Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, speaks to students during the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards Public Forum at Temple Deliverance. (Photo: Mike Brown/Newscom)

Last week, I was excited to read the Washington Post article stating that Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, was going to deliver the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration later this month. This was a historic announcement, since Evers would be the first female who wasn’t a clergy member to deliver what has been deemed “America’s most prominent prayer.” Add to that the fact that she’s a black woman and you can sense the pride I felt reading those words. In a month that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, to deem this a special occasion wouldn’t do it justice. Not to mention that this is just the second time that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has fallen on Inauguration Day. Later this year we’ll also mark the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a matter of weeks, an African American man will be sworn in for a second term as the president of the United States. For me, there’s a sense of divine providence in the events leading up to this day. Ms. Evers will stand atop the same steps on which King stood to decry our nation’s treatment of African Americans in this country.

Today, I received some disheartening news. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was removed withdrew as a participant in Obama’s inauguration program. According to an inaugural planner, he withdrew over remarks about homosexuality he made in a sermon he preached in the mid-’90s. The sermon was titled “In Search of a Standard—A Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Man, it must have taken a Herculean Google effort to find that one. But that’s how the public vets people nowadays. Google searches produce “little nuggets” about people that others may use against them. President Obama didn’t have to Google Pastor Giglio, though: He had become aware of Giglio’s work combating human trafficking last year after students at the annual Passion Conference in Atlanta raised millions of dollars for the cause. This year the campaign raised over $3.3 million dollars.

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I attended Giglio’s church for over a year when we lived in Atlanta. We loved it. Giglio was genuine, Christ-centered in his preaching, and humble. Today, he’s been called everything from an unrepentant bigot to a pastor on the outlier of mainstream religious thinking (which might not actually be a bad thing). My dream of seeing a representative of the Civil Rights Movement share the platform with someone who genuinely cares and is doing something about modern-day slavery was crushed today. With more people enslaved today (approximately 27 million) than any other time in human history, this monumental occasion could have had a significant, visceral impact for African Americans. Most of these modern-day slaves are “people of color.”

Instead, we revisit an issue that cropped up in 2009 when Rick Warren was selected to give the benediction—a similar outcry that yielded different results. The difference? The President hadn’t expressed his evolving view on homosexuality at that time. But is this really a civil rights issue? I need not go into the matter of civil rights. I think Voddie Baucham does a pretty good job of addressing the issue here. Dr. Russell Moore suggests that what we may have is a de facto establishment of a state church.

As Moore points out:

The problem is not that [Giglio] wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.

The truth is that politicizing prayer is the first essential step to creating a state religion. We’re starting to enter the politically correct season of public prayer. So what’s the new standard? What’s the prerequisite when vetting someone to pray for our nation? Offending no one? We know from Scripture that’s impossible. Someone will always be offended. In fact, held to this standard, Jesus Himself would have been disqualified. Were that the benchmark, we’d have an empty podium on January 21st.

Giglio released this statement today:

I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.

Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.

My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.

In my opinion, a grace-filled response to critics. In the coming weeks, the nation will be watching intently. Forget the replacement refs controversy last fall with the NFL—Giglio’s replacement will likely get tons of attention from the faith community, and the nation in general. Not because this person prays more eloquently than Giglio. Not because there’s a symbiotic relationship between this person’s prayer and Ms. Evers-Williams’ prayer. But because the selection will likely represent the evolving ethos of our pluralistic society. Disheartening? Yes. Unexpected? No. When it boils down to it, the words of Robert Godfrey ring true: neither the Republican Party or Democratic Party care about the cause of Christ. But I’m glad there are people like Pastor Giglio in this world who do.

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