Four Myths about Louie Giglio’s Inauguration Prayer (or lack thereof)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Myth #1: Louie Giglio was banned from praying at the inauguration.

It appears that Giglio actually withdrew his acceptance to pray the benediction, though it’s possible the Inaugural Committee pressured him to do so. (See Giglio’s statement. See the Inaugural Committee’s statement.) I applaud Giglio’s decision to do as much as he could to ensure that something as sacred as a prayer did not become overly politicized or divisive. He made grace and peace higher priorities than his own celebrity. To me, that’s the essence of what Paul meant when he said, “As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” 

We would do well to follow Giglio's lead in this regard and discuss this situation with civility, not making more of it than necessary. 

Myth #2 Louie Giglio’s First Amendment Rights have been violated.

Absolutely not true. Giglio’s freedom of speech remains preserved.  The First Amendment protects our freedom of speech; it does not protect us from the consequences of the things we say. Louie Giglio maintains the right to speak as freely as he likes about the inauguration, about Jesus, about human trafficking and slavery, and about homosexuality. He has the right to encourage his congregation to believe certain things, to pressure lawmakers to vote in certain ways, and to publicly protest when things don’t go his way.

But here’s the thing: So does GLAAD. So do LGBT citizens. They too have the right to free speech, the right to protest, the right to organize, and the right to affect change.

What happened here was that Giglio exercised his freedom of speech many years ago with that sermon. As a consequence, LGBT citizens and allies exercised their freedom of speech by protesting his involvement in the inauguration. This created enough controversy for Giglio to see the wisdom of withdrawing.

Let’s turn the tables. What if the Inaugural Committee had—in a stroke of stupidity—invited Bill Maher to give a “benediction” at the inauguration? And what if people of faith protested this, saying someone like Bill Maher, who has expressed outright hostility toward all forms of religions, should be the last person chosen to give a benediction? And what if all this pressure and controversy led Bill Maher to withdraw his acceptance (because you know how he hates being the subject of controversy!)?  Would his First Amendment rights have been violated?

Again, the First Amendment protects our freedom of speech; it does not protect us from the consequences of the things we say. I had a friend once who was badmouthing his boss at work; when he got caught, he was given a warning that if it continued, he could be fired. My friend complained to me that his freedom of speech had been violated. I explained that while the First Amendment protected him from being arrested by the government for calling his boss names and undermining his boss’s authority, my friend still had to face the consequences of those words from his private employer, which could in fact result in his termination.

Another example: When I tweeted that none of Giglio’s civil liberties had been compromised in this situation, a follower responded “I’m surprised you feel this way as this situation reminds me a little of what you went through with Lifeway.”  But there’s a big difference. As frustrated as I was with Lifeway for not carrying my book, I never once complained that my civil rights were being violated or that my constitutionally-protected freedom of speech had been taken away. I understood that Lifeway, as a private business, had every right to carry whatever books they pleased, and I knew from the beginning that the consequence of including the word “vagina” could mean getting banned from their stores. And thanks to freedom of speech, I can complain about their morality standards all I like! :-) (Yay America!)

Giglio is dealing with the consequences some things he said in a sermon many years ago. You may think these consequences are unfair, but they are not unconstitutional.

Myth #3 Louie Giglio is an anti-gay crusader. 

Characterizing Giglio as an anti-gay crusader based on a single video from twenty years ago seems unfair, especially when he has spent so little time addressing this in his ministry. 

And this is something of an aside, but I think it is a mistake to assume that Louie Giglio holds the exact same views on homosexuality today as he did twenty years ago. The fact that he has not really spoken on the subject since leaves room for the possibility of some evolution in his thinking and approach. In his statement in response to the inauguration flap, Giglio noted that “clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.”

Now I could be totally wrong on this, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Giglio has moved away from his position (implied in the video) that homosexuality is a “malfunction” that can be “cured” or “healed” through “reparative therapy."  Even some of the most conservative evangelicals I know are moving away from that way of thinking, which I believe is a very good thing.

Sometimes I feel like LGBT rights advocates, many of whom have been treated brutally by the Church of course, assume there is no evolution happening within evangelicalism, when I sense that there is, especially among my generation.  In other words, I hope this 20-year-old video will not be used as Exhibit A in discussions related to LGBT concerns and evangelicalism. We've made some progress since then, and this video is not representative of how all evangelicals think. It's certainly not representative of how I think. 

Myth #4 Evangelical Christians are being persecuted in the United States

There are indeed Christians being persecuted around the world. There are Christians who break the law by gathering together for church, Christians whose family members have been executed for their beliefs, Christians who have been imprisoned for following Jesus, Christians who live in poverty and fear as a result of their faithfulness.

That’s persecution.

Being wished “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” is not persecution. Being prohibited from persecuting others (by forcing Jewish kids to pray Christian prayers in a public school, for example) is not persecution. Not getting your way in every area of civic life is not persecution.

And I’m pretty sure that when the apostle Peter wrote his letter to the persecuted Church of Asia Minor, encouraging his fellow Christians to be brave in the face of oppression by the Roman government, he was not referring to Christians getting snubbed at Domitian's inauguration ceremony.

We dishonor the memory of the millions of Christians who have suffered very real persecution through the centuries when we confuse a lack of privileged status with persecution.  As Robert Cargill has noted: “There is a difference between persecution and the loss of privileged status. Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that you are persecuted. It means you can’t have everything.”

We live in a country in which the majority of its citizens are Christians and in which the president himself is a Christian. Even if our influence is waning a bit, we are still the most powerful religious group in America. We have to be careful of becoming so entitled that we grow blind to the ways in which minorities in America—like LGBT citizens, for example—are often treated as second-class. I find it ironic that so many Christians are up-in-arms about being “persecuted” by the "gay agenda" when many of our gay and lesbian neighbors are simply asking for the same civil rights that we have.

We also have to be careful of using the word “bully” to describe what happened with Giglio, especially when we are dialoging with folks whose experience with “bullying” may very well have included physical violence, decades of merciless taunts, hateful slurs, and mistreatment at the hands of Christians.


Just my two…er, four…cents.

What would  you add?

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