Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Diversity and Tolerance Triumph at Presidential Inauguration

On Monday, President Obama was sworn in for the second term of his presidency. His inauguration fell on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and his inaugural address reflected a spirit of equality, justice, and obligations to future generations that would have likely appeal to the late Dr. King. President Obama's inaugural address touched upon the need for equality across race, sex, and sexual orientation.
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall ... For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
The choice of speakers for the inauguration also reflected a spirit of equality. Rev. Louie Giglio was originally scheduled to deliver the benediction at the inaugural ceremony, but these plans were jettisoned when a past homophobic sermon by Giglio surfaced (more below). In Giglio's place, the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Episcopal priest Luis Leon to deliver the inaugural benediction. Leon, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington D.C., was a member of the steering committee for D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, according to the Washington Blade.

Rev. Leon's benediction stressed the common humanity that diverse people share, asking God to dispel fear of those who are different. Gays were included in Leon's vision of a common humanity.
"We pray for your blessing because without it suspicion, despair, and fear of those different from us will be our rule of life. But with your blessing, we can see each other created in your image, a unit of God's grace, unprecedented, irrepeatable and irreplaceable.

We pray for your blessing because without it, we will see only what the eye can see. But with the blessing of your blessing we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor."
Moreover, poet Richard Blanco delivered a poet entitled "One Today" during the swearing-in ceremony, in which he celebrated America's rich diversity. The 2013 presidential inauguration was indeed a time to celebrate diversity, to acknowledge the many groups that make up the American tapestry.

This inauguration was a meaningful moment for America. The choice of speakers and the messages they conveyed suggest an America where diversity is increasingly celebrated, where more people recognize the humanity of their LGBTQ brethren. Symbolically and concretely, America is making progress toward greater unity.

Of course, the Religious Right is not happy about this. For instance, in a January 22nd commentary at the Family Research Council website, the FRC accused President Obama of using a "combative tone" and fomenting division by defending "special rights based on sexual behavior". The fact that an organization opposed to LGBTQ rights could accuse anyone else of divisiveness blows my mind. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/washingtonupdate/a-vision-of-division)
"With every reinvention of the Founder's ideals, President Obama made it clear that he is committed to continuing his push for big, centralized, and expensive government. And paramount to that push is a highly controversial vision that includes everything from unlimited entitlements and gun bans to illegal immigration to special rights based on sexual behavior. "Our journey is not complete," the President said, "until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law--for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." In these instances, a speech that could have built bridges only widened the gaps."
The Religious Right's anger over inauguration details had ignited long before inauguration day. As mentioned above, Rev. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, had been selected to deliver the benediction at President Obama's inaugural ceremony. According to the Washington Post, Giglio had been chosen because of his extensive work in raising awareness of human trafficking.

Controversy erupted when Think Progress unearthed a 1990s sermon by Giglio which contained homophobic remarks and endorsement of so-called conversion therapy. In  the sermon "In Search of a Standard -- Christian Response to Homosexuality", Giglio spoke of homosexuality as a sin, an addiction, and a threat to morality. For instance, at the 31:45 mark, Giglio urged listeners to resist the "aggressive agenda" of the LGBTQ community, warning that gays are not a "benevolent" force.
"We must lovingly yet  firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but many in the homosexual community ... Underneath this issue is a very powerful and aggressive moment. That movement is not a benevolent movement, but it is a movement to seize by any means necessary the feeling and the mood of the day, to the point where the homosexual lifestyle becomes accepted as a norm in our society and is given full standing as any other lifestyle, as it relates to family."
At the 40:25 mark, Giglio suggested that faith in Jesus Christ could lift people out of the "homosexual lifestyle". (Sound familiar?)
"As the church of Jesus Christ, we cannot sit on the sidelines. We cannot sit back inside our churches, but we must reach out and we must aggressively move toward the homosexual community because we have a message. We’ve got something to say ... Our message is we know Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is powerful enough to do anything and to do everything. And the only way out of a homosexual lifestyle, the only way out of a relationship that has been engrained over years of time, is through the healing power of Jesus."
These comments soon caught up with Giglio. In a January 10th blog post at the Passion City Church website, Giglio explained to readers that he would not be praying at the presidential inauguration. In a statement he submitted to the White House, Giglio worried that his participation in the inauguration would be overshadowed by people with an "agenda". (See www[dot]passioncitychurch[dot]com/blog/?p=1436)
"Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ."
Naturally, the Religious Right was outraged. In a January 10th press release posted at the Family Research Council website, FRC president Tony Perkins called the Giglio affair an example of the Obama Administration's "intolerance", condemning the value it has placed on "forced acceptance of homosexuality." Perkins argues that the major Christian denominations sanction sexual behavior only in opposite-sex marriages, oblivious to the fact that not all Christians embrace homophobia, and that not all Americans are conservative Christians. (See frcblog[dot]com/2013/01/pastor-giglio-disinvitation-signals-inauguration-new-era-religious-intolerance/)
"This is another example of intolerance from the Obama administration toward those who hold to biblical views on sexuality. Why is the president surprised that an evangelical pastor would teach from Scripture on homosexuality? One would be hard pressed to find an Evangelical pastor who hasn’t preached on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.

Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, and Orthodox churches all actively proclaim that sexual intimacy within the marriage of one man and one woman is the only biblically-sanctioned human sexual behavior. Are the scores of millions of Americans who affirm these teachings no longer welcome at the inauguration of our president?

What is shocking is the intolerance of the Obama team that put such a high priority on forced acceptance of homosexuality that they totally disregard Pastor Giglio’s life work combating human trafficking. What we are seeing is the inauguration of a new era of religious intolerance in America."
In a January 11th post at the National Organization For Marriage blog, NOM president Brian Brown defended Giglio's view as "the standard view of sexual morality" in the world's major religions. He also accused the Obama administration of excluding "traditional Christianity" and thereby sacrificing the principles of unity and tolerance. The sheer irony of an anti-LGBTQ organization accusing the White House of neglecting national unity and tolerance is mind-boggling. (See www[dot]nomblog[dot]com/32322/)
"Nonetheless, Pastor Giglio's view is the standard view of sexual morality in orthodox Christianity (and Judaism, and Hinduism, and Islam, and Buddhism) for thousands of years.

His withdrawal under political pressure demonstrates the New World Order at the White House: traditional Christianity must be excluded; the wrath of gay advocates is more important than national unity or the principle of tolerance and inclusiveness."
In a January 10th commentary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler called the Giglio affair "evidence of the new Moral McCarthyism of our sexually "tolerant" age". He claimed that Giglio had been disinvited "because he believes and teaches Christian truth", complaining that anyone who condemns homosexuality now risks being ostracized. (See www[dot]albertmohler[dot]com/2013/01/10/the-giglio-imbroglio-the-public-inauguration-of-a-new-moral-mccarthyism/)
"Louie Giglio was cast out of the circle of the acceptable simply because a liberal watchdog group found one sermon he preached almost twenty years ago. If a preacher has ever taken a stand on biblical conviction, he risks being exposed decades after the fact. Anyone who teaches at any time, to any degree, that homosexual behavior is a sin is now to be cast out."
Similarly, Janice Shaw Crouse sees Giglio as a victim of religious discrimination. In a January 15th column at the Washington Times, Crouse argued that the Obama administration is ostracizing those who embrace "Christian teaching" and that Christians must defend their religious freedom. (See www[dot]washingtontimes[dot]com/news/2013/jan/15/obama-committees-slap-in-the-face-of-religious-lib/#disqus_thread)
"The Obama administration has thrown down a gauntlet, declaring that anyone who espouses historic, biblical Christian teaching will be prohibited from participation in events in the public square, just as nativity scenes, Christmas trees, depictions of the Ten Commandments and other symbols of Christianity have previously been banned ... As Christians, we cannot back down from our religious freedoms, nor can we betray our faith by watering down scripturally based Gospel. The path forward in the moral morass of today will require our discernment and total reliance on God’s guidance and grace."
Let them fume. As much as I respect Giglio's anti-trafficking efforts, his past homophobia troubles me. Giglio could have used the controversy as an opportunity to reject his past homophobia and make amends to the LGBTQ community, but this did not occur.

The Giglio controversy, as well as the inclusive inaugural speeches delivered on Monday, are a sign that America is slowly rejecting homophobia and evolving into a more tolerant country. Homophobia is by no means dead, as the above Religious Right comments demonstrate. However, if homophobic comments can draw public disapproval, and pro-equality voices can take center stage at the presidential inauguration, America is evolving toward a more just society.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Religion Dispatches: Unpacking the Giglio Imbroglio

Huffington Post: Louie Giglio's Missed Opportunity

The Bilerico Project: Louie Giglio's Strange Logic


  1. It was a great speech. Hearing a reference to gays for the first time in an inaugural. How awesome is that. Then we go from the sublime to the ridiculous--the reaction of the RR.

    I turned on FOX News for a moment during the coverage and heard a commentator say, "This is the most depressing day in America." lol

    1. Donna -- The 2013 inauguration was historic on many levels, and it left many of us uplifted. I don't know where the Religious Right is getting "depressing" and "divisive" from, though.

  2. You can't just give "special" rights to someone because of their sexuality now, can you? I have never understood the claim that somehow people want "special" rights that are somehow different than everyone's rights. No one has explained to me what these particular ":special" rights are.

    1. Jono -- "Special rights" is just right-wing rhetoric meant to delegitimize calls for equality. No one has ever explained to me what these alleged "special rights" are either -- all I hear are people calling for equal rights.


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