President Obama kicked up some controversy by announcing that evangelical pastor Louie Giglio would be praying at the inauguration. Sexual liberationist groups quickly identified Giglio, as they did Rick Warren under similar circumstances in 2009, as “anti-gay.” After a couple of days of firestorm from the Left, Giglio announced this morning that he would withdraw.
Here’s why this matters. The statement Giglio made that was so controversial is essentially a near-direct quotation from the Christian Scriptures. Unrepentant homosexuals, Giglio said (as with unrepentant sinners of all kinds) “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Giglio said, “it’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change.” The Bible says God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), the same gospel, Giglio says, “that I say to you and that you would say to me.”
The Christian faith in every expression has held for 2000 years that sexual immorality is sinful. This same Christian faith has maintained, again in every branch, that sexual expression outside of conjugal marriage is sin. And the Christian faith has maintained universally that all persons are sinners and that no sinner can enter the kingdom without repentance. This is hardly new.
The “shock” with which this so-called “anti-gay” stance is articulated by the Left is akin to the Pork Producers Association denouncing a Muslim Imam’s invitation because he is “anti-agriculture” due to Koranic dietary restrictions.
In fact, by the standards of this controversy, no Muslim imam or Orthodox Jewish rabbi alive can pray at a presidential inauguration.
When it is now impossible for one who holds to the catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church. Just as the pre-constitutional Anglican and congregational churches required a license to preach in order to exclude Baptists, the new state church requires a “license” of embracing sexual liberation in all its forms.
Note, this now doesn’t simply exclude harsh and intemperate statements or even activism. Simply holding the view held by every Roman pontiff and by every congregation and synagogue in the world until very recent days is enough to make one “radioactive” in public.
As citizens, we ought to insist that the President stand up to his “base” and articulate a vision of a healthy pluralism in the public square. Notice that the problem is not that this evangelical wants to “impose his religion” on the rest of society. The problem is not that he wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.
As Christians, we ought to recognize that the old majoritarian understanding of church/state relations is outmoded. Our situation today is not to hold on to some form of American civil religion. Our situation today is more akin to the minority religions of America’s past: colonial Baptists, nineteenth-century Baptists, early twentieth-century Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are appealing simply for the right to exist at all, in the face of an established religion armed with popular support and, in the fullness of time, state power.
It turns out we’re circling around to where we should have been all along: with the understanding that religious liberty isn’t “toleration” and separation of church and state isn’t secularism.
We don’t have a natural right to pray at anyone’s inauguration. But when one is pressured out from a previous invitation because he is too “toxic” for simply mentioning once something universal in the Christian faith, we ought to see what we’re looking at: a state church.
And as one old revolutionary-era Baptist said, as he went in and out of prison for preaching: “There is nothing so offensive to an established church than the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Russell Moore is Dean of the School of Theologyand Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway).