An Open Letter from Barack Obama to Louie Giglio

An Open Letter from Barack Obama to Louie Giglio January 14, 2013

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.

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