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For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

Is it right to be so focused, or do we risk losing something?

This post is about the Louie Giglio drama (and no I don’t mean Louie Giglio has come up with a play). I am not offering a political opinion (though I have some links in the post to some diametrically opposed ones). If you are unaware of the situation this is the gist of it:

Louie Giglio was invited to give the prayer at the inauguration of Barack Obama in his second term. The selection of an evangelical does not only follow the precedent of his first selection (of Rick Warren) four years ago, but was also a recognition of Giglio’s work against human trafficking.

“Think Progress” a more than left of center political group found a 20 year old sermon of his where he talks about the conflict of values between Christianity and “some” homosexuals. They  also mention that Giglio praised reparative therapy, a controversial treatment program where the goal is to remove homosexual desires, often attributing their cause to psychological trauma or (in rare instances) sin in the persons life.

As might be expected, there were protests regarding the invitation to Giglio.

Last week, Giglio withdrew his acceptance of the invitation to pray, suggesting the president pick someone else. His invitation was not revoked (though some media initially reported it that way), but the start came from Giglio

So that leads us to today.

In a post to the blog of his Church, Giglio reproduced the letter he sent the president and explained that he has now declined the invitation because the focus of the prayer would no longer be on God, on the prayer, or on his work against human trafficking, but on his position on gay marriage, something he decided not to make a big part of his ministry because, it seems, he thought there were other things of at least equal (if not greater) importance that needed to be addressed, and the gay marriage issue would have been too large a distraction from the rest of that. You can read that blog post here.

Yet despite his best efforts to steer clear of what amounts to a divisive political debate (at least in the way both sides are discussing it), the entire situation, and Giglio somewhat personally, has been used as political fodder to advance the political standing of both sides.

From the more liberal end, there is Think Progress and Americablog Gay (a Gay rights blog), both of whom are claiming a victory and that Giglio was actually ousted (though Think Progress changed their language when it became clear Giglio had actually withdrawn).

On the more politically conservative end, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, and President of Southern Baptist Seminary Al Mohler both also claim he was forceably ousted by the current President (though, again, Al Mohler changed his language when it became clear Giglio had withdrawn).

The focus on both sides, it seems, is not really Giglio, certainly not his work against human trafficking or the gospel, and not even, it seems, really with the issue of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. The focus, it seems, is purely political. The focus is on the current administration, either as a “yay he’s for our side!” or a “do you see the kind of bozo we’ve elected?” kind of way.

For an interesting perspective, perhaps take a look at Rachel Held Evans’s Blog. I don’t agree with her on everything (generally or on that post specifically), but she does make some good points that might be worth considering.

I, for one, have always highly respected Louie Giglio, from when I was just in seventh grade and heard some of his sermons on cassette tape. And I think I still do. But, at this point, we have to ask the question: at what point does our focus become too narrow? Giglio said the reason he withdrew, and the reason he hasn’t made any definitive statements on the issue recently, is because he wants to focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and on ending human trafficking (clearly admirable goals). What I’d like to ask you is, was Giglio’s focus too narrow?

I mean on the one hand there is Paul, the Apostle, who is narrowly focused on the gospel. So much so, it seems, that while in Philemon he seems aching to say that slavery is wrong and that slaves should be our brothers and sisters and treated as equals, Paul refrains from going that far or being that clear, because it’s a battle he knew he couldn’t win at that point in history and he didn’t think he could afford the distraction. Countless workers for the gospel have taken this tact (and who, because of that, are largely nameless). The most recent of whom we might know is Billy Graham who, until very recently, withdrew from all politics and refused to make political statements lest they interfere with the Gospel.

On the other hand, though, there is Jesus Christ himself, who not only came to speak about this life saving kingdom, but enact it practically, seeming to have no bounds to his focus, the poor, the sick, women, Samaritans, Gentiles, and on and on. But was he different (i.e. the Christ, God incarnate, coming to transform the world) and so it doesn’t apply to us?

In between the two extremes (of one thing and everything) there are others in history, like William Wilberforce fighting to end the British Slave Trade, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Southern Baptist Pastor who sought to end segregation, and many others.

What is the right balance, then? Is Giglio’s focus too narrow (he should address other issues, like homosexuality)? Not narrow enough (he should only focus on the salvation of the gospel and not spend quite as much time fighting human trafficking, as terrible as that is, because of how important the gospel is)? Or is it right? Or is it something else? Add your thoughts below.

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5 thoughts on “Is it right to be so focused, or do we risk losing something?

  1. Interesting post. My first reaction is to wonder if this is really an either/or question or if the answer is more both/and. That is to say, would the church be better if we were all highly focused or all very broad in our concerns, or is it better that we have people within it who are from both camps? I suspect the latter. Some people are much more effective when highly focussed, others can maintain a wider focus and still be effective.

    Sad that US politics is so keen to demonise people, and that Giglio felt he had to withdraw–which of us hasn’t said things in the past we wouldn’t rather retract, even if the content was true?

    • I’m inclined to agree with you. The blend of different working styles and degrees of focus is probably a very good thing. As with many things, there may not be one right way that applies to everyone, but rather a set of right ways that applies to different people in different ways depending on a variety of factors.

  2. We wouldn’t be having these questions if he had preached about the black lifestyle, or advocated bleach therapy. Our children will look back on Giglio exactly as we look back on the good reverends of Birmingham, who–one can only presume–might have done some good in their day. But they’re only really remembered for one thing, and it’s the same thing that the reverend in question today will be remembered for.

    It really doesn’t matter how nice you are about it, opposing other people’s civil rights is evil.

