Bullied on the President’s Stage by Gabe Lyons

January 21, 2013 may go down in history, as the day Americans lost their most important freedom—their freedom of conscience. I’m no fear monger and realize in the middle of the current gun restriction debate, Americans can hardly stand another story on lost liberties. But pay attention, lest you become distracted by deliberations over the Second Amendment, and lose sight of the First.

Here’s the backstory.

Louie Giglio, 54 year-old pastor of Passion City Church and founder of the global Passion movement was invited by the White House Inauguration Committee to deliver the benediction at the close of the second inaugural ceremony. This was an expected overture in the ongoing relationship between the White House and the leader of the Passion movement. It seemed an appropriate invitation.

The past two years have seen the friendship between the President and Mr. Giglio strengthen as Giglio focused his college-aged movement on ending modern day slavery. Less than a year ago at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama praised Giglio’s work, saying, “it was inspiring to see thousands (50,000+) of young Christians filling the Georgia Dome at the Passion Conference, to worship the God who sets the captives free and work to end modern slavery.”

It wasn’t a natural friendship politically speaking—Giglio’s social conservatism didn’t nestle comfortably with President Obama’s more liberal leanings. It was, however, a living testimony to how a common faith can overcome differences and focus on a shared goal, in this case working to free 27,000,000 modern day slaves. It was the kind of common cause that ended slavery in America.

Enter an extreme and small faction of outspoken gay activists.

Within hours of the second inaugural committee’s announcement, blogs started firing. Someone had uncovered a mid-1990’s era sermon Giglio had given on homosexuality and mined it for their narrow agenda. The website Think Progress denounced Mr. Giglio as “vehemently anti-gay.” A petition to the White House gleaned a meager 900 signatures demanding the committee replace the minister. Media outlets took the bait and echoed claims Mr. Giglio was anti-gay (though he holds the same historic position on sexuality as an overwhelming majority of American Christians, Jews and Muslims).

The feeding frenzy began. Yesterday, disheartened by the entire brouhaha, Mr. Giglio took the high road and withdrew his acceptance to pray the benediction. In a blog post to his local church, he defended his decision stating he wanted to keep his focus on, “seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.”

Mr. Giglio is the target of intolerance—the kind of prejudice that many in the LGBTQ community have suffered themselves.* He is being singled out for shame and ridicule by an extreme minority.* Yes, there are militant Christians who have shamefully worked against civil rights for gay brothers and sisters. But that is hardly the full story. Many Christians were also first responders to the AIDS crisis (contrary to the accepted narrative). Now, as the tide of power has turned, some in the LGBTQ community seem intent on giving back in full measure the injustice and hurt many in their community experienced. It is reverse discrimination at its finest.

As gays come out of the closet, are Christians meant to swap and go hide back in closets of their own? This zero-sum game is the most un-American of games.

Freedom to speak your mind and live by your convictions—a person’s freedom of conscience—is the first, most fundamental, American right. James Madison believed strongly in the freedom of conscience, even claiming, “This right is in its nature an unalienable right” in his Memorial and Remonstrance written in 1785. Maintaining and defending “freedom of conscience” protects every citizen from being coerced, cajoled, intimidated or bullied into taking a point of view that goes against their deepest convictions.

It’s a sad day in America when that right is up for debate.

Mr. President, in a contentious moment in America’s court of public opinion, you must lead. Please use the bully pulpit to educate Americans on how true liberty ought to play out in a pluralistic society. You’ve got the ear of gay activists, now use it to call a truce. Take two minutes and step in front of the White House press corps and put a stop to this nonsense.

Remind all activists—gay and straight, male and female, union and non-union—that freedom of conscience, freedom of expression isn’t just some right. It is our first right.

And a pastor who once gave a sermon expressing his biblically based belief that homosexuality isn’t condoned does not deserve scorn.

The LGBTQ movement, which equates itself with the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, can learn a lesson from Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we are about to commemorate. King never lashed out at his opponents. He famously urged those around him to use only “the weapons of love.”

Mr. President, please remind the leaders and activists in the LGBT community of that truth. You alone can do it. It may not be a “Lincoln moment” but it would be a “King moment” and that’s not such a bad thing.