The Presidential Inaugural Committee’s decision on who would deliver the benediction during ceremonies on Monday triggered controversy from LGBT activists, causing some Catholics to analyze President Obama’s relations with anti-equality religious leaders.
The Committee originally invited Rev. Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor involved primarily with anti-human trafficking efforts, made statements in the mid-1990s identifying homosexuality as a sin and endorsing therapeutic methods to “cure” the orientation. Within 24 hours of this information’s release, Rev. Giglio withdrew his place in the inaugural ceremonies.
The instant outcry and swift resignation signal two important developments around LGBT rights and faith.
First, opinions around homosexuality by people of faith are rapidly changing. National Catholic Reporter contrasted the divergent outcome in this recent controversy with a similar one around anti-gay pastor Rick Warren at Obama’s first inauguration:
“Giglio’s exit was swift, coming just 24 hours after the sermon went public. That illustrated not only a concern that nothing disturb the civic ritual of the presidential inauguration, but also showed how unsettled the nation remains on gay rights despite — or perhaps because of — the rapid changes in public opinion.
“Four years ago when Obama chose California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural blessing, there was criticism because of his opposition to gay rights: The best-selling evangelical author had worked to pass Proposition 8, which ended gay marriages in California. But calls for him to step aside were ignored by both Warren and Obama.”
Second, a piece in the Los Angeles Times questioned the rejection of Rev. Giglio, an evangelical, while President Obama welcomed Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a Catholic, to give the benediction at this past summer’s Democratic National Convention. Reporter Michael McGough asks:
“Is President Obama guilty of a double standard when it comes to clergymen who condemn homosexuality?”
He concludes that President Obama is not guilty of a double standard in parsing out the difference between evangelical pastors and Catholic clergy:
“So what’s the difference? While the Roman Catholic Church also teaches that homosexual acts are a sin, its take on homosexuality is different in tone and substance from that of evangelicals…
“With a few exceptions, Catholics also tend to avoid the idea — an article of faith in evangelical circles — that homosexuality can be ‘cured’ through prayer or therapy. Partly this is a reflection of the distinction the Catholic Church draws between homosexual ‘condition or tendency,’ which is not a sin, and homosexual acts. But it may also reflect a greater sophistication about psychology.”
The controversies around equality and religion highlighted by presidential inaugurations should propel pro-LGBT Catholics forward with hope. The contrast of Rick Warren and Louie Giglio reveals that progress is not only attainable, but achieved to a greater extent daily. The contrast of Louie Giglio and Cardinal Dolan reveals further that while Catholicism needs serious improvement on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, our faith has potential for growth based on its understanding of the moral neutrality of a homosexual orientation. The fact that this teaching itself was a development from earlier teachings which more closely resembled the evangelical position shows that there is precedent for change in church teaching.
This hope should propel us forward these next four years to struggle once again for legal equality in our government and unconditional inclusion in our Church.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry