Conservative evangelicals are asking whether they are welcome in public square

“Now that the Rev. Louie Giglio, the Atlanta pastor who was going to pray at President Barack Obama’s inauguration but came under fire for an anti-gay sermon he gave in the mid-1990s, has bowed out, some conservative Christians and evangelicals have began to ask: are they welcome in the public square?”

So begins a story by Jaweed Kaleem, the enterprising religion reporter at the Huffington Post, about the the latest controversy that has flared up at the intersection of faith and politics.

Kaleem quotes a column by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research who wrote:

Some are wondering if those who hold to traditional evangelical beliefs on homosexuality are no longer welcome in the public square…what does this mean for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and so many more who believe that their authoritative religious texts teach something the prevailing culture finds so unacceptable that they are no longer welcome within the mainstream context, even if they are (as Louie Giglio is know for) working to eradicate slavery? To some, they are no longer welcome because of disagreement over a single, yet specific, point of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

There is a distinction to be made between whether anti-gay views are permitted (a commitment for free speech would seem to demand as much) and whether those who hold such views should be selected for positions of honor by political leaders who are not in sympathy with those views. But Stetzer’s question is still worth asking. To what extent should the views of those who believe that same-sex relationships are immoral be accommodated “within the mainstream context”?

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  1. barbara snyder

    Snake-handlers, I’d think, would be “welcome in the public square” for their advocacy on, say, poverty – even if people think they’re a bit bonkers about the snakes.

    Of course snake-handlers don’t generally insist that everybody else be a snake-handler, too – or that non-snake-handlers are immoral and/or crazy. And I’ve never heard a snake-handler slander and smear non-snake-handlers with fabrications.

    So personally, I’d support a snake-handler giving the Inaugural Benediction. They seem like nice folks….

  2. Michael Russell

    Of course they are welcome in the public square, they just can’t demand that their perspective rule us all.

    The Fundagelical part of contemporary Evangelical Christianity seem to think that they can, based on their reading of texts and their particular choices in interpreting them, deny others the fundamental exercise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For the mean and vicious spirit they have brought to the debate, it is entirely proper to leave them off the podium in the square during a celebration of an election won, in part, by the very constituency they vilify.

    This latest whinging is just part of their decades old strategy to relentlessly attack those they decide are heretics and miscreants and then whine when they are slapped down for their behavior.

    Like the previous Fundagelical awakenings this one too has run its course. Mean spirited hellfire breathing theocratic preaching and doctrine are finally exhausted in the face of reasonable people who get fed up with the hectoring. And like the previous ones they wander off scratching their heads without a clue about why they are now sidelined.

  3. Dallas Bob

    “To what extent should the views of those who believe that same-sex relationships are immoral be accommodated “within the mainstream context”?”

    I’d say to about the same extent we accomodate the views of Christian white supremacists. Not at all.

    Bob Button

  4. Weiwen Ng

    In theory, if someone showed up and said that homosexuality isn’t God’s best plan for humanity and that people should refrain from same-sex relationships, but this person also refrained from ad hominem attacks, I think we should accept that. The fact is that this line of thinking is within the mainstream of Christian thought as things currently stand.

    If the above person held the same beliefs but was willing to say that same-sex civil unions were an acceptable harm reduction strategy, that would be even better. I believe Tony Campolo holds this position, although it is a very uncommon one.

    To be clear, I am strongly pro same sex marriage. If someone makes an ad hominem attack on the LGBT community, I think they should be excluded from positions of honor. Stuff like equating being LGBT to being punched in the face or intrinsically and objectively disordered would qualify, unless the speaker repudiated their remarks.

    Of course, the last bit raises a question. The Catholic Church’s official position is that LGBT folks are objectively and intrinsically disordered. Do we exclude all Catholic clergy? Or maybe just the ones who have made ad hominem attacks themselves? I prefer the latter, not sure the former is wise. But again, the Catholic Church’s formal stance is pretty homophobic and if someone said this, it would be as if they had punched me in the face.

