Louie Giglio and Religious Exceptionalism

Louie Giglio in 2008

Louie Giglio in 2008

The response to Reverend Louie Giglio’s withdrawal from Obama’s inauguration after anti-gay remarks he made surfaced has been interesting. Namely, for the moments of intense self-pity it has allowed evangelicals. Jaweed Kaleem of HuffPo Religion draws our attention to one such moment: a blog post by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay research. It it, Stetzer writes,

This can be an important moment as America, the media, and President Obama’s administration to consider a simple question. Are people of faith no longer welcome as they continue to hold the beliefs they have held since their foundation? Must they jettison their sacred texts and adopt new views to be accepted as part of society? If they do not, will they be marginalized and demonized even as they serve the poor, care for the orphan, or speak against injustice?

Or, instead, can we recognize that a substantial minority in our culture hold views they see as rooted in their scriptures and part of their faith, even though those views may not always be popularly accepted? Yes, the First Amendment protects these views. But we also have to decide if the people who hold such views can be protected by the so-called tolerant culture as they seek not just to hold those beliefs in secret, but also dare to utter them in public–even on a sermon tape fifteen years ago.

Of course, this argument, which has been echoed by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, is pretty weak. First of all, our notions of sexuality have changed so dramatically since the times of Jesus that opposition to homosexuality can hardly be considered foundational to Christianity. Secondly, religious people are always adopting new views – times change, people change. Yes, there are things about a religion that connect it across time and place, but homophobia isn’t one of them – just ask the majority of Christians in the United States.

In America, religion is given a “special” status. And it seems to me that Stetzer’s essential argument is that a belief that is held to be “religious” deserves additional protection. You see this argument, too, in the idea that religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to provide their employees free birth control under Obamacare. Or that there can be an exemption to anti-bullying laws when “a sincerely held belief or moral conviction” factors into the bullying. When an opinion is seen to be grounded in “religion”, it is seen to trump the rights of others – even if it is hateful, sexist, or homophobic.

This argument is based on the outmoded idea that each religion has an accompanying ideology, and that there is one “correct” interpretation of religion. Rather, there are as many “religious beliefs” as there are people. And all of those beliefs are protected under the first amendment. You have the right to say (almost) anything you want, even if it is hateful. And thirty-seven percent of Americans might be glad to hear it. Just don’t expect to have the right to have your hateful opinion taken seriously.


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