An Open Letter from Barack Obama to Louie Giglio

Last night I dreamt that I was reading The New York Times and stumbled upon this open letter from the President to evangelical pastor Louie Giglio:

To my friend, Pastor Louie Giglio,

We share the essence of a common religious heritage. We both profess a faith in Jesus Christ, both call on God for direction and strength, and both believe that God calls us to care for the least of these. Yet we do not agree on all things, and you had the courage to form a friendship with me in spite of our differences.

You took a risk. Many of your fellow evangelicals look askance at anyone who cooperates with me. I’m sure there were some in your own congregation who disapproved. You had amassed enormous capital within the evangelical Christian community with the tens of thousands of young people who have attended your conferences and the millions who have enjoyed the messages and the music that have emerged from the Passion movement. You risked that capital when you focused that movement on ending human trafficking, and risked it again when you formed a friendship and partnership with my faith-based office and with me. You visited the White House frequently in 2012, and I have appreciated your prayers, your encouragement and your friendship.

My offices invited you to deliver the benediction at my inaugural, and you courageously accepted. Since I am so radioactive to many evangelical Christians, you endured some criticism for agreeing, as though your cooperation would anoint me with some veneer of evangelical approval. Yet you stood beside me and emphasized that we are all Americans, we are both believers, and we have many convictions and causes in common.

Then it happened. You have avoided speaking to hot-button issues in order to focus on saving the lost and rescuing the enslaved. Yet still you came under attack for a sermon you preached nearly 20 years ago, where you identified homosexuality as sinful, held out the hope that same-sex desires can be transformed through the sanctification of the Spirit, and asked Christians to resist the activists’  agenda of normalizing homosexuality. You were slandered as a bigoted, anti-gay extremist. I wanted to highlight your work fighting modern day slavery. Instead you were demonized. Americans who had never heard of you before the events of recent weeks have heard of you now, but they believe you are a preacher of hatred who cannot be allowed on the platform in the public square.

I know that you’re not a man of hatred and intolerance. But instead of speaking up in your defense, I left you twisting in the wind. I said nothing. I have hardly been a profile in courage, and for that I apologize. I should not have bowed to a few angry voices. I should have been a leader.

I understand why many of my gay and lesbian friends find your comments offensive. They find the implication that they should “change” offensive; they believe that any kind of pastoral counseling that seeks to retrain or restrain their sexual desires is destructive and doomed to failure; and they resent the implication that there is something insidious about their agenda. There’s also a great deal of pain that many have endured in families and churches that teach these things. So I do not condone your words. They do not represent my views.

But I also understand why so many evangelicals and social conservatives in general are upset that you were pressed out of the inaugural. They feel as though they have in you, pastor Giglio, a man of extraordinary integrity. Your one “crime” is that you believe in the traditional Christian sexual ethic. If even you are not acceptable, for all your work to help the poor and the needy, if even you are only held up to be pilloried and slandered as hateful, then what hope do they have? What place is there for them, they wonder, in Obama’s America? 

Evangelicals say that your freedom of conscience is being infringed; when does the price of holding your religious conviction become so costly that you’re religious freedom is no longer free? My gay and lesbian friends respond, “Well, we wouldn’t let a preacher of racial hatred deliver the benediction, would we?”

This is where I should speak a word to both sides. I want my evangelical friends to understand the hurt that resides in the LGBT community, and that LGBTs see the wrongs committed against them as far greater than any wrong committed here against evangelicals. Evangelicals need to understand that and gain some perspective. Yet I want my LGBT friends to understand that creating a parallel between the belief that homosexuality is sinful on the one hand, and racial hatred on the other, is both false and destructive. It leaves no place for conversation. Gay activists chose to articulate their argument for gay rights as the equivalent of African Americans’ fight for civil rights. Historically, of course, the two are enormously different. Blacks were actually enslaved in America for centuries, and effectively enslaved even in the Jim Crow South, in ways that gays have never been. The history of black-white relations in this country make the charge of racism absolutely explosive. And philosophically, it’s a category mistake to say that a belief is hateful. Beliefs may be wrong or right, justified or unjustified, harmful or helpful, but beliefs cannot be hateful any more than rocks can be loving.

