In less than 24 hours it was discovered that the Georgia mega church pastor, chosen to give the benediction at the President's second inauguration, preached anti-gay sermons over a decade ago. Rev. Louie Giglio took quite a public lashing from progressives around the country and has since been replaced by the Rev. Luis Leon, a D.C. Episcopal priest who, along with his 1.9 million member denomination, supports same-sex marriages.
The controversy has sparked a more fundamental discussion: Are anti-gay beliefs welcome in the public square?
The short answer is no, but this is not a wholesale rejection of Christian beliefs, or even "traditional evangelical beliefs." At first glance, it may seem superficial to criticize Rev. Giglio based on a sermon he preached over a decade ago. Even the President of the United States has "evolved" on LGBT equality in the past year. But Rev. Giglio has given no indication that his views have changed.
In his withdrawal letter to the White House, he acknowledged that he doesn't agree with the president "on every issue" (read: LGBT equality) and on his blog, he asserts that the right to hold differing views on any subject must be "recovered and preserved."
We do live in a society that should welcome vibrant discourse on a variety of subjects. Though, when it comes to affirming the human dignity of an individual, there is no room for compromise. It's not up for discussion.
That's why, on second glance, something was very wrong with the initial selection. The problem was not merely a difference of opinion on an "issue," but rather, that the prayer to our nation would be offered by a man who might not fully affirm the human dignity of all Americans.
I have no doubt that there are conservative Christian leaders who provide extraordinary ministry in the social justice arenas of their choosing. Rev. Giglio's commendable work to combat human trafficking was the rationale for his selection. But our culture is shifting and when it comes to LGBT equality, Americans expect more from our churches. The U.S. Episcopal Church, Metropolitan Community Churches and the United Church of Christ are just a few denominations that are meeting this need.
Christians are consistently becoming more visible advocates for the full inclusion of our LGBT neighbors. Over the past few years I've had many conversations with friends and families, and I've seen folks move from anti-gay opinions, to an unconditionally loving theology and everything in between.
Christianity does not have to be exclusive of LGBT equality, and when it is, people are leaving the church. The Public Religion Research Institute found a significant increase in the number of college age millenials who transitioned from being religiously affiliated in their childhood to religiously unaffiliated as young adults. A sizeable majority view present-day Christianity as anti-gay and judgmental and believe that what makes America great is our openness to change and new ways of doing things.
As public opinion shifts, churches that do not fully affirm LGBT people will leave many in their flock behind. Scripture that is void of compassion is merely words, and our ability to have compassion for every human being is critical to our faith and in an increasingly diverse world.
If conservative Christians cannot stomach this evolution, they should not be surprised if progressive Christian traditions, like the U.S. Episcopal Church, gain more traction in society. For some, this is a necessary consequence to maintaining their biblical interpretation on homosexuality, but this shift should not be depicted as a decline of Christian beliefs in our society.
The exclusion of Rev. Giglio is not a matter of banishing conservative theology from the public square; it is a matter of the public demanding more from our churches -- more compassion, more understanding and more dialogue about our biblical texts.
While I have and continue to appreciate the president's efforts to reach across the aisle, it is clear that his inaugural committee initially missed the mark on this one. It isn't a problem to have an evangelical conservative give the benediction, but at the very least, a pastor who blesses our nation must fully affirm the human dignity of all Americans -- that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
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