What Could Have Been: Louie Giglio & Obama’s Inauguration

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As 2013 gets started, we’re honored at The Wise Guise to not only add new contributors and guest writers, but also expand the topics we cover, questions we raise, and issues discussed. Today’s post is written by one of Joseph’s best friends in law school, Parker Hancock. We hope Parker will continue to contribute to The Wise Guise. Today’s post stems from some current events that Parker and Joseph discussed in detail recently as they caught up during the first week of the new semester.

Today, silently simmering below the lead stories on firearm accessories and commemorative coins was a story about an evangelical pastor asked to give the benediction at Obama’s inauguration, who had to step down because of a fifteen-year old sermon on homosexuality. It was a tremendously hopeful story that has turned tragic. The story really starts in 1997.

Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion Conferences, and pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta has been working to inspire 18 to 25 year-olds to live their lives for the glory of God. Central to this mission has been the “268 Declaration” which reads:

“Yes Lord, walking in the way of your truth, we wait eagerly for you, for your name and your renown are the desire of our souls” – Isaiah 26:8

Every Passion conference since ‘97 has included a combination of engaging speakers, musical worship, and prayer. In addition, every conference has included a “Do Something Now” center. In the early days, it was an exhibit hall packed with missions agencies, bible translating companies, global relief not-for-profits, etc. It was a wonderful way to get a global glimpse on what God was doing around the world, and a way for young adults to get connected to God’s global mission.

The last two years, as a result of both the scale (growing from around 8,000 students in 2006 to 60,000 students in 2012), and of a particular issue placed on the hearts of the Passion team, that element has become more focused on the scourge of modern-day slavery. To those who are not aware, around the world there are 27 million men, women, and children still in the bonds of slavery. Some work endless hours in rice mills and brick yards, while many are young women who are sold for sex and raped numerous times a day by paying customers.

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This year’s conference aimed to “shine a light” on slavery, culminating in an outdoor candlelight vigil numbering 60,000 around a powerful spotlight that could be seen from all over the city. It was a powerful moment and statement of an entire generation, deciding it would refuse to live in a world where fellow human beings, fellow image-bearers of God, would be treated as property. It also was the launch of the “End It Movement,” a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness of the issue of modern-day slavery and to mobilize people, politicians, and resources to fight modern-day slavery.

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That next morning, there was a feeling of momentum. It finally felt like the tide was turning. All the anti-slavery organizations were all on the same page, powerfully demonstrated in a wonderful roundtable discussion during the conference.  The conference was reaching beyond the walls of the Georgia Dome with live-streams being watched by more people than were in attendance. Traditional evangelical media outlets were carrying the word out beyond the city (like Christianity Today and World), but some main-stream media were covering it as well. CNN’s Freedom Project was one of the organizations at the table, and they began running segments on the conference, and an interview with Louie on nationwide cable television.

Then, a few days ago, it was announced that Louie Giglio, in honor of all the work that Passion and their “freedom partners” had done to fight slavery, would be given the opportunity to give the benediction at Obama’s inauguration. This was the moment. The movement was going national, on the biggest of all stages. While Obama may not be every evangelical’s favorite politician, he’s been willing to work with the evangelical community to fight slavery, including giving the first presidential speech on slavery since Lincoln at last year’s National Prayer Breakfast. In a rare moment of national unity, Louie was going to be able to shine a national light on slavery. It seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The next day, the liberal website “Think Progress” ran a story entitled “Inaguration Benediction To Be Delivered By Pastor Who Gave Vehemently Anti-Gay Sermon.” They had managed to dig up a sermon from the 1990’s given by Louie on the topic of homosexuality. Without delving too deeply into the issues of his sermon, or what the article chose to focus on, Louie did his best to enunciate a clear, biblical view on the issue of homosexuality. As a result, a tidal wave of complaints hit the White House from the LGBT community, protesting his selection. Louie decided to bow out of giving the benediction, because that was not a fight he was either called to, nor prepared for. God had called him to shine a light on slavery, but LGBT rights could not, even for a few seconds of benediction, take a back seat to the plight of millions of slaves around the world.

The decision to bow out was really tragic for two groups of people. The first, of course, are the 27 million slaves. Gary Haugen, founder of IJM, told us at Passion that “Awareness is the work.” If things are going to change, we first have to educate before we can mobilize. To have the stage of a U.S. President’s inauguration to shine a light on slavery would be the kind of opportunity only God could have provided. One of the passages Louie quoted this year was Ephesians 3:20-21:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”

This would have been God doing just that, far more abundantly that we could ever have asked or thought. Slavery footprints could have become dinner-table conversation. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number could have become as common as 911. Voters might have demanded that a TVPA been reauthorized, and demanded their states pass “safe harbor” laws for victims of sex trafficking. It might have been the beginning of a mobilization of popular culture not seen since the days of Wilberforce. And more slaves could have been set free. Lives restored. Men, women, and children granted freedom, and the dignity due them as image bearers of God. Maybe this was just dreaming, but something made it feel like we were approaching that tipping point.

The other group it hurt is the Church. It looked like modern-day slavery, an issue being championed by the Church, was about to go mainstream. It would have been a touching moment of national unity for us as a nation for Obama and Louie to share a stage, brought together by this issue. It would have been a massive, public display of the gospel in action, and a counter-example to the caricature of Christians as narrow-minded and hateful. It would have broken through so many stereotypes of Evangelical Christians.

Instead, the opportunity to shine the light of the gospel turned into an opportunity for the LGBT community to make a point: That Christians are unwelcome in the national spotlight. I understand they have an agenda. I understand that Obama is their ally. But does that mean that all who disagree must be denied a spot at the microphone? Even to talk about completely unrelated issues? Besides, I know that ThinkProgress had an agenda with their story, but even reading many of the quoted sections, a more charitable interpretation was possible.  Yes, homosexual conduct is a sin. There is no even plausible reading of scripture that can be brought to bear against that reality. But so is heterosexual lust, drunkenness, lying, theft, coveting, pride, and a wide variety of behaviors that all of us struggle with every day. Salvation in Christ is accomplished by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from any of our works, and no one claiming the name of Christ should deny someone who commits homosexual acts the same grace we’ve been given.

In short, a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of 27 million slaves, and break through the stereotypes of Christians was reduced to an opportunity for a set of LGBT interest groups to reinforce a false stereotype of Christians. Fortunately for us, God is sovereign over all things. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov. 21:1). Even if we misread the times, and thought God would act in one way, we know that He alone is in control, and only He knows the future. This, too, will be worked for God’s glory, even if we never learn how, or why. We must remember our job is faith and obedience, the master plan has and always will be, God’s.

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Posted on by Parker Hancock in Faith, Featured, Guest Spots, Misc. Posts

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