Practically, however, and this is the most important point: paralleling the fight for gay rights with the fight for Civil Rights turns everyone who disagrees with us on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual relationships into a Bull Connor. And I know for certain that Louie Giglio is no Bull Connor. This, I believe, is what evangelicals were so upset about in this case and in the Dan Cathy/Chick-Fil-A case. They find it shocking that we have reached a point where anyone who believes gay sex is wrong or anyone who believes that marriage is ordained by God for the union of a man and a woman is ostracized and condemned as hateful, bigoted, and the equivalent of a racist. 

What I should have said is this: I know that you, my friend, Louie Giglio, love all people and believe that all people struggle with sin. Even though I don’t agree with your views (if they still are your views) on reparative counseling and the gay agenda, I know you are a man of compassion and integrity. So with this public letter I invite you back to the inauguration. We will have two pastors deliver the benediction, one who believes what you do and one who believes what I do. For, to quote my favorite blogger: neither side has a monopoly on good ideas or good intentions. Men and women of sound mind and heart stand on both sides of this issue, and we’ll need to work together to overcome the forces that threaten to tear us down or tear us apart.

Sincerely, your friend, 

Barack Obama

It was a sweet dream. Now it’s a prayer. It would, in my view, be a true profile in courage.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Keeva Kase

    did you write this tim?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, I did. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  • Steven Storkson

    I wish this kind of candor was possible and real. If only our politicians of both sides could have such courage. Thank you for the interesting article.

  • http://geezeronthequad.com Dave Swartz

    Nice post, Tim, and model of the kind of conversation we need on many fronts. I hope to hear more from this wunderblogger (whoever he/she may be).

  • Pilmo

    I’m a liberal and someone who left religion a long time ago, yet I find the smearing of Giglio absolutely insane. He seems to be a good man.

    The current culture wars lack maturity. Disagreement with a way of life does not always equal hate.

  • andrew

    where is truth in all of this? The mythical obama is boiling it all down to preferences. As a christian he should be willing to submit his will to that of God, and have his conscience bound to the scriptures, not to the preferences of society.

    where is the call for repentance? What does christianity mean if it does not entail turning from sin (as defined by God)?

  • Truth

    “Yet still you came under attack for a sermon you preached nearly 20 years ago, where you identified homosexuality as sinful, held out the hope that same-sex desires can be transformed through the sanctification of the Spirit, and asked Christians to resist the activists’ agenda of normalizing homosexuality. You were slandered as a bigoted, anti-gay extremist.”

    Part of the “activists’ agenda” was to repeal Georgia’s law providing for up to 20 years of jail time for gay people. Giglio couldn’t even be bothered to issue a token condemnation of that law. Instead, he called the movement to repeal that law “malevolent”. Yes, he is a bigoted, anti-gay extremist, if ever there was one.

    Evidently, that’s not something that bothers either Tim or Louie. And that claims to be ‘persecuted’. “We want to put you in jail, but if you criticize us, it’s slander and persecution”.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      This is another eye-roller. Neither I nor Louie Giglio want to put gays in jail, I assure you. I am absolutely against laws that would imprison people for homosexual sex, and the fact I have to clarify this shows how badly you misunderstand those who defend traditional marriage.

      • Truth

        I believe you when you talk about your own position, but as to Giglio’s position: do you have any inside knowledge, or are you simply assuming his position? If you have inside knowledge, is it of his current position, or his position at the time?

        If the latter, can you explain why he couldn’t be bothered to use 10 seconds out of his 50 minute sermon to say: “I don’t agree with the current law criminalizing gay people”? He was living in a state where attitudes like his had led to a law criminalizing gay people by up to 20 years, and yet a simple condemnation as you are attacking them was too much to ask?

        Silence is approval. I hear about how evangelicals are being ‘persecuted’ all the time, whenever they don’t get their way, but when a group they are inimical toward is actually being persecuted, by jail terms of up to 20 years, we don’t hear a word.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I’ve never discussed the matter with Louie Giglio, but I assure you with absolute certainty that it’s the case that Louie, neither then nor now, had/has any interest in criminalizing gay sex. It’s really terribly unfortunate that gay rights activists have convinced their audience that Christians *really* prefer gays dead or in jail. It’s such a slander and so untrue.

          As for why Giglio didn’t condemn the law, I suspect that it didn’t even occur to him. Since you’re the only person I’ve seen reference this law, can you point me to where you learned about it? Honestly, there have been a lot of laws like these on the books that were not enforced for decades, and were not really a part of the public discussion at the time. Can you point me to evidence that people were being imprisoned for gay sex for up to twenty years in Georgia at the time? (Also, I’m assuming that he actually doesn’t condemn the law. I haven’t seen or read the entire sermon, just the worst parts that were served up by ThinkProgress. Have you?)

