In a press release on Tuesday, speaking in regard to both selected participants invited to give prayers, President Obama stated that “Vice President Biden and I are honored that Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio will participate in the Inaugural ceremony. Their voices have inspired many people across this great nation within the faith community and beyond. Their careers reflect the ideals that the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans – justice, equality, and opportunity.”
Where the Church stands: (MormonsandGays.org)
As we go forward into 2013, we enter a year that is sure to stretch our abilities to have constructive conversations that do not inflame or offend others that do not share our same values in regard to marriage and other moral values. I hope that you are not intimidated to respectfully speak freely what you believe and share your opinions openly; even if that means you stand in opposition to the majority. I've always been one to believe that this can be done with sensitivity, and that we are obligated to do so when we are able.
Rev. Giglio's invitation was anything but arbitrary. Let it be noted, among many other good works, that he is known, globally, for his extensive work to end human trafficking; raising over $3.3 million dollars. He's also written several books. And in fact, Obama himself invited Giglio to pray at a White House Easter breakfast, just last April.
So what happened on Wednesday to suddenly change Giglio's mind you ask?
Josh Israel of ThinkProgress, a gay website, reported that, "In a mid-1990s sermon identified as Giglio’s, available online on a Christian training website, he preached rabidly anti-LGBT views. The 54-minute sermon, entitled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society." Not surprising, there was immediate, widespread backlash by the gay community and beyond.
Mind you, this was a sermon given nearly 20 years ago, reported on by one man, and picked up by many, nationally.
Unfortunately, and with little fanfare by Pastor Giglio, this is the letter that was sent to the White House and posted on his Passion City Church blog Thursday morning:
"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 we need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need."
And in response, the Presidential Inaugural Committee released this statement, making it very evident that, and in my opinion, the pastor did not come to the decision to withdraw on his own:
"We were 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. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans."
One can't help but question what diversity actually means in this new, so-called inclusive society of ours? Certainly the diversity of Pastor Giglio, as a Christian conservative who firmly believes in the Biblical teachings on homosexuality, is feeling anything but included at this moment; and by none other than those who profess equality for all. We need to do so much better.
Reading more of Giglio's blog post, he goes further in trying to explain more about where he is, or is not, in discussing these issues currently; which I find a little uncomfortable for a few reasons, but mostly because I feel that more and more those with conservative, faith-based values are feeling intimidated by the liberal left when they do speak out.
"The issue of homosexuality (which a particular message of mine some 20 years ago addressed) is one of the most difficult our nation will navigate. However, individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.
As a pastor, my mission is to love people, and lead them well, while lifting up the name of Jesus above anything else. I’m confident that anyone who knows me or has listened to the multitude of messages I have given in the last decade would most likely conclude that I am not easily characterized as being opposed to people—any people. Rather, I am constantly seeking to understand where all people are coming from and how to best serve them as I point them to Jesus.
In all things, the most helpful thing I can do is to invite each of us to wrestle with scripture and its implications for our lives. God’s words trump all opinions, including mine, and in the end, I believe God’s words lead to life."
I think the other reason I was bothered by this statement, was not the statement itself, but that it did not garner any outreach from the gay community to inquire after Giglio's current position on homosexuality, now 20 years later. And in fact, this statement has been outright rejected by some as not being anywhere near sufficient to be considered anything that resembles compassion; the words being described by one writer as "aimed fire"at his critics.
And now I have a confession, (because I took a break writing this post today and am now continuing) and one in which I suspect that I am not alone. I initially began writing this post giving credence to the report written on ThinkProgress of Giglio's sermon. I assumed that Israel had reported accurately what Giglio had said, and how he said it: rabidly. (After all, he had taken time to transcribe excerpts and evangelicals can oftentimes come across, shall we say, passionate about their subject. And many are openly critical against gays, and Mormons, too.) And also, because every other news outlet was carrying the story 'as is' as well.
But something told me to take the time and listen to the sermon myself. And boy am I glad that I did. This guy could have been a Michael Wilcox or John Bytheway -- because that's basically the way he presents. There was nothing mean-spirited about his delivery, at all. In fact, I found his sermon to be, for the most part, quite likable. He is a typical, evangelical preacher of the variety to keep his eager audience awake. Clearly his intentions, as expressed throughout his sermon, were to "hold on to the standards and reach out"to those in need of salvation.
On every point that Israel found disturbing, in my opinion, Giglio was more than compassionate in teaching the doctrine of Christ, in regard to homosexuality and the grace of God. What is most disheartening, is knowing that Israel supposedly listened to the entire sermon and still moved forward, extracting what he wanted to hear, knew would inflame, and used it to discredit a good man, whom I believe genuinely is the kind of person, and Christian, diverse enough to be inclusive of all people. It's also disappointing that the President has remained silent on the subject.
One last thought in all of this, which is probably what compelled me to blog about it in the first place: our ability, need and right to continue to speak about homosexuality, and same-sex marriage, publicly. This comes down to the issue of religious freedom and our right to exercise this right in public.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have put themselves in the forefront of this issue, and encouraged its members to do the same, at a time when it is at the height of controversy to do so; to me this should send a message to all of us. Not only have they encouraged us to have more dialogue in our families and with church associations about homosexuality, but to be more inclusive in our wards and branches and to also reach out in love to the lesbian and gay community. This challenge has been given to us while at the same time the standard has been reemphasized, with love.
"The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."
In March the United States Supreme Court will be taking up two major cases, that will surely bring the Church, and its people, into the mainstream media once again: Prop 8 and DOMA will be heard back to back.
Many are very critical of past involvement of the LDS Church and its members in the passing of Prop 8. Conservative Christians have an increasingly liberal culture to navigate, but also we will need to learn how to better dialogue with those we go to church with on Sundays as not all agree on these issues.
It should be obvious that it is becoming increasingly difficult to freely speak and stand for values that do not align themselves with liberal ideologies. What has just happened with Pastor Giglio is very unfortunate indeed. I think the pastor himself has probably handled it the best of all; with quiet dignity.
I'm committed to trying harder to follow the counsel of living prophets when it comes to reaching out to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. And although I still won't be marching in equality parades on the Sabbath or advocating for same-sex marriage, I will, with open arms, welcome any and all into my own ward family on Sundays, and stand ready and willing to sit down and get to know and understand what you experience, as a gay Mormon, a little better.
I love what Pastor Giglio shared during the closing comments of his sermon of nearly 20 years ago about the inclusionary aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ, referring to everyone; and what I hope we will all take away and apply going forward...
"It's not a message that says everything goes but it is a message that says all are welcome!"
Photo Credit: Library of Congress