Friday, January 11, 2013

Inaugurating controversy

There are always things that surprise me, very often amid things that don’t—or, both at the same time. President Obama’s Second Inauguration ceremony is one such occasion.

Like many Americans, I think, I was surprised when the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that the Invocation (a prayer said at the beginning of an event) will be delivered by Mylie Evers-Williams, widow of murdered civil rights icon Medger Evers. She will be the first woman and the first non-preacher to deliver the invocation. At the time, it was also reported that a “conservative evangelical" preacher named Louie Giglio was selected to deliver the Benediction (the prayer given at the end of an event).

The next day, I read that openly-gay poet Richard Blanco had been selected to read a specially-written poem at the ceremony. Past poets given that honour have included Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, so this is a very big deal.

Later that same day, Josh Israel reported on Talking Points Memo that Giglio had made anti-gay remarks in the past. This became the focus of liberals and the left, including the LGBT left, with the other positive developments ignored.

At first, I was annoyed by the left’s obsession, but then I realised they were right: We’ve come too far to give bigots such a platform. It was like Rick Warren all over again.

The radio host of an anti-gay hate group Tweeted (via Joe.My.God.), “To see a living, fire-breathing example of hate-filled bigotry & intolerance, watch what Big Gay does to Louis Giglio.” The natural reaction to a bigot from an anti-gay hate group lecturing anyone on tolerance and hate, was, “Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.”

The leader of that anti-gay hate group said that Giglio should decline the invitation because it could hurt his “credibility within the Christian community because it seems to be an implicit endorsement of President Obama by participating." So, the radical right anti-gay industry wanted Giglio gone, too.

Today, Giglio backed out, “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.” True enough, but that would be coming from both sides of the culture wars. He went on to claim, somewhat disingenuously, “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.”

Giglio has never recanted or apologised for his remarks, so he clearly still holds them. That is his right. But when he urged “Christians” to fight against LGBT equality in society, he was making political speech that was in direct conflict with the positions and statements of President Obama and his administration. Stepping aside was the right thing for him to do.

Naturally, that same bigoted radio host flew back into attack mode, Tweeting (via Joe.My.God.): “The Bully bigots at Big Gay win huge victory for fascistic intolerance…” Are you following this? The bigoted radio host blames “Big Gay” for forcing Giglio out, yet the hate group whose radio show he hosts wanted exactly that—why isn’t it a good thing that he did as the hate group wanted? Because haters gonna hate, and anti-gay bigots always have to exploit every opportunity to spread hatred against LGBT people. Even when it means the hate group is talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Which is why we’re not done hearing aural (that means “relating to hearing”; just making sure our dim far right extremist adversaries don’t confuse it with oral) venom from the frothing religious right. Already a Fox Noise “reporter” launched into a tirade blaming Giglio’s departure on what he called "heterophobic bigots". That’s so cute.

Sadly, this is just the beginning: TPM already has a list of the rightwing crazy.

While I don’t necessarily believe that the Presidential Inaugural Committee was unaware of Giglio’s past (Josh Israel obviously found it—why didn’t they?), I nevertheless have some sympathy for them: It can’t be easy to find neutral ground in the culture wars. Still, a presidential inaugural ceremony is no place to promote bigotry of any kind, and choosing Giglio was a big mistake.

As a non-theist, I think that it’s highly inappropriate that there are any prayers at a civic, secular function. It seems that I’m apparently in the minority on that point. Still, I expect better of people planning such events, and if there must be prayers, then they should not be delivered by people with a past of promoting bigotry.

TPM seems to agree with me. They said:
“These critics seem not to understand that respecting different opinions does not require giving a platform and a microphone to those whose promote discrimination and division. Though Pastor Giglio is completely free to believe as he chooses and to preach the harmful message of ‘pray away the gay’ therapy, a public ceremony like the presidential inauguration is not the place for him to do so.”
Of course I agree. Some things are—or ought to be—really obvious. Avoiding the promotion of bigotry must be one of them.

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