Upon initial glance, the Rev. Louie Giglio presents himself as a compassionate evangelical conservative with a ministry focusing on doing good not damning others. He isn’t calling for a day of prayer to save American from the evils brought forth by the Obama administration in the spirit of Governor Mike Huckabee. Nor is he hosting a presidential inaugural prayer breakfast that bills itself as a non-partisan inter-denominational event even though the lineup reads like a who’s who of the religious right. And no sane Christian would participate in Terry Jones’ pre-inauguration burning of effigies and images of President Obama.
But what these individuals share in common is based on their belief that “homosexuality is a sin” in large part by citing select Bible verses that theologian James Alison deems the “clobber texts.” This method of biblical analysis could be found in previous eras when similarly minded church leaders used a very small smattering of Bible verses to condemn women and people of color as inferior beings. Now, anyone who espouses such outdated thinking gets called out on the carpet, and rightly so.
According to a Washington Post poll, between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of all Americans who support same-sex marriage has climbed from 36 to 53 percent. Along those lines, megachurch pastor Rick Warren delivered the invocation in 2009 despite his public views against gay rights, and President Obama did not support marriage equality publicly until the closing months of his re-election campaign. Following Obama’s re-election and the growing support for marriage equality, religious conservative stalwarts like Dr. James Dobson admit they are losing the battle on this issue especially among young evangelicals.
Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith & Values for GLAAD, reflects on this cultural shifting:
“I had hoped that Pastor Giglio was able to “evolve” much like our president did on the issue of LGBT equality. From reading in between the lines of his recent statements, that is not the case. He found that his main issue was elsewhere, working to end human trafficking. That’s an issue I can support. I think it is to his credit to not stake his ministry off of opposing LGBT people, but to do something that helps society. And I continue to hope that he will listen and learn from LGBT people and eventually come to the understanding that we are all children of God.”
Furthermore, this fracas signifies a trend in progressive evangelical circles where leaders like Giglio, Warren, and Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children and producer of the KONY 2012 video sensation], champion civil rights in Africa while forming alliances with clergy working against LGBT rights in African countries. Similarly, Sojourners President Jim Wallis cites a document signed by 46 religious leaders that condemns persecution against LGBT people in Uganda but fails to denounce their teachings that fuel this anti-gay violence. Also, evangelist Tony Campolo compares the theology of his Red Letter Christian (RLC) group with that of the Family, host of the National Prayer Breakfast even though religion scholar Jeff Sharlet’s research connects the Family to the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.
Therein lies the elephant in the room -the one that needs to be taken out of the closet. In mainline and more liberal religious settings, one finds the rise of an ecclesiology that embraces LGBT people in all aspects of the church’s rites including ordination and marriage. Central to this development is a refutation of “homosexuality” as a “sin” and an embrace of a more incarnational theology that views all of humanity as created good in the image of God. This worldview embraces the myriad of discoveries from science, psychology, theology, and other disciplines that inform changing attitudes toward LGBT people.
Hopefully, the media can stop presenting evangelicals voices as the sole representatives of Christianity because the reality of the faith at the grassroots level proves to be much more multifaceted.