          Silence is approval is a convenient slogan, but of course it’s not true. And yes, evangelicals often do speak up about persecution. When there are cases of gays being beaten or murdered for their orientation, of course evangelicals condemn it. Quite a lot of evangelical leaders have spoken out against the proposed laws in Uganda, for instance, and insisted that gays should be treated with the same care and dignity as everyone else. Evangelicals in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles were amongst the first to respond to the AIDS crisis, although this is rarely mentioned.

          It really is sad — and I mean this — that people of your views have been led to believe that evangelicals are really such terrible people.

          • Truth

            I never made any claim about Christians in general. Only fundamentalists like Mr. Giglio. I also didn’t say that all evangelicals are terrible people. Not all.

            You may never have heard of this law, but you live in California. I expect you to know the laws of California, not Georgia. Giglio lived in Georgia, and one can expect him to know the laws of Georgia. Moreover, there was a very high-profile Supreme Court case known as Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986. Given how much noise evangelicals made when Bowers was overturned in 2003, the same matter would likely not have escaped their attention in 1986. (Attorney General Bowers, a conservative Christian, was later busted for having an affair.)

            Nonetheless, maybe Giglio was simply unaware of this law, and would have condemned it if he knew (very unlikely in my opinion). That doesn’t cast much of a favorable light on him, either. He’s attacking a group already persecuted by the state, and he doesn’t even bother to look into it before going on the attack.

            Now, do fundamentalists want to persecute gay people? Of course. When they took positions on such laws, it was in support of them. That is why it took so long to repeal these laws. Not because there was no resistance. I am sure that you want this ugly history to be forgotten, in place of the brand new position fundamentalists adopted as soon as these laws were gone – but I think history is relevant.

            For every story about evangelicals helping AIDS-patients, there are ten stories about evangelicals claiming that it is the “wrath of God” and whipping their congregation in a fury about hemophiliac children (who were NOT responsible for getting it) attending public schools. Even in government, evangelical Gary Bauer proposed to do nothing about AIDS, because gay people deserve it. For me, it is an issue of personal responsibility. I do not particularly care. However, it disturbs me deeply that individuals in government are making decisions on the basis of religion, rather than on a rational basis.

            So I am rather astonished at your surprise that some people think that evangelicals are terrible people – as if responsibility lies with anyone but evangelicals themselves. Have you been paying attention to political activity by evangelicals over the past few decades? Where to begin? (None of the following is directed at you personally.)

            How about following men like the segregationist and racist preacher Jerry Falwell, who before he turned to anti-woman, anti-abortion and anti-gay activism, was claiming that blacks suffer from the “Curse of Ham”. Do you realize how ironic it is to have a man like that declare himself and like-minded people to be a “Moral Majority”?

            How about opposing IRS-rules denying tax exempt status to segregationist and racist institutions like Bob Jones University?

            How about following a man like Pat Robertson?

            How about trying to force creationism down the throats of my children as “science”?

            How about trying to force religion-based abstinence-only nonsense down the throats of my children?

            How about wanting to impose even more trauma and suffering on the victims of rape by denying her emergency contraception (abortion, according to some evangelicals) and abortions?

            How about supporting people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock? Not only did the evangelical movement (in Huckabee and Tony Perkins) support Akin, but large majorities of evangelicals voted for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

            How about supporting the rights of even private companies to deny employees contraception, blood transfusion and anything else that the owner may have a “religious objection” to?

            How about pressuring a non-political breast cancer charity to cease its co-operation with Planned Parenthood, which provides valuable information and screenings to a lot of disadvantaged communities?

            The list goes on and on. I say just this to inform you (you sound sincere enough in your puzzlement about why evangelicals have a bad reputation among some), not because I want you to stop fighting these battles. The die is cast. You are going to lose all these battles. It is extremely profitable to atheists like me, if evangelicals discredit their group, and hopefully even Christianity in its entirety, while waging a fruitless battle against science and abortion.

            Soon enough, the Republican Party will turn on you, like David Cameron did, like Stephen Harper did. It can’t go on losing elections forever, because of a religious minority. You will have to accept a pro-choice position on abortion, and a position in favor of civil unions. Based on my experience, that would make the GOP acceptable to fiscal conservatives and social moderates/liberals.

