The Giglio Quandary: Are “we” Still Part of the “We” in “We the People?”

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I’m calling it the Giglio Quandary, the puzzling moment afoot in this American moment when an exemplary spokesman for the end of human slavery is invited to offer the closing benediction at the inauguration of the President of the United States and when it is learned that he once preached a sermon articulating the established, orthodox biblical view of human sexuality he abruptly exits the scene. The quandary? How shall we understand this? What implications, if any, might this have for the Church? For religious freedom in America? Are “we” still part of the “We” in “We the People?”

Some applaud Louie for his gracious handling of the situation. Others chastise him for failing to take a public stand and seeming to distance himself from his earlier position.  I have great admiration for Louie both as a personal friend and a leader in the Kingdom of God. I think he handled the situation brilliantly. He did not take the bait and enter into another irreconcilable sidebar scuffle over human sexuality. He instead opted to keep the issue of human slavery at the forefront of his agenda, and in the face of the firestorm of fierce analysis, he has maintained a patient posture of wise silence.

Opinions abound. Scot McKnight suggests that to sit on the platform is to effectively demonstrate one’s unwavering support of the prevailing political party and that a religious leader has no business there. Al Mohler wants to make the moment all about homosexuality and suggests that one’s position on homosexuality now forms the litmus test of a new “moral McCarthyism.” Russell Moore suggests the Giglio quandary confirms the reality of a state church which has become hostile to the established norms of Christian orthodoxy. He offers a chilling warning:

As Christians, we ought to recognize that the old majoritarian understanding of church/state relations is outmoded. Our situation today is not to hold on to some form of American civil religion. Our situation today is more akin to the minority religions of America’s past: colonial Baptists, nineteenth-century Baptists, early twentieth-century Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are appealing simply for the right to exist at all, in the face of an established religion armed with popular support and, in the fullness of time, state power.

I think a clearer understanding of the Louie Giglio quandary emerges when we look at this through the lens of the American social contract.  The United States of America began as an experiment in political science. The founding fathers remarkably managed to hammer out an agreement, a social contract, uniting both biblical believers and enlightenment rationalists around the shared quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Divine authority was acknowledged yet national sovereignty was vested into the hands of the people—via the “consent of the governed”—as President Lincoln would later famously put it, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Consider these words from the opening of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…” 

The inauguration of the president of this country is, in part, a ceremonial celebration of that social contract. As an expression of this social contract, religious leaders have been invited to offer public prayers, without exception, at every presidential inauguration in our history. In many places around the world the transfer of power from one government to the next is occasioned by bloody violence in the streets and through fierce oppression of the losing party. In America, because of this social contract, as strained as it may become, power transfers peaceably. A presidential inauguration is intended to be a public demonstration of peace, even in the face of ongoing bitter division. It is a declaration that this which unites us is greater than that which would divide us.

In his book, The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion and Loyalty, Yale Law Professor, Stephen Carter, aptly turns the Declaration of Independence’s phrase, “the consent of the governed” on its side and examines it through the lens of the “dissent of the governed.” Carter details a range of instances where cultural hegemony has run roughshod over the dissenting positions of religious communities. The critical issue that bears analysis is what happens to the social contract when the consent of the governed becomes the dissent of the governed. More critically, what happens when this dissent is fueled by established religious convictions that have become out of step with the cultural zeitgeist?

So should we be concerned that Louie Giglio is being excluded from participation as a Christian minister in this upcoming inauguration because of adherence to his religion? Not necessarily. We certainly should not “shrug it off?” The issue we must judiciously examine is whether this gesture can be fairly said to demonstrate or reveal the suppression of dissent. Standing alone, we might find the President’s decision reasonable as it is understandable that he would want to prevent this celebration from being marred by a divisive controversial issue. (Interestingly, Reports are now emerging that President Obama disagreed with the Presidential Inauguration Committee on this one.) On the other hand, when we scan the recent history, this decision might look like yet another event in a growing series of events where the exercise of dissent fueled by religious conviction is being suppressed. It was only a few months ago when the democratically elected officials of a major American city vowed to keep Chik-fil-A from doing business in their city because of its chief executive officer’s personal convictions concerning human sexuality. The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling and (more importantly) it’s rationale on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the final appeal in the case of California’s Proposition 8 will be telling.

In the end, the Giglio quandary is neither about homosexuality or  Giglio. It is about cultural hegemony and religious freedom. If Christians are honest, we must admit that the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Bringing it full circle, if we are witnessing the suppression of dissent, we may well be witnessing the final breaths of the social contract which has privileged Christians for so long in America. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. Is it the end of the social contract? That’s probably been on life support for years now.

The late Chuck Colson, writing presciently almost two decades ago, hinted at the question which I believe is at the heart of the Giglio quandary: Are we approaching a day when “we” the people of God can no longer legitimately claim to be part of the governing corpus of “We the People of the United States of America?”

Could this American moment be another sign of the demise of the “American” church? Even more, could this be a “Kingdom” moment, signaling the birth pangs of the Church “in America?”  If so, an inauguration is coming we won’t want to miss.

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed’s Sower-in-Chief.

1 COMMENT

  1. JD, you are brilliant.

    I think we are approaching that day, if we are already not there. The only question in my mind is, does the American church have the theological and ethical wherewithal to recognize this and prepare ourselves. In some ways, I think this will be a good thing for us.

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