Earlier this week, Rev. Louie Giglio decided to bow out of praying at President Barack Obama's inauguration after gay-rights groups cited a 20-year-old sermon as anti-homosexual and put pressure on the Obama administration to have Giglio removed. In the aftermath, a number of evangelical Christians have cited this as an example of increasing intolerance of Christian viewpoints in the public square, with Q's Gabe Lyons even initially calling it a kind of "hate crime." But is it?
This incident does raise questions concerning Christian conviction and religious freedom. But I think that Christians should expect that their stance on numerous issues would be incompatible with American culture and politics in general. Instead of being angered when a specifically Christian position is considered incompatible with the dominant culture, it may be to our shame that this doesn’t happen far more often.
Consider the issue of war. Many Christians who were rightly critical of President George W. Bush’s abandonment of just war guidelines have been much less vocal in the past four years, even though Obama’s record is hardly better. A recent report notes that in just one region of Pakistan, there have been 168 innocent children killed due to drone strikes. Compare that number to Newtown, Conn. Why are so few Christians actually talking about our willingness to consider dead children the collateral damage of our freedom? One would hope that Christian attentiveness to this injustice would make any commander-in-chief reticent about sharing the stage with a Christian on Inauguration Day.
But we also need to be careful about our rhetoric. Do I think it is overboard that a group dug through sermons from 15 to 20 years ago to undermine Giglio? Yes. But let’s also remember that we live in a pluralistic society, which means that if someone disagrees with us, they are free to do so. Although Lyons contends that the First Amendment is under attack, I disagree. No one is taking away Giglio’s “freedom to speak [his] mind and live by [his] convictions.” There is a difference between the legal courts and the court of public opinion. Christians are as free as ever to hold to what they believe, although that may affect our popularity. But since when has popularity or even public approval been the goal for Christians?
LifeWay Research’s Ed Stetzer further asks, “If [Christians] do not [change their views], will they be marginalized and demonized even as they serve the poor, care for the orphan or speak against injustice?” Maybe, or even probably. But then how would that be much different from many Christians throughout history and in many places around the world today? Haven’t Christians often been vilified and even martyred while simultaneously serving the societies in which they live? Perhaps the difficulty is that some Christians are just now discovering that America too falls into the category of what the Bible calls “the world.”
Many Christians take this incident as another skirmish in the ongoing culture war for America’s soul. For my part, I think we should take our cues from Giglio. Rather than choosing to circle the wagons, he withdrew so that he could continue to “call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.” He will continue to pray, preach and work to help people see how Jesus changes their life, both for all eternity and in the present.
There is still a battle raging, but it is not a battle for general acceptance on the American public stage. So long as Christians think it is, we may have already succumbed to the temptation of our true Enemy.