In case you hadn’t heard the news yet, Louie Giglio will not be praying at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony this week. The firestorm over this man and something he said a couple decades ago is astounding in its ability to get people riled up.
Giglio is an evangelical pastor from Atlanta, and he is on the forefront of the fight against human trafficking and the sex slave trade. This has brought him a lot of positive attention, and for good reason — it is an excellent cause and he and his church are doing amazing things to aid in the fight against those horrific crimes. In fact, that attention is why Giglio was invited to pray at the inauguration in the first place.
However, some groups began researching Giglio and unearthed a sermon that he taught more than 15 years ago about homosexuality. It was described as “anti-gay” and so the groups began pressuring Obama to revoke Giglio’s invitation. Eventually, Giglio and Obama announced, separately, that they had mutually decided Giglio’s presence at the event would not be beneficial. Giglio’s withdrawal has now created its own firestorm. Everyone is up in arms at everyone else. The familiar battle lines are drawn: secular progressives versus religious conservatives. It’s a tired battle we’ve seen play out far too many times over the past fifty years.
It’s one that I wonder why we even fight. From either side of the issue.
Look, the groups who were pressuring Obama to give Giglio the boot were being asinine. The guy is giving a sixty second prayer of blessing, not a sermon. Giglio isn’t involved in any scandals, no extramarital affairs, no drugs, nothing. The guy’s clean. The fact that they had to go back more than 15 years to find anything on him should tell you something. The fact that an evangelical pastor gave a sermon labeling homosexuality a sin (and thus somehow qualifying as “vehemently anti-gay”) in the early or mid-90s shouldn’t surprise anybody, either. What is surprising is that something someone said nearly two decades ago is being held against them now.
I have things I said five or ten years ago that I hope aren’t held against me, let alone fifteen or twenty.
But on the other side of the coin, Christians are acting just as foolishly, if not more so. Complaints that the first amendment is being shredded abound; cries of persecution and an anti-religion agenda dot the landscape. It’s as if Christians got together and said to those in opposition to Giglio, “Oh, you want to overreact? We’ll show you overreact!” Contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment does not guarantee anyone the right to pray at an inauguration ceremony. And even if, in some strange land, this amounted to “persecution,” aren’t we supposed to turn the other cheek? To pray for those who persecute us? To show them the love of Christ?
If we truly represent Jesus, then apparently he’s a whiny little kid with a martyr complex.
There is a much larger issue, however, that this whole brouhaha has served to highlight in my mind: why Christians should be incredibly wary about casting their lots with anything or anyone political in the first place.
Instead of getting angry, I pray this is a reminder to us of why mixing the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Politics will never be able to save us. We will never be able to pass enough laws to make people holy or make them love God. We will never change people from the inside out with the machinations of Washington. So why do we try?
It’s alluring, that’s for sure. It’s nice to think that taking up political causes like pacifism or welfare programs or the rights of unborn children would actually solve the problem of death and poverty and abortion. It’s nice to think activism (or, in this day and age, slacktivism) would actually bring about the kingdom of God. But it won’t. It won’t because politics doesn’t change hearts, it only applies surface-level solutions to immensely deep problems. It won’t because politics is tainted by human corruption, greed, and power.
If politics could actually save us, Jesus would have been born in Rome and spent his 33 years involved in the Senate or as an Emperor.
Instead, he spent his 33 years largely hanging around a backwoods agrarian community. Spending time with people. Doing the slow and unalluring work of loving people.
Had Jesus been born today, there’s little doubt in my mind that he would not run for President – or if he did, he certainly couldn’t win the primary in either major party.
The prayer at the inauguration seems meant to make us as a nation feel better anyhow. It’s like keeping “In God We Trust” on our money, when so many of us don’t. It’s a way for us to to ensure we don’t incur God’s wrath, and hopefully incur his blessing — a superstitious method of religion. It reminds me of the story in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel when Israel lost a military battle. They regrouped back at camp and asked, “Why did God let us lose? I know – it’s because we didn’t have the Ark of the Covenent with us! Grab it and let’s go back out and fight!” The Ark of the Covenant was a holy artifact that represented God’s presence. The Israelites thought they were doing a good thing, inviting God to be present with them on the battlefield. Instead, God allowed them to lose the battle again — and allowed their Ark to be taken away.
Apparently, God doesn’t do superstition too well.
At some point in the not-so-distant future, the prayer at an inauguration will be offered by a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Wiccan, or by multiple people to ensure an array of religions is represented. When this happens, Christians will undoubtedly throw another temper tantrum, not understanding that they are being used by politicians. At some point after that, the prayer will probably be done away with entirely and Christians will bemoan the loss of God’s influence – not realizing the loss of one of our modern-day Arks might give us the opportunity to refocus on what really matters.
Something the Bible makes quite clear is this: nations will rise, and nations will fall. Kings and Presidents and countries and governments will come and go. Many have crumbled and many more will, and it does not matter. Some day, America will fall from “greatness” (with all the debatable baggage that term brings with it), just like all the superpowers that came before us. Why? Because politics is only a temporary “fix” to the human condition. It can only hold things together for so long.
The kingdom of God does not require a strong America to exist and thrive, so why do we? The kingdom of God does not require a token prayer at a political ceremony, so why do we? The fate of God does not rest on the direction of one nation – ours or anybody else’s. So maybe instead of pouring our passions into political bandaids and directing our misplaced anger toward politicians, maybe we ought to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and get on with the kingdom business of slow, purposeful, sacrificial love.