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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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

3 thoughts on “Rejection or retreat?”

  1. This is a much more thoughtful and appropriate response than your first post where you put words in Giglio’s mouth. And I can understand the disappointment. However (you knew that was coming), I am not sure I agree that him bowing out of this fight was automatically the wrong thing to do. There is no evidence that he has changed his views on the issue of homosexuality. What is evident is that he did not want to get into a word sparring contest via the MSM which would have absolutely no positive results other than making folks like you happy. All a fight in the media would have done is continued the “us versus them” mentality that already exists between evangelical and homosexual groups. Maybe, just maybe, Giglio’s church and Passion conferences are making in roads to the homosexual community in the ATL area and he and his team are able to teach the Biblical principles of sex and marriage on an interpersonal level where there can be actual dialog and not just a bunch of talking points being taken out of context. And if he had gone out and got into the sound bite arguments, where no matter what he says he will be portrayed as a homophobic white man, he would lose ground on the interpersonal level.

    1. Quick clarifications first: (1) my disappointment & frustration w/ Giglio wasn’t that he bowed out but HOW he bowed out (2) I wasn’t hoping for an argument but I don’t think it’s expecting too much for a pastor to say something redemptive as he walks off the stage.

      I hear what you’re saying but I don’t find it convincing–think I might do another post to explain why. Question to ponder until then: What if the old, old sermon had been on evil of abortion–would you find that same statement to be a gracious attempt to maximize his ministry at an interpersonal level?

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