  5. Murdoch Matthew

    Mr. Button has the right of it: No more tolerance of homophobia than of white supremacy. Belief that the natural order requires subjection of a minority group is anti-social and should be rejected.

    (Oppression of African-Americans reflects the human tendency to hate and despise people you’ve wronged — if they were as good as you, your actions would be unconscionable. Rejection of gays and Lesbians often reflects repression of one’s own tendencies — control your own unwanted desire by striking out at people exemplifying it. Opinions delivered from the closet are warped.)

    Roman Catholic pronouncements are complicated in that prelates speak to and not for the members. Most US RCs reject bishop’s directions on birth control and voting. Someone pointed out that the 1,000 Roman priests who signed the letter are about 25% of the relevant clergy. Roman pronouncements nowadays are addressed to the Vatican, which controls advancement and perks, the people and effective politics be damned.

    But the question of sincere belief bedevils all churchpeople, liberals and conservatives alike. William Temple, in a NY lecture before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, observed that it’s impossible to distinguish between sincere religious conviction and sheer prejudice; both are subjective, and may be supported by tradition and peer opinion.

    Paul in a letter to Corinth comes uncomfortably close to saying that the illogic and lack of evidence for his message testify to its truthfulness. It’s impossible, it makes no sense, so believing it represents pure faith.

    It seems to me that “God says” is a warning marker, whether God says Love or Hell — all supposed words of God come from human authors and human experience. Tradition and authority can be wrong — we now look to evidence in physical matters. In social matters, experience guides. Before the concept of sexual orientation became general (late 1800s), sexual deviations were considered individual matters, specific acts by specific persons (characterized as sin or deviance). As awareness of sexual diversity has spread, it turns out that deviant individuals have lots of (similar) company, and, given social opportunity, pair off with great enthusiasm and success. (And many of those confirmed bachelors of old turn out to have been coupled after all — Noel Coward and Gore Vidal notably.) The numbers of productive same-sex couples now make it simply perverse to deny their legitimacy. The families they are forming are icing on the cake.

    Denial of reality is a big industry nowadays — climate change, banking regulation, same-sex love — these are being opposed for political power and private profit. Demand that illogical, destructive opinions be accepted as legitimate has influential backing. Despite the orchestrated uproar, however, people of good will should resist it. (Politicians who try to appease both sides are not people of good will.)

  6. Benedict Varnum

    Murdoch, if you’ve got a link to that William Temple lecture, I’d love to have it in my hip pocket; I have that conversation very often when riding the opposite border of these conversations.

    At least one problem here is that there’s a difference between “The Public Square” and “a Presidential Inauguration.” Frankly, I believe that it is important that the answer to the posed question be that the religiously conservative on issues of gay marriage should — at present — be welcome at both.

    The public square — the place where you might provide an opinion in a media interview without fear of reprisal, where you might answer a question about your church’s theology without fearing it will be burned, where you might give your religious affiliation to a realtor without it weighing as a consideration against your application to a neighborhood association — is a place where minority voices should always be allowed and protected.

    The current presidential inauguration, I believe, should be open to persons with theology such as that of Pastor Giglio because the nation is not of a single clear mind on it. Persons on either side believe passionately in the moral necessity of their position, and that the opposite side’s morality holds grave and fundamental flaws. But the discussion is not over, and it would be a terrifying practice of public life at the highest levels to only allow the already-agreed to be spoken.

    In time, it is my hope that the nation’s heart and mind will turn to fully recognize the rights and dignity of LGBTQ citizens. But those in authority must also honor the process that seems — in the present moment — to be taking us there, and not undermine its moral authority by locking their opponents away the second they have authority.

    A sadness in all of this is how little this has served to raise serious discussion of Pastor Giglio’s efforts to combat human trafficking, and the need for a more committed response to that.

  7. Chris H.

    So since the President himself is trying to get both sides to work together, he’s not a man of good will?

