Conservative pastor withdraws from Obama inauguration

Conservative evangelical megachurch pastor Louie Giglio has withdrawn himself from President Obama’s inauguration ceremony, following the publication of an anti-gay sermon he gave in the 1990s.

In a statement, Giglio explained his decision to “respectfully withdraw” his acceptance of the invitation to deliver the closing benediction:

I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.

Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. 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.

Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.

Scattered through his whole statement, Giglio uses depersonalized, generic terminology for LGBT people and their rights:

  • those seeking to make their agenda…”
  • “speaking on this issue…”
  • an issue not of our choosing”

Giglio can’t bring himself to actually name the people who disagree with him – even in the depersonalized, collective form of an issue. If you hadn’t been following this news story, you’d never know from his statement what the controversy was about.

I can’t think of a better example of the rhetorical and theological corner that right-wing Christianity has painted itself into. Note that Giglio can’t apologize for his earlier anti-gay sermon – not even a tepid apology for his tone, let alone an admission that his statements were based in ignorance and fear. Instead, he puts the blame on the people he tried to marginalize: “those seeking to make their agenda the focal point” (aka The Gays).

Right-wing Christians are faced with a choice: are they willing to renounce this particular form of bigotry to continue to “call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ?” Because I don’t think you can hold onto both; after all, no one can serve two masters. Giglio’s actions and words show us that he’s not willing to put his anti-LGBT sentiment aside for the sake of “common goals and ideas.” That decision has to come sooner – the later part is long past us at this point.

In withdrawing, Giglio has made his choice.

The most infuriating statement, though, is this: “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.” Oh, so you haven’t built your career on making sure our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters remain stuck in an unjust form of second-class citizenship? Congratulations! That means that you’ve literally done the least amount you can possibly do to right this wrong.

I’m grateful for Giglio’s work on human trafficking and modern slavery. Parts of the church have helped to bring attention to this problem, even when the media and politicians have let their focus wander. (Credit where it’s due: many secular NGOs have contributed mightily to this task along with religious groups.) But I’m saddened that Gilgio has prioritized his particular reading of scripture – one that privileges the exclusion of our LGBT brothers and sisters over the Gospel – over the good he has done and could continue to do.

After all, doing something good doesn’t give you a free pass on being wrong, especially when that wrong contributes to the hurt and division that you deplore.

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