            My prediction is that evangelicals will support the GOP candidate, citing his stance in favor of traditional marriage, some restrictions on second-term abortions and against public funding for abortion – as well as his opposition to “socialism”.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            I’m sorry I don’t have time to read this whole thing, but I actually live in Georgia, not California. And I had requested a link to where I could learn more about this law and how it applies to Louie Giglio or whether it was actually enforced or a matter of public discussion at the time of his sermon. Do you have a link?

            I am not surprised at all that some people think evangelicals are terrible people (and yes, you clearly do). I simply said it’s regrettable. You have a cartoonish image of evangelicals and that’s really unfortunate. And Giglio, by the way, is not a Fundamentalist. I hope you know the difference. And as I’ve said in many places, there are all sorts of things that evangelicals (like all groups of people) have done wrong, and I lament that. But there’s no question that it’s not solely evangelicals who are responsible for the common slanders against them.

            Giglio’s intention is not to “attack” a group. Seriously. Have you ever actually spoken with a person like Giglio? Sheesh.

          • Truth

            I explained why a lot of people have negative views of evangelicals, but by your own admission, you didn’t read it. I am glad that you are honest enough to admit that. But you should not proceed to brand my view of evangelicals as “cartoonish”, when you haven’t bothered to read my explanation. If you had, you would have known that it’s anything but cartoonish.

            You say that Giglio is not a fundamentalist. He was called an evangelical. Evangelicals and fundamentalists are basically the same thing. It is said that evangelicals are fundamentalists who are less isolationist (not in foreign policy terms), but if Jerry Falwell continued to be a fundamentalist after starting to insert his toxic beliefs into politics, then Giglio is a fundamentalist as well.

            As I told you, I don’t live in Georgia, so don’t presume that I am an expert on Georgia law. I told you all I knew, which is what I learned when studying law. If you doubt that such a law existed, here’s the word of a Supreme Court Justice: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0478_0186_ZC1.html

            Ignorance of the law is never an excuse for violators. So if Giglio was ignorant of this law’s existence, why should his negligence excuse his lack of condemnation? If he didn’t know of the law, he was supposed to know.

          • Truth

            Bottom line: claiming that you are being ‘persecuted’, when your purported victim either maliciously or negligently remained silent on the persecution of another group, when evangelicals spend 30 years trying to shove every last tenet of their religion down the throats of every man, woman and child is frivolous.

  • Joshua

    You should probably insert a much, much stronger disclaimer that *you* wrote this.
    I was terrifically disappointed that it wasn’t authentic, as the title stated.

    Other than that, wonderfully written.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I thought the introductory reference to a dream would have made it clear. May I ask how you interpreted that? Not criticizing; just asking a genuine question, because I’m curious.

      • Joshua

        Hi Timothy,

        Well, I took the title of the article literally. When you first referenced that you were dreaming, I wasn’t sure how to interpret that, as writers sometimes take creative license in writing articles. (See, I’m thinking that by the end of the article, you’ll say something to the effect, “I pinched myself and realized that the letter was real”, haha.)

        However, as I discovered after reading the article, I realized the opposite: the title is not literal, but meant to be taken with creative license: after all, it is a headline-grabber designed to whet our appetites. Furthermore, the “dreaming” part was meant to be taken semi-literally, because the letter was *not* actually written by Obama.

        I understand that the headline “A Hypothetical Open Letter from Barack Obama to Louie Giglio” would *not* have been as effective in grabbing readers, but … still.

        That said, this is very well-written and provides a good basis for addressing the sensitive divide between Christians and homosexuality, as well as the nature of offense.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Got it, Joshua. Thanks for explaining. That makes sense. It’s always something I try to better understand, how people read headlines and any kind of framing material at the beginning.

          And yes, there was a deliberate ambiguity in the title that was designed in part to encourage people to click. I wanted to be clear from the outset that it was not really from the President, and I thought the opening lines would achieve that, but I can see how it might be read in the way you did. Blessings.

  • Tito

    I like this a lot. It shows what a lot of conversations seem to lack: agreeability and respect on both sides. However, you did say one thing that I hoped to clarify, and I hope I am not being nitpicky. You mentioned that beliefs, like rocks, are not capable of feelings, but I definitely think that beliefs can be formed because of a person’s feelings, especially if we are uncritical of where our beliefs came from. I believe, and I may be mistaken, that one of the points of division is that few can understand how a belief that homosexuality is a sin and that gay-marriage should not be allowed can be motivated by anything other than fear, hatred, ignorance, and stubbornness. While it seems like love, compassion, science, and inclusion are motivating their beliefs. Again, not to say that beliefs can feel, but that beliefs can be shaped by feelings.