    • I just don’t think the analogy to the civil rights movement of the 1940s-1980s can hold water (And I’m not saying that there movement didn’t begin earlier or isn’t still progressing).

      Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that marriage between two homosexual persons of the same gender is not only acceptable by governmental standards (i.e. it should be lawful in all states and places), but also constitutes a valid expression of Christian marriage (to be clear, I am NOT giving my personal view on this issue by that statement). Please read this in its entirety before responding: Are people of same-gendered attraction being physically barred from entering church buildings? Are pastors advocating violence against them? Are pastors calling them sub-human? Is this speaking out against homosexual people a regular (weekly or monthly) fixture of preaching by pastors? Is it blatantly obvious to everyone when a person walks down the street, or eats in a restaurant that they are either heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual (or, since this is now a thing, asexual)? To be sure, this does take place in some churches and by some pastors. Shame on them. They rightfully should be told how wrong they are. What a terrible mess to demonize people, regardless of what they’ve done, who are made in God’s image! Can those same things be said of Giglio? Granted, one might argue that his references to reparative therapy constitute calling someone subhuman, but that is a gross mischaracterization of those who advocate for such things, usually they distinguish between the person and the inclination. (To be clear, I do NOT advocate reparative therapy ever. Also, I doubt Giglio would anymore either, if he had ever talked about homosexuality publicly again). The only form of discrimination that might be considered lawful or moral is economic in the sense that same-sex marriages are currently not allowed in the majority of states. That is fairly minor. Now, it might be morally objectionable, but it pales in comparison to the struggles of minorities both during the civil rights movement and today. It is a bit insulting to the struggles of non-whites to compare what they have and are going through to the (relatively) minor inconveniences of gay and lesbian couples.

      Further, being of a certain race (even that term is a bit of an artificial human construct and not really based on genuine distinctions, as all persons, even children in the same family, will have variations in the concentration and expression of melonin as determined genetically) is not called a sin anywhere in the bible. Acting upon homosexual desires is expressly labeled a sin both in the Old and New Testament. This is not personal prejudice, but a genuinely held belief derived not from culture (as was racism) but from biblical interpretation.

      Also, there is a sharp distinction made between being and doing (at least there has been among most non-fundamentalist evangelicals for the past 2 or 3 decades). Having a same-sex attraction is no longer viewed as the sinful behavior. Acting upon those desires (i.e. engaging in homosexual sexual activity) is what is considered sinful. The analogy falls apart here as well. Racist preachers advocated discrimination because of who a person was, not because of any behavior performed. A black person, for instance, couldn’t decide simply to not act upon their “black-ness.” However, people who experience same sex desires can and do decide not to act upon those desires. Hence the Anglican Church’s, in the United Kingdom at least, nearly unilateral agreement that persons who experience same sex attraction may nevertheless be ordained provided they don’t act upon those desires (the only other voice in the debate are those who say that they can act upon those desires in a committed monogamous relationship, not the other extreme). That’s what evangelicals really meant (initially, and again today) when they said/say that homosexuality is a choice. It’s a choice on whether to give into desire, not on whether to have a desire.

      It seems that the real issue is whether or not, in the Church, someone has the inherent right to gratify sexual desires, whatever they may be. The church has historically and emphatically said NO, with a few exceptions (and not all those exceptions were advocates of same-sex marriage). The fact is, that in the Church, there are some desires that should not be gratified. It is not a sin to desire alcohol, but it is certainly sinful to get drunk. It is not a sin to have an impulse, but a lack of impulse control must be addressed. One of the cultic groups that split off from Christianity, the Chinets, advocated that all heterosexual desires should be gratified, including multiple partners and even teenagers with adults (pre-pubescent children were not included). They believed it was the proper expression of Christian love, because, after all, their desires were natural. Did the Church agree with them? NO! Nor should they have. It was good that they were not considered part of the church and ultimately forced to disband. What about the issue of polygamy? Surely the desires of some (or possibly most) men is to have more than one sexual partner. Doesn’t polygamy answer this natural desire and allow for its gratification in an acceptable way? The Church has said NO! And the government of the US and most European countries has agreed. Why is this a good thing? Because, among other issues, it is demeaning, dehumanizing, and abusive to the women involved, EVEN IF THE WOMEN ARE WILLING PARTNERS. Awareness of abuse is never a criterion for establishing its existence, in fact it is rare that someone who has been subject to psychological abuse considers their situation abusive (“He only hits me because he loves me.” “I shouldn’t have made him mad.” “It’s my fault, really.”) Mutually abusive relationships, likewise, can be damaging to both persons, even if they are unaware of it. The fact of the matter is, though, that whether a desire is genetic or not is immaterial. At some point one has to choose whether or not to pursue the desire, and Christianity has always been about abdicating rights, not clinging to them.

      Finally, and this is a side note, there have been many racists and slaveholders and others whose greater contributions to society have allowed for them still to be viewed honorably, if with a rather dark, sordid, and tragic (and very important, to be sure, footnote). In the history of Christianity, here are a few: Augustine, Martin Luther (yes his writings were used by Nazis against Jewish people), George Whitfield among others. Yet the focus is not on their racism. If it is brought up at all, it is nevertheless recognized how wrong they were, but the focus tends to be on their overarching contribution. So yes, by not making it THE issue, Giglio might be remembered for his work against human trafficking (but I doubt that his goal was ever to “be remembered” for anything).

      Apologies for the long reply, but the comparison to racist white preachers in the South in the mid twentieth century is a faulty one, and grossly oversimplifies the issue, despite its high prevalence. Sure it sounds catchy and has been used rhetorically to stop the opposing side, but good rhetoric does not make good logic, nor genuinely good arguments.

  3. Pingback: Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross « whytheology

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