Debatable: How Should Evangelicals Respond to the Inauguration Prayer Incident?
[Note: "Debatable" is a occasional feature in which we briefly summarize debates within the evangelical community.]
The Issue: 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 withdrew because of controversy over a sermon he delivered in mid-1990s on homosexuality.
Various evangelical thinkers and leaders have commented, often coming to quite different conclusions on the question, "How should evangelicals respond?"
Position #1: Gabe Lyons, a best-selling author and founder of Q Ideas, says Giglio is a "target of intolerance" and "reverse discrimination at its finest":
As gays come out of the closet, are Christians meant to swap and go hide back in closets of their own? This zero-sum game is the most un-American of games.
Freedom to speak your mind and live by your convictions---a person's freedom of conscience---is the first, most fundamental, American right. James Madison believed strongly in the freedom of conscience, even claiming, "This right is in its nature an unalienable right" in his Memorial and Remonstrance written in 1785. Maintaining and defending "freedom of conscience" protects every citizen from being coerced, cajoled, intimidated or bullied into taking a point of view that goes against their deepest convictions.
It's a sad day in America when that right is up for debate.
Position #2: Author and blogger Matthew Lee Anderson, in a guest post for CNN, argued that while Christians have a right to be concerned, we ought to shrug off inaugural pastor rejection:
In such moments, conservative Christians have been ready and quick to demonstrate their ample supply of passion for the truth.
The last imbroglio about homosexuality in our country was the Chick-Fil-A affair, which resulted in long lines of socially conservative people cheerfully waiting to eat their chicken sandwiches. This time, the response has already been more strictly rhetorical, but just as swift and as strongly worded. Russell Moore's website crashed because of the massive amount of traffic, he wrote.
It is somewhat ironic that Giglio, the founder of Passion, stepped so quietly from the stage given the cacophony all around him. His statement was gracious without changing his stance. It did not denounce the White House or those seeking to dismiss him.
In fact, this sort of political dispassion is precisely what we could all use a lot more of, and conservative Christians have better reasons than most to lead the way.
Position #3: Scot McKnight says that while Giglio did the right thing by withdrawing, he "could have done the right-er thing by never accepting such an invitation":
Any evangelical on the platform of any Inauguration, Democrat or Republican, is being used. No one's prayer will be acceptable to specific faiths... and if you tailor your prayer to all you shift your theology.
This is what happens when you enter the political forum. When you enter politics you risk sullying the gospel. In DC everything is political. Who speaks, who stands where, who gets to be in the parameters of the photos, who speaks when and when one speaks where... To agree to the political space is to agree with the politics.
What happened to Louie is what happens when pastors and Christian leaders become complicit in politics. Politics determines everything. Not one's theology, not one's noble efforts to bring down trafficking, not one's capacity to pray or lead the nation in a prayer for all. Politics determines everything. And the pastor who stands on that platform makes the gospel complicit in that platform's politics.
Scoring the Debate: How should evangelicals respond to the Giglio incident? Should we be outraged? Should we shrug and recommit ourselves to good works? Or should we simply avoid letting politicians use us for their PR purposes?
Like many other evangelical reactions to the Giglio incident, each of these men provides persuasive, if incomplete, reasons for their positions. But it's difficult to say what arguments will be most effective in a our strange era, a post-Christian society in which most people still identify as Christians. Perhaps we should simply be encouraged that we're still having debates influenced by neo-Calvinism or neo-Anabaptism when too many Christians have embraced neo-secularism.