    So here is my question: how would you demonstrate that the Christian belief is, in fact, the one motivated by love?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Hi, Tito, and thank you for this thoughtful comment. There’s no question that beliefs are interconnected with feelings. Our feelings shape the things we want to believe, or want not to believe, and our beliefs in turn shape our feelings and responses and actions. My point was merely that the mere belief that homosexuality is wrong has been branded as hateful, and a belief in itself cannot be hateful. In other words, the simple fact that someone believes homosexuality is wrong is not in itself sufficient to conclude that the person who holds this belief does so because of hatred toward homosexuals.

      I don’t know how I would, in this context, demonstrate that the Christian belief is motivated by love. For one thing, I’m sure it’s motivated by many different things, and different things for different people. For another, I don’t believe it’s really motivated by love, exactly. I think it’s a belief that can be held by people who love homosexuals, but I don’t think the belief is motivated by love. I think the belief is formed, at least for many, in this way: I believe the Bible is the Word of God and therefore trustworthy, I believe the Bible states that homosexuality is sinful, and therefore I conclude that homosexuality is sinful. It really has nothing to do with whether or not I like homosexuals. It has to do with whether (a) I believe the Bible is God’s Word, (b) whether I believe a proper interpretation of the Bible leads to the conclusion that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful.

      I do not WANT to conclude that homosexuality is sinful. I really don’t. I have too many gay friends whom I love and respect to want to conclude that. But I nevertheless do conclude that, because that’s what I believe a fair reading of the Bible requires.

      Is that helpful at all?

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Let me give you another example. Take the belief, “Blacks are inferior.” This is a belief associated with a great deal of hatred. It’s been held by hateful people. But imagine a boy of 10 years old, who fully trusts his father. Imagine the boy has had little interaction with blacks. Then his father tells him, “Son, blacks are inferior.” And the boy believes it. Does this mean that he hates people of African descent? Of course not. It just means that he holds a false belief. The belief itself cannot be hateful, but it can be held by people who hate black-skinned people or by people who do not hate them.

        • Crœsos

          If discriminatory laws are enacted on an assumption of black inferiority, the distinction between whether those laws were passed out of hatred or out of ignorance or out of sincere religious belief is largely irrelevant to those affected by them. Parsing motives for legal discrimination is, at best, a third or fourth order problem when compared with legal discrimination itself.

  • Basil

    I find this kind of a silly. Embarassingly so. I could post at length and take apart some of the really dubious underlying assumptions that have no merit — like the assumption that the struggle for equality by LGBT persons is not a civil rights struggle, or the assumption that the “liberal” President should automatically have to invite an evangelical clergyman to give a benediction (because a Republican President would of-course reciprocate by inviting say, a Unitarian???)

    Mostly, it just seems like a silly projection — a desire to make Giglio a victim (a martyr), when he is not a victim. Being denied the national stage at the Inauguration is not suffering. Being denied a marriage license, or a job, or a safe school, because you are LGBT — that is suffering.

    Slacktivist has good insight about this situation.

    • andrew

      You might want to check out the post by voddie baucham (a black minister) entitled “gay is not the new black” for a taking apart of the assertion that the racial civil rights movement is in any way comparable to the LGBT movement.

      http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/19/gay-is-not-the-new-black/

      • Truth

        Who is this fellow? Should I pay more heed to the opinion of an unknown preacher than I do to the opinions of Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Julian Bond and Mildred Loving – who all affirm that it is?

        • andrew

          he’s someone who takes the authority of scriptures seriously.
          he’s also a good preacher (I’ve enjoyed his podcasts for a few years) and a good author.

          whether that matters to you or not is up to you. based on your tone and the list of people you’ve rolled out, i’m guessing you either aren’t a christian or are a liberal christian and think that you’re smarter than the guys who wrote the words of the bible.

          • Truth

            But wait, I thought this was about the black civil rights movement, not about the “authority of scriptures” to invalidate science and morality. You made the claim that a black preacher known only to you and two other people refutes that claim. I cited four big names. There are probably more. A lot of people who fought for civil rights want no part of putting down another group, in alliance with some of the very same people who put them down (like Jerry Falwell).

