Frustrated, but not that perplexed, was how I felt after hearing that Obama’s inaugural committee had invited an evangelist pastor known for an hour-long anti-gay screed to give the benediction at Obama’s second inauguration.
In a 1990s sermon entitled “In Search of a Standard: Christian Response to Homosexuality,” pastor Louie Giglio trotted out the usual homophobic clichés: homosexuality is a sin and “less than God’s best for his creation”; gays lead a less-than-benevolent movement with an “aggressive” agenda that needs to be fought; and gay people can — of course — change.
Obama’s choice of pastor for his first inauguration was equally irritating. Like Giglio, Rick Warren also boasted an anti-gay record, though in the end he performed the service while Giglio will not. Giglio bowed out, or was forced to bow out, in the midst of a gathering firestorm of protest against his inclusion in the program.
“Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15 to 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,” Giglio said in a statement. “My aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”
At least Obama’s Defense Secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel, apologized — sincerely or not — for his past anti-gay pronouncements. From Giglio, there was no contrition, no apology, no explanation of that 1990s sermon.
Apparently asleep at the vetting wheel, the president’s inaugural committee said they didn’t know about Giglio’s perspective when they invited him. To paraphrase one online commenter’s consternation: why rummage around in the pool of conservative evangelicals where you’re more than likely to find bearers of bigoted baggage? Not just for one, but two, inaugurations in a row.
If Obama is politically and personally bound to have a prayer, surely there are more judicious choices that mesh with his rhetoric about bridging differences.
Our People, Our Future is his inauguration theme. For better or worse, those “people” include opponents on political and racist grounds.
The choices of Warren and now Giglio are more than likely meant as gestures of good faith to those who vehemently resist Obama’s presence. Their inclusion, despite their divisive beliefs and ugly rhetoric, is vintage Obama, an attempt to depart from America’s prevailing, stalemating us-versus-them paradigm.
Still lurking in Obama’s political DNA is an audacity of hope. As he put it, “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict.”
His grand gestures will not win over the intransigent many who are hell-bent on refusing to join him.
In naming Obama its Person of the Year, Time Magazine notes that he has been “the target of uncommon vitriol.”
Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, is reminiscent of Obama’s first term. Just sub in Obama for Django and the contemporary rightwing for slave-holding plantation owners. Replace the latter’s objection to a black man on horseback and sleeping in the plantation big house with their contemporary counterparts’ passionate loathing of his residence in the White House.
“As President of the United States, the amount of power you have is overstated in some ways,” Obama told Time. “But what you do have the capacity to do is to set a direction. “You recognize you’re not going to arrive with — you’ll never arrive at that promised land, and whatever seeds you plant now may bear fruit many years later.”
Giglio was an unnecessary seed of compromise for a president in his final term with finite time to chart audacious, legacy-making courses.
The electoral windfall that queers enjoyed in the same year Obama affirmed his personal support of gay marriage is evidence that Giglio’s archaic views, while protected speech, now enjoy the company of dinosaurs.