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, “Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world.” But criticism over the selection came after the liberal website Think Progress posted audio of a sermon that Giglio gave in the mid-1990s. In the audio, Giglio calls unrepentant homosexuality a sin and adds:
That’s God’s voice. If you want to hear God’s voice, that is his voice to this issue of homosexuality. It is not ambiguous and unclear. It is very clear. If you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle. . . . homosexuality is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.
[. . .]
The only way out of a homosexual lifestyle, the only way out of a relationship that has been ingrained over years of time, is through the healing power of Jesus. . . . We’ve got to say the homosexuals, the same thing that I say to you and that you would say to me . . . it’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change.
Think Progress described the sermon as “vehemently anti-gay”, a sentiment that seems to be shared by the White House. As Whisenant added, the inauguration committee was “not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural.”
On his church’s website Giglio says that “after conversations between our team and the White House I am no longer serving in that role.”
Why It Matters: For the past several decades voices inside and outside the church have said that Christians have hurt our witness by focusing on issues that challenge individualistic sexual permissiveness. They say that if we would only focus on actions that show how much we love our neighbor, actions like ending human trafficking, we would be welcomed in the public square. But as the Giglio incident reveals, no amount of good works can atone for committing the secular sin of subscribing to the biblical view of sexuality.
It’s not even enough to stop talking about the issue. As Giglio says in his statement,
“Clearly, speaking on [homosexuality] has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.” But for the sexual liberationists, both secular and religious, it is not enough to have stopped talking about an issue decades ago. Anyone who has ever spoken about the issue—or at least has not recanted from believing what God says about homosexuality—is to be treated as a bigot.
In her statement Whisenant add that, “Choosing an affirming and fair-minded voice as his replacement would be in keeping with the tone the president wants to set for his inaugural.”
The message of religious intolerance being delivered by President Obama, his staff, and many of his supporters is unmistakable: If you do not affirm homosexuality then you cannot be fair-minded. Affirmation of homosexual behavior is now a litmus test for President Obama and his political party. As Russell Moore notes, “by the standards of this controversy, no Muslim imam or Orthodox Jewish rabbi alive can pray at a presidential inauguration.”
What is most disturbing is that this new standard is not just applied to political appointees but to religious leaders whose sole function is to deliver a prayer. The effect, as Moore says, is that we now have a “de facto established state church”:
As citizens, we ought to insist that the President stand up to his “base” and articulate a vision of a healthy pluralism in the public square. Notice that the problem is not that this evangelical wants to “impose his religion” on the rest of society. The problem is not that he wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.
We can and should oppose affirmation of homosexuality as a religious test of orthodoxy. We should do so forcefully but charitably, remembering that our purpose is not to defend our rights but to ensure that we can effectively love our neighbor. We should impose any efforts that hinder the spread of the Gospel and our ability to tell the truth about human sin and God’s grace.
However, we should also remember that our Lord says that because he has chosen us out of this world that the world will hate us. (John 15:19) This hate is not a mere effect of our focusing on divisive cultural issues. This is the default attitude of the world toward Christians. Jesus healed the sick, cured the blind, and even raised the dead—and for these good works they crucified him.
We shouldn’t be so naive as to believe that if we focus exclusively on serving the homeless and fighting to end human trafficking that they world will stop hating us. We must both serve our neighbor and tell them the truth about the human condition, that the wages of unrepentant sin is death. No one can truly love their neighbor and affirm their sin. For us to remain silent about homosexuality would show that we hate the world as much as the world hates us.
Update: Several commenters raised questions about whether the use of the term “disinvited” in the title was accurate. I’ll let the reader decide, but here is a quote from the New York Times that sheds some light on the issue:
People familiar with internal discussions between administration and committee officials said the White House viewed the selection as a problem for Mr. Obama, and told the panel on Wednesday night to quickly fix it. By Thursday morning, Mr. Giglio said he had withdrawn.