            The guys who wrote the Bible thought that the Sun revolved around the Earth. They believed in all sorts of nonsense. Of course I am smarter than they are. Yes, I naturally don’t believe any of the Bible. But liberal Christians are decent people, because at least they follow only the good parts of the Bible.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      It is not an assumption but an assertion that the parallel with the Civil Rights struggle is dubious. It’s also not an assumption that a liberal President “should automatically have to” invite an evangelical clergyman, but an assertion that he would be wise to do so. But remember, this is not a matter of inviting or not inviting. He was already invited. Being not-invited is not an issue. He was already invited. Being invited, then berated, branded as a hateful bigot, and then disinvited – that’s what this is about.

      Also, there’s a vast difference between a victim and a martyr. And as I stated in my other recent post, “Help! We’re Gay and We’re Being Oppressed!” the truth is that gays have suffered oppression. Of course they have. And Christians of all stripes need to be sensitive to that. But that doesn’t mean that evangelicals do not, in their own ways and in some sectors of society, suffer their own kinds of unjust social opposition.

      • matt

        He wasn’t disinvited. He withdrew his own name.

        • andrew

          under duress. yeah – that’s a “whole” lot better.

      • Basil

        Gay rights has been part and parcel of the civil rights since the beginning. It was a gay, African-American Quaker activist, Bayard Rustin, who did much to introduce MLK to the practice of non-violent social change, and he was the lead person who organized the march on Washington in 1963. It was the Stonewall riots and demonstrations in 1969, which drew upon the civil rights language of the time, that are widely seen as the launchpoint of the gay rights movement (although in fact, Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society predate Stonewall by almost a decade).

        As for the wisdom of inviting an evangelical pastor for the benediction — you may be right. Personally, I think it is pointless gesture that would never be reciprocated (so why bother). Brotherhood requires two sides, and we are one short.

        I will have to read your other post (although the title sounds a bit snarky — but I will suspend judgement). As for evangelicals being oppressed — how? Evangelicals have a disproportionate influence on our culture and politics (including control 1 of our 2 political parties). Where is the oppression exactly? We have laws protecting religious belief and expression (starting with 1st amendment of the Constitution). What else is needed? Is it necessary to maintain discriminatory laws against gays just so evangelicals won’t feel oppressed?

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I wouldn’t call it oppression, exactly, nor persecution. But I think one has to look at it with much more finely focused lens. There are areas of the country where evangelicals are culturally dominant, and there’s certainly little in the way of social opposition there. In other areas, it’s a very different picture. In certain sectors (media, entertainment, academia), evangelicals very frequently have legitimate stories of the opposition they have endured on behalf of their faith. Look at the responses to this letter, for instance. Imagine that the majority of the people who have responded angrily were on the faculty at a university — how would it be for an evangelical looking for a job at that university? There is a very strong anti-evangelical sentiment — look at recent surveys about negative feelings toward different religious groups — in some sectors and some areas of the country.

          I hesitate to mention this, because I don’t want anyone to think that I consider myself a victim or that I’m just working out my own personal issues in the things that I write. But I’ve seen quite a bit of it. I’ve generally succeeded in spite of it, but there was one year in particular where, in one aspect of my life, half the people there relentlessly mocked me for my faith. Fortunately, I have a big enough ego to handle it, and I’d like to think that I held my own pretty well, with at least some measure of grace, but it was just absurdly over the top. And there was nothing I did to evoke it; from day one, because they knew I was an evangelical and therefore assumed that I held traditional and conservative positions on a host of social issues, they despised me and made it very clear, for hours every day.

          Anyway, my story is relatively mild, and I don’t feel scarred by the experience in any way. I just figured, everyone gets mocked for something. But I have friends with far worse stories, stories of suffering severe professional consequences for their faith, or being ostracized from their families, and so on. Plus the relentless drumbeat of popular culture — movies and television and media are produced overwhelmingly by people who dislike evangelicals — does tend to wear on folks.

          I’m not saying it’s as bad as what gays have suffered. I don’t believe that’s true. But I do think people are a little too quick to dismiss evangelical complaints of mistreatment simply because evangelicals are a large group of people with a reasonable amount of influence in the Republican party.

