Of mice and ministers

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” {Acts 20:18-21, ESV}

My previous post engendered some conversation with friends & family on the nature of Christian witness in the public square. To review: Louie Giglio withdrew from the presidential inauguration after it was revealed that he had preached a biblical message on homosexuality sometime in the 90s. Reading his public statement I interpreted Giglio’s move as a thinly veiled retreat from the cultural battlefront (see previous post) while others saw the move as the proverbial “ounce of prevention” thwarting the slander & caricature of the Christian faith.

Those who wish to give Giglio the benefit of the doubt raise three points in his defense: (1) there’s no evidence that Giglio has changed his views on homosexuality (2) Giglio had no chance for a fair hearing so long as it was to be filtered by the MSM (3) refraining to speak in public prevented a spectacle and allows Giglio & Co. to reach out to the homosexual community privately and/or personally.

Concerning #1, I find it more than a little disconcerting that the American church has come to expect so little from her pastors. When Christians must review our leaders’ public statements to see if there’s any clear, irrefutable evidence to show that one foot landed outside the doctrinal line you can bet that that game will not result in a W for the church. The prevent defense has never won a game and we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can effectively take part in the contest without causing any offense. Our message will either be foolish or offensive to those who oppose the gospel. Show me a pastor who doesn’t offend worldly sensibilities and I’ll show you a pastor who’s stopped preaching salvation from sin. [btw, didn’t Rick Warren face the same kind of bullying upon his invitation to participate in the 2008 inauguration?]

Concerning #2 and 3 I think two clarifications are in order. First, Giglio didn’t shy away from a debate but an accusation—and an accurate one at that. Exhibit A for the prosecution was a clearly articulated sermon which labeled homosexuality as sin while also proclaiming salvation for all who would turn to Christ. [Would that all our accusers would quote us accurately & in context!] Second, and perhaps more significant, the hand-wringers & teeth-gnashers weren’t seeking an explanation from the pastor anyway. The left wasn’t asking “How could Giglio say that?” but “How could Obama choose him?”. The onus was on the President to apologize for or defend his invitation, but what we ended up with was Giglio lamenting the fact that he and his “priorities” were misunderstood.

Further, the premise that Giglio (and Passion City Church) shunned the public scrutiny for the sake of personal evangelism doesn’t add up unless we assume that Atlanta’s homosexual community is essentially clueless when it comes to what orthodox Christianity has to say about their lifestyle. If that were the case, Giglio was wise to pull back so that he and his church could continue to evangelize incognito. File this notion under the heading “willing suspension of disbelief” and move on.

In the end, I can’t escape three recurring thoughts concerning the inauguration fiasco: (1) exchange homosexuality as the point of contention with a societal sin such as abortion, racism, or slavery and many more of today’s Christians would find Giglio’s statement grossly inadequate (2) it seems that popular culture has digressed to the point that high-profile pastors must seriously consider whether or not prophetic omission has kept them viable and palatable to cultural elites (3) we should confidently preach equal opportunity salvation—for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

Rejection or retreat?

While most of the bloggers and Twitterati bemoan society refusing an evangelical pastor a platform in the public square, very few seem willing to consider the evidence pointing to an(other) evangelical retreat. Just two days after he was announced as a participant in the inauguration, Louie Giglio submitted a letter to the White House stating that he was withdrawing from the program. Reports are mixed but not necessarily contradictory: Giglio quickly bowed out of the program soon after the White House, recognizing the selection to be a problem, told the Presidential Inauguration Committee to “fix it” [the NYT seems to have removed this portion of the story from their initial report].  

Since the catalyst for the dis-invitation was the characterization of Giglio by a liberal news group as a man who “preached rabidly anti-LGBT views,” many have rightly pointed to the growing intolerance of orthodox Christianity in an increasingly secular society. But just as significant as the charge brought against him is the manner in which Giglio responded.

Let’s admit up front that a high profile pastors are in an extremely difficult position. I for one wouldn’t be immune from withering criticism if, like Giglio, my statements (scripted or not), sermons, and surmising was dissected in public view. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the disappointment I experienced when I first read his letter to the White House (and, later, the full statement). Here’s what stood out to me:

1) A seemingly greater desire to avoid conflict rather than to graciously represent the truth. I don’t doubt that the White House was more eager to drop Giglio than he was to withdraw, but Giglio’s public statement spoke louder than any sermon from the 90’s. At its best the letter was an apology for being misunderstood; at its worst it was textbook capitulation. Any guesses as to whether the tolerance police read it for better or for worse? Sadly, Giglio is one more high profile pastor (must be something in the Atlanta water) that has signaled his unwillingness to speak on the issue of homosexuality even when someone else brings it to the floor. As Steve McCoy poignantly tweeted: “make us respond on homosexuality and we will tap out. We’re scared to death.”

2) The repeated attempts to distance himself from the sermon at the center of the debate. By all accounts the sermon Think Progress unearthed–“In Search of a Standard-Christian Response to Homosexuality”–was merely an expression of the Church’s historic, traditional teaching on homosexuality complete with the offer of hope, healing, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ (I’ve read the so-called offensive portions but haven’t heard the entire sermon). On the one hand, Giglio never apologizes for the sermon; on the other hand, he never comments on the message choosing instead to repeatedly (4x!) stress how out-of-date the sermon is. I fail to see how the age of the sermon should be a mitigating factor in the criticism unless Giglio (a) is embarrassed by the sermon (b) no longer cares about the issue (c) no longer holds the convictions he espoused in the sermon. None of these options are attractive.

3) The failure to clarify his current stance concerning homosexuality. If you deem it best to bow out of the discussion the least a pastor can do is leave everyone with a clear understanding on where he stands as he exits. The closest Giglio ever comes to clarifying his position today is to say “God’s words trump all opinions” – not exactly Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door.

4) The failure to seize an unexpected opportunity. Giglio and his team characterized the uproar over homosexuality to be “a fight on an issue not of our choosing.” So much for being ready in season and out of season. Perhaps more distressing is the admission that they would surrender their momentary platform in the public square because the undesired attention doesn’t best serve “the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish.” Exactly what kind of core message & goals would dissuade a pastor from standing up to attacks rooted in biblical preaching?

Yes, a Christian pastor was denied a voice in the public square. Sadly, I suspect that in this case the line between secular rejection and Christian retreat has been rendered very blurry. 

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