Below is the recent article I was asked to write by Leadership Journal, on an overview of the Louie Giglio situation with an eye towards the juxtaposition between Evangelicals and the public square. It has since been posted on their blog, Out of Ur. You can see the original posting here.
Why the Giglio Debacle isn’t the end of Public Evangelicalism
On January 10th, Louie Giglio declined the invitation to pray the benediction at the Presidential Inauguration over pressure relating to an “anti-gay” sermon that he preached almost twenty years ago. Depending on who you’re talking with, Giglio’s move was either a cultural victory because of his secret “hatred” of LGBT people; or it marks a definitive end to evangelicalism as we know it. But are these the only two ways to think about this? I don’t think so. Here’s my take:
1) The evangelical voice is still being heard.
Many opinionated evangelicals have little personal experience with those who advise and surround the President. I’m not talking about Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Jay Carney, or even Joshua Dubois. I’m talking about the people who are never in front of the camera but play significant roles in shaping public policy. As someone who has had occasion to know and work with them, I can say with confidence that there are more professing and practicing evangelicals throughout our government than most people suspect.
Regardless of what you think of the President, he does surround himself with a variety of worldviews, opinions, and experiences. Just because he “comes out” with definitive statements supporting the topics that matter most to LGBTs, doesn’t mean he is not genuinely listening to people behind the scenes from many different viewpoints. Intentionally included in these inner-circle conversations are conservative evangelicals.
2) Our response is disconnected from reality.
It’s too easy to spin what happened to Giglio as the “collapse of evangelicalism.” With the statistical growth of the “nones” and the declining numbers of conservative evangelicals, one can see a potential trend towards the end of evangelicalism in its current form. Trends are important, but it’s a long jump from raw numbers to reality. Protestant Christianity is still the dominant religion in the United States, by a wide percentage.
I live in Chicago, one of the most liberal cities in the country, and Obama’s home. This past Sunday at Chili’s, K-Love played over the restaurant’s speakers all afternoon. While Christian pop in a restaurant chain is no indicator of national spirituality, it reminded me just how pervasive faith still is in our culture. To the relief, surprise, or disgust of many, Christianity is alive and well. But we are not bringing our best to bear on our civic life. We need to renew our focus on productive engagement in the public square.
It’s generally agreed that immediate reactions lend themselves to the greatest amount of truth, since first-thoughts are typically unrestrained. The majority reacted immediately to Giglio’s stepping down with name calling against liberals, LGBTs, and the Obama administration. High profile Christians went on the record: “Hate crime against Giglio.” “Huge victory for fantastic intolerance.” “The axe fell [on us] today.” “[We must] continue fighting evil.”
Why are such simple-minded accusations considered acceptable, or worse, normal from followers of Jesus? Giglio’s situation highlights a lack of intelligent evangelical dialogue on national issues.
We need to represent ourselves in the public square peacefully, engaging opposing worldviews within the framework of mainstream culture’s differing belief systems. Jesus teaches us a unique lesson on this type of engagement through his command in Mark 1:40–45, telling the man he just healed of leprosy to, in essence, “go to the temple I came to destroy and rebuild in three days; submit to the law I came to fulfill; and honor the priests who will hang me on a cross and kill me.”
3) We need to rethink our political and cultural engagement.
We need to focus our political and religious efforts on building “bridges” instead of building “armies.” In the Washington Post, John Dickerson recently asked if it is time to ditch the name “evangelical.” He argues compellingly that it is.
Jesus doesn’t care about our brands. In fact, Jesus can’t stand the fact that his followers care so much about them (Luke 20:41–47). If our beliefs aren’t going to change, then we can only reclaim “the brand” through a new, active engagement with our neighbors.
Evangelicals speak elegantly about Jesus and rightly challenge their own to follow his principles closely. It is now time to embody those principles in the public eye, among a culture with a different worldview than our own. This needs to start with Christian leadership.
With this in mind, let us commit to a better response in the future—and work for renewal in our churches and the public square.