          • Basil

            I appreciate your response and your candor. I get why evangelicals could feel uneasy in certain situations, in the same way that Muslims, or Mormons for that matter, often do. I don’t mean this to sound as harsh as it will sound, but — I kind of think a lot/mostly?? self inflicted. To the rest of the country – evangelicals just look like an bastion of intolerance — against a range of things, but anti-gay intolerance being the most clear social marker. That was not a issue even a few years ago. Non-evangelicals may not have embraced the idea that homosexuality was a “sin”, was an “evil”, but didn’t challenge that belief by their evangelical neighbors. What’s seems to have changed in the last few years is that big chunk of society has become intolerant of the intolerance. I think it is a consequence of gay people coming out of the closet, and our straight friends understanding our lives and becoming much more willing to challenge homophobic beliefs/statements wherever they may be, including in evangelical circles.

            This is not a bad thing — it means our society is becoming a bit more accepting, more respectful, and moving a bit closer to equality. It is also an irreversible change – we are not going back in the closet. But I can see how it is disorienting, if you are someone like Giglio, and suddenly rejected because of beliefs (which he continues to hold — his statement was very clear about that) that 20 years ago did not cause any stir outside of your own community.

            The thing is, I think a lot of what passes as evangelical Christianity, or even Christianity writ large in our culture is defined as “what you are against”. So if someone says they are evangelical — it is assumed they are against a lot of things like gays, abortion, “liberals” (whatever that term is supposed to mean), Democrats, etc… and a lot of it is very political. From a sociological perspective, it’s useful for communities to define themselves in opposition to a broader culture — it gives a sense of shared identity and solidarity, but it is a sectarian dead-end. Maybe time for evangelicals to think more about what they are “for” — because those of us outside that world have no idea. People just see a lot hate, (I know that is strong word, but I am being candid), and increasingly that is being rejected.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Basil, I just want to ask an honest question: What’s your background with evangelicalism? Have you spent much time inside of evangelical churches?

            Within the churches, it has almost nothing to do with “what we’re against.” It’s only in the public square that this is a big issue. That’s partly because evangelicals feel the need to stand against some social movements they view as destructive, partly because evangelicals have done a poor job of it sometimes, and partly because the worst of evangelicalism in the public square gets a lot of attention while the best gets very little. But we’ve talked back and forth for quite some time now, and I respect you. I’m just wondering whether you’ve spent much time recently in evangelical churches — and I don’t mean having a bad experience at one or two churches and assuming the rest must be the same.

            So, what is your experience? I’m sorry if you’ve already shared this and I haven’t kept track. Thanks.

          • Basil

            Hi Tim

            I wanted to respond earlier to your question, but … life happens. My personal experience with evangelicals is solely in the public square (some up close and personal and not pleasant at all), but not the church yard. I can’t envision I would ever want to try an evangelical church, because I would never want to go where I would feel unwelcome (for reasons of theology, and custom).

            As for my personal religious background, truthfully I was raised non-religious (ok, that is an oversimplification, but I don’t want to digress). I would say I was agnostic — believed in God, but not in any particular organized religion. I was fine with that, but about 5 years ago I had my own religious awakening (again a simplification) — I found my spiritual home with local Quaker congregation. I’m drawn by the simplicity, and the emphasis on equality. We have no clergy — our worship is based on our personal experience with God. which I find very compelling (in large part because of my upbringing) — I see no need or reason for a priest or a preacher to mediate or try to shape my relationship with God. I think the other chief difference is the rejection of literalism in approaching religious — something which I theologically weak, and intellectually questionable. That being said, I think the emphasis on a personal relationship with God is something that Quakers share with many evangelical denominations.

            I will have a comment posted your “Help, We’re gay and we are being oppressed” posting

  • Denny

    Basil,
    You wrote “What’s seems to have changed in the last few years is that big chunk of society has become intolerant of the intolerance.” and later “This is not a bad thing — it means our society is becoming a bit more accepting, more respectful, and moving a bit closer to equality”. If it is ok to not tolerate what you see as intolerance, then how is it society become more accepting and respectful? So gays to be intolerant of the Christian view is good but for Christians to be intolerant of homosexuality is bad? So who defines what should or should not be tolerated? It would seem that by your definition, society is less accepting and respectful as a whole as every side and every view point fight for its acceptance and calling everything else hate and intolerance.

    Later on in your past you said that Evangelicals are defined by what we are against. This depends on where you stand on the issues. You can say I am against homosexuality, Democrats, etc. and therefore hateful and intolerant but I can just as easily say you are against traditional marriage, Republicans, Evangelicals, etc. and therefore hateful and intolerant. The whole argument is based on what your viewpoint and labeling the other side as hateful. In the end we just end up yelling at each other for being hateful and intolerant and the only “solution” is to silent the other side by force or by law, as we are seeing now in the U.S. and in other western countries.

  • Richard T.

    Obama was doing what politicians all do: using people as tools, and throwing away a tool that didn’t fit comfortably in his hand. People are not tool, and should be treated better than that.

    Now about evangelicalism: the Greek roots mean “good message” or “good news”. If one of you is spreading bad news, I hope the rest of you will not hesitate to speak up and correct them. You should get media attention readily enough: journalists love a dust-up. So please don’t be surprised that the people you call the worst are taken as typical by the rest of us: whether your silence is that of consternation or compliance is hard for us to tell. I’m new around here, so if you have in fact spoken up before now, I’d welcome a link or two.

    The way the “worst” talk publicly is enough to make me believe that they have no confidence in their fellow-believers’ strength to refrain from sinning, no tolerance for those of us who define sin in our own way, and no faith in their God’s power to punish or forgive sins. They want (worst case) a lynch mob or (best case) a beefy guy in a blue uniform to prevent sin. They seem to have many followers who are more than willing to cast the first stone. You have made it clear that you’re not one of them, but I have absolutely no way to know how many more like you there are, until others like you speak up.

    Opposing an over-the-top law in a faraway country is good in that it shows a sense of proportion, but since part of this country had criminal laws against sodomy until quite recently with no evangelicals speaking against them (that I could hear), it doesn’t yet show tolerance.

  • Richard T

    Moderator: rereading my comment from yesterday, it is itself over-the-top and I withdraw it with an apology.

  • jerry lynch

    From what I’ve read about old Louie Lou-I, this letter was not necessary and works against the type of man he seems to be–NOW. The letter is gratuitous.

  • Kevin McKee

    I liked the article but noted that truth objected to a multitude of things. In response, I am a Christian, an Evangelical, but not a Fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a specific part of evangelicalism, which has great prominence in the US but not so much elsewhere. An Evangelical is someone who believes that Scripture is the intended word of God and that all people fall short of God’s intent and as a result require the grace of God through Jesus Christ. However, that does not mean we need to all accept conservative values. I do not. I have always believed that all people should be treated equally in society. I believe in marriage for Gays, as long as an individual pastor has the right to refuse to perform a marriage. I do not believe this position is incongruent with Scripture. I on the other hand object to any group denying any individual to take part in a ceremony of celebration for a person, like the inauguration. In other words, Giglio, if he was Obama’s choice should be allowed to take part. Otherwise we start a process of finding fault with each other. This person can’t take part because he is overweight, this person can’t be invited because they are male and don’t understand women, this one because they are of a non-majority religion, this one because they are a repesentative of the majority. Eventually we would come to the conclusion that as none of us is perfect, none of us should be invited to take part.

  • Adriene B

    I saw this and read it and was SO excited! But skeptical- I was actually going to check on Snopes if it was real. And then I read your intro. Damn. It would have been great if Pres. Obama actually DID write this, or something like it. Still hopeful that he did, privately.

  • Joe Chip

    Here again, the author – obviously an intelligent and well spoken person – shows on this point a complete and utter disconnect from reality. He works under the assumption that one can support denying fellow US citizens basic human rights (in this case, the right to marry) and yet remain ‘pure’ and should be above being called nasty names. He is shocked, shocked, that “we have reached a point where anyone who believes gay sex is wrong or anyone who believes that marriage is ordained by God for the union of a man and a woman is ostracized and condemned as hateful, bigoted, and the equivalent of a racist. ”

    Well, what do you expect? Honestly, should a ‘nice person’ who claims to love women but still works to ensure they don’t have the right to vote be above criticism? Should a “kind master” not be condemned for owning slaves? Should a “Christian pastor” who believes a large segment of the citizens of his own country should never have the right to marry be untarnished?

    WE DON’T CARE how nice you think you are, or how loudly you perplexedly proclaim it. We look at your actions, which are devoted to making sure the State does as you think your religious book says and keeps your brothers and sisters from marrying. THAT is the reason for the “condemnation” you feel you are under. Which is of course hideously ironic, since your group (male, white, middle class, heterosexual, educated Americans) are possibly the least persecuted group in all of modern human history.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Please see my response in “How the Defenders of Traditional Marriage are Totally Like Nazis.”


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