    Here’s another example that might explain my problem with refusing Giglio: let’s say the best neurosurgeon in the U.S. is an evangelical who doesn’t believe in gay marriage. By the reasoning here, not only would none here go to him if they needed surgery, which is a person’s right to choose. The doctor must never treat the President, even if asked, and also be banned from accepting any awards he’s earned as a surgeon and be banned from speaking publicly about neurosurgery all because of his stance on gay marriage, which he hasn’t mentioned in 20 years. What is that?

    What a way to commemorate National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Jan 11, by blackballing the messenger. That way he’s too busy protecting himself to actually have anything to say anything about modern slavery. Those he’s been working against are probably laughing their heads off. Hopefully all the bad publicity doesn’t destroy his work fighting that evil.

    Chris Harwood

  8. tgflux

    those who hold to traditional evangelical beliefs on homosexuality

    There’s a lot to unpack in this short phrase.

    I think the claim “traditional…beliefs” are often applied to shut-down all opposition. {Tevye voice} “Tradition…TRADITION!”

    Beyond that applying “traditional” to “homosexuality” is 100% anachronistic canard. “Homosexuality”—meaning homosexual orientation, and the relationships that follow from it—is a modern concept, and the negative reactions to it are, if anything, even MORE modern. A creation of 20th/21st century politics w/ a thin religious facade.

    But most of all, what does “hold to…beliefs” mean here? Grip, as a nightstick? A hammer, for the crucifying nail?

    It’s the “hold to” part which earned Giglio the outrage from which he resigned. As I said in an earlier thread, Giglio could have EASILY ridden this out (w/ the backing of Team O), w/ even a mild retraction of his 1990s bigotry. But he clung tightly to it, as his Highest Truth. Again to repeat: there’s nothing “traditional” about Homophobia Uber Alles.

    And to the extent THIS “public square” is invitation-only, fair-minded Americans (and Christians!) are morally-justified in leaving them off the invite list.

    JC Fisher

  9. Murdoch Matthew

    B. Varnum,

    William Temple’s lectures were published in 1915; I don’t know of a link. I’ll copy the passage if it will be helpful:

    . . . Generation after generation has come to feel that certain relations of the sexes are, as a matter of fact, the only ones that can be maintained with real wholesomeness, and this belief becomes so strong in the community that it is received with the air we breathe all through the formative years of our life, and the result is an intense conviction for which, as I say, we can hardly give any argument — an intense conviction that one sort of thing is right and the other wrong; and what most of us mean by our conscience is just this body of feeling concerning right and wrong which has been implanted in us as the result of the accumulated experience of civilisation. From the point of view of the individual it is usually more an emotion than a reasoned judgment; and it is much more of the nature of prejudice than of an argumentative conclusion. When people talk about conscientious objections to obeying the law, it is always quite impossible to distinguish between their prejudice and their conscience; there is no standard by which to determine. . . .

    Temple goes on to give more weight to convention and tradition than seems warranted in light of more recent experience, but he does concede that “what actual action shall be called right and what wrong on any given occasion, may vary easily according to circumstances.”

    William Temple. Church and Nation: The Bishop Paddock Lectures for 1914-15, Delivered at the General Theological Seminary, New York. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd, 1915. Appendix II, “On Moral and Spiritual Authority,” pp. 173-74, 175. My emphases.

  10. Murdoch Matthew

    I shudda checked Google. You can read Temple’s Church and Nation lectures online!

  11. Gary Paul Gilbert

    The problem with Giglio is that he has taught that gay people can become straight, which is false. Sexual orientation cannot be changed. His position is different from that of preachers who recommend abstinence to LGBTs because they do not make factual claims.

    He does not deserve to be honored. He is entitled to his own opinions and even prejudice but not his own facts.

    If he had confined himself to spiritual advice he would have been okay, but to make psychological recommendations with no evidence is dangerous.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  12. Vicki Bozzola

    I haven’t read all the comments, but the ones I did read are entirely predictable. Let me reword the question slightly:

    “To what extent should the views of those who believe that [all sexual relationships outside of marriage] are immoral be accommodated ‘within the mainstream context’?”

