Louie Giglio in the news.

I did not imagine that the day after I wrote an entry about Christians, family values and LGBT people that something like this Louie Giglio news event would occur but here we are. This news story is yet another example of what Christians and evangelicals (my faith) will have to deal with in coming months and years and our response is clearly vital not just for the practice of our faith but also our relationship with the greater culture as a whole.

Some background for folks who have not been following: Giglio is a well-known pastor from Georgia. His main focus has been Passion conferences and a movement to end sex trafficking. This anti-slavery work garnered an invitation from the Obama Inaugural committee to offer a prayer at the ceremony. A couple days ago a website publicized a sermon by Giglio from the 1990s that preached negatively about homosexuals. After much outcry, Giglio released a statement respectfully declining the invitation to speak.

Full disclosure: I have watched a few sermon series by Giglio and went to one of his conferences when I lived in South Africa in 2008. I have not kept up with his Passion or anti-slavery movement but by most accounts I find him to be an engaging speaker and a great and thoughtful man of God.

Unsurprisingly the battle-lines have been drawn after this event. Somewhat unexpectedly though they are calling each other out about the same thing: tolerance and inclusiveness. LGBT advocates denounced Giglio as someone who is “anti-gay” and unworthy of the inaugural stage. Evangelicals accused LGBT advocates for promoting tolerance for everyone except them and other conservative religious followers. The question has been raised, is there any space in the public square for the conservative evangelical pastor or leader? Giglio himself expressed the issue concisely in his statement backing out of the invitation saying, “…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 an evangelical christian these are tough issues to think about and navigate. I foresee these issues continuing to come up in the days and years ahead. Here are just a few thoughts on things I think both sides could be thinking about in the days ahead.

Evangelicals need to realize that the standard “Christian” response to homosexuality is largely untenable to large segments of our present society. Most LGBT people have no desire to change, do not believe it is possible and are gravely insulted when Christians tell them that they can. This does not make them “anti-christian” as much as it makes them “pro-themselves.” In a nation that values “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Christians need to accept that some will find all those things outside of the “evangelical” model. In addition, they need to accept that while they believe they are speaking “truth in love” this truth can be and has been incredibly hurtful, unhelpful, and destructive to people trying to not just live their lives but also find Jesus. Evangelicals also need to accept that the “Biblical” model of sexuality is not their own exclusive domain. There are many churches now that openly accept and affirm LGBT people and their relationships. We can debate and argue about who is right but are we willing to condemn all these other churches even as they preach Jesus as well? “…for whoever is not against us is for us.”

 

On the part of LGBT advocates I am sure it is wildly frustrating and even infuriating to hear over and over again how destructive their lives are from people who do not even know them. Realize that most have no idea how hurtful their words are and are often genuinely trying to simply follow their faith. I have no doubt in my mind that Giglio is not a bigot. He is however, trapped by his set of circumstances. If he were to disavow that sermon from the 90s he would likely have to give up his entire life’s work up to this point. He would lose his pastoral job and with it the leadership of his Passion conferences and leadership of his anti-slavery movement. Please understand I am not comparing his troubles to the myriad injustices LGBT people face simply existing in the world today but simply noting this is a tough issue that will take time. I personally feel it was unhelpful and unwise for Giglio to refer to LGBT people’s desire for acceptance as an “agenda” yet again yesterday. But I also think that labeling him a “bigot” does little to respect the great good he has done in his career or move the conversation forward.

I guess what I am calling for is a dose of humility from both sides. The more entrenched we become the less likely we will be able to meet each other going forward as citizens and Christians.

 

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Remember the 1st amendment?

A story recently broke in the Boston area that I found interesting not only because of the mild controversy it has caused but because of the (in my view) troubling views of people who have commented on the event.

Here is my understanding of what happened. A group of 6th-graders from the suburb town of Wellesley went on a field trip to a local mosque. This was part of a social studies unit they were in the middle of called, “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” Before their trip to the mosque they had visited an synagogue, a gospel music performance, and met Hindus. My understanding is that the primary purpose of the visit was to have a tour of the building. At some point there was a prayer time (Muslims pray 5 times a day so the fact that their visit coincided with one of these is unsurprising.) During this time of a prayer, a number of the students on the field trip decided to join in. From what I have read, it looks like they did little more than line up with the people praying and briefly followed along with their actions. It doesn’t look like there was any coercion or involuntary participation.   A few wanted to join in and were allowed to do so. Strikingly, the least offended people of these student’s actions were their own parents who were helping chaperone the trip.

An outburst of media activity has set people off about this however. Some think having a field trip to a mosque is too much. Some are offended that students were allowed to join in the prayers. And some think that simply having students observe the prayers went too far. To all these people I say firmly, “Remember the 1st Amendment?”

In America we have freedom of religion not freedom from religion. Learning about religion in an academic, non-proselytizing manner is legal. In addition voluntary religious behavior by anyone , student or otherwise, should be legal as well. I never understand people who say prayer isn’t allowed in school. Of course it is. If I want to bow my head quickly before starting a test, I can. If I want to sit by my locker and pray, I can. If I want to start a voluntary after-school prayer club on school grounds, I should be allowed to. And if students asked me to go sit down briefly with people they have been learning about to experience what they are doing, I would, time allowing, let them. It’s called getting an education.

We are blessed to have many freedoms here in the US and it is bothersome to see how woefully blown out of proportion this non-event has become.