    This is indeed the position of many churches, many clergy, many people in mainstream America, . . . and Holy Scripture.

  13. Benedict Varnum

    Gary, how do you take the question, “How about if he had confined himself not to spiritual advice, as you suggest, but to fighting human trafficking?”

    Vicki, you might try reading all the comments, instead of stopping after the ones you find predictable, although I believe you’ve provided an illustration of the fact that aggressive responses close down the desire for folks on the other side of a divisive issue to hear you.

    And thanks for the link, Matthew.

  14. Vicki Bozzola

    Benedict, I have now read all the comments, as you suggested and as I intended before I made my comment.

    I would have greeted your charge of aggression with a loud guffaw if it, too, weren’t so very predictable. In a forum where disagreement is perceived as aggression, what kind of real discussion can there be? You call the issue divisive, but I certainly don’t see any division here on the fundamental issue.

  15. Archbishop Temple’s Paddock lectures are also available here (I like this format):

    Now, as to the matter at hand, it’s one thing to have given a sermon in the 1990s. But has he disavowed any type of homophobia today?

    And Vicki, I want to gently suggest that we will have to disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality.

    I had a conversation a while back with a guy who was claiming that he lived according to Biblical rules on everything, including sexuality, and that while he was “sympathetic” with gays, they needed to be celibate or they were committing sin every day. He quoted Leviticus and Romans, of course.

    He then mentioned he was divorced and remarried. I very, very gently stated that I thought it was very sad that he would have to put away his new wife, since Jesus himself admonished against divorce and stated that one who remarries commits adultery. Straight out of the mouth of Christ… So, under his own rules, he is committing adultery every day.

    Oh, but that’s not realistic? Why yes, thanks, just the point I was making, and choices about marriage are just that– choices– while being gay is NOT. Or could it be that once again, this literalist about the supposed verses on homosexuality was picking and choosing.

    Or maybe, better yet, we could try to understand the CONTEXTS in which Biblical pronouncement were made. It’s really easy to condemn people according to isolated, contextually-stripped verses that we think do not apply to us.

  16. tgflux

    FWIW, Vicki: I find your response not “predictable” but incomprehensible. If your goal was that I would have no idea whatsoever where you stand, you’ve succeeded.

    JC Fisher

  17. Benedict Varnum

    I beg your pardon, Vicki — what I meant by my comment about “aggression” was that it seemed that your sense that the original comments here were “aggressive” moved you to a point where you did not want to continue reading comments.

    What I draw from that is the lesson that — while there are certainly things that need to be voiced with our fullest passion — it is often in the interests of constructive conversation to be guided by the greatest charity we find possible.

    (This was not a response to you, directly)

    I confess that I’m not clear on your other comments about guffawing, disagreement, or what you’re perceiving “the fundamental issue” to be.

  18. Gary Paul Gilbert

    Benedict, How about you answer your own question?

    My objection to Giglio being honored is that he offers bad psychological advice. He has no competence in psychology.

    The LGBT community contributed money and time to the President’s reelection and deserved a better choice.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  19. Benedict Varnum

    Thanks, Gary — I’m happy to speak to the question I posed to you; I meant it to be mostly rhetorical, and an expansion of your own statement that you would have been satisfied with Pastor Giglio if he had “only confined himself to spiritual advice.” My point is that rather than offering spiritual advice (or ANY opinion) on homosexuality, he’s been spending his life working (so far as I understand) on fighting human trafficking, which seems something noble, whether he’s right on other issues or not.

    I find the idea that the persons or groups that contribute time and money to an election are the ones that “deserve” to guide the choices that representative makes thereafter. This seems particularly troubling when considering the office of the president, which, like the supreme court, should serve all Americans, including those with a diversity of religious opinion — a difficult task, no doubt, but that difficulty shouldn’t be resolved merely by the rubrics of “who was/is on my team?”

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