Religious tensions were not absent from today's inauguration festivities as the first lay person has been asked to give the benediction, replacing conservative Christian pastor Louie Giglio, who had been slated to give the benediction due to his work to end human trafficking until it was discovered by ThinkProgress last week that in the 1990's Giglio had given a sermon condemning gay relationships. Giglio voluntarily removed himself, after pressure from the Presidential Inaugural Committee,with the observation that he didn't want political hay being made and overshadowing the inauguration over something he did 15-20 years ago. The Presidential Inaugural Committee had its own response:
We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.
The Christian Post notes that the actions of the Presidential Inaugural Committee may have been something President Obama did not agree with:
One source familiar with the process told CP that some White House officials disagreed with PIC's statement, arguing that it is highly unlikely President Obama would define his "vision of inclusion" the same way as PIC – one that excludes Christians who have a traditional biblical view of homosexuality, as well as Muslims, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews who have similar views.
"The Inaugural Committee's decision shouldn't be taken as synonymous with the president's breadth of inclusion," the source told CP. "This decision shouldn't be interpreted as President Obama's definitive view of the inclusiveness of his administration."
Couple that with the observation that there is no representative of conservative Christianity at the inaugural podium today, after having had the political megaphone for the last 30 years, and one can understand why the evangelical Christian Right would be worried. The Times of Israel notes:
A headline on PewSitter.com, which posts news of interest to conservative Roman Catholics, read, “Obama to Use Civil Rights Activist and Not Clergy” for his inaugural invocation. Gabe Lyons, a young Christian thinker known for his pioneering Q conferences on evangelicalism, argued Giglio had been bullied off the stage by an “extreme minority” of activists.
“As gays come out of the closet, are Christians meant to swap and go hide back in closets of their own?” Lyons asked on his blog. “This zero-sum game is the most un-American of games.” [...]
One conservative Christian, missing the fact that the White House was clearly not happy with the actions of the PIC, fumed:
Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based national group that builds interreligious cooperation, said those who disagree with Obama have a chance to be heard in many other public arenas.
“This is a president who has made gay rights part of his agenda, so it would make sense to me that he wouldn’t want somebody on the podium with him who doesn’t reflect that,” said Patel, who has been an adviser to the president’s faith-based partnership office.
But Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar at the evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary, argued the inaugural is supposed to unite Americans across partisan lines after an election. “The problem here is if we’re going to celebrate the diversity of America, which is what the inaugural representatives claim they’re doing, we shouldn’t have a litmus test applied to participants if it’s also being recognized they are contributing in other ways to society,” Bock said.
Other things making conservative Christians nervous is the fact that they (Protestants) are no longer a majority in this country for the first time in American history. A study done by the Pew Forum last October found that the "nones" are actually the majority in this country (people with no religious affiliation). This is something Fox News has not missed:
Christian conservatives are asking what these choices say about their place in broader society. Does their absence from the inaugural podium mean they're being pushed out of public life?
Perhaps they are, perhaps they are not–but one thing that is clinging to them like so much laundry lint are the far-right extremists who use evangelical Christianity to promote causes that most Americans disagree with such as teaching creationism in the schools, using school vouchers and public money to pay for such education in private schools, theocratic tendencies, the very public demonstrations of the Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals, and the Dominionist movement's prominence in recent years, none of which has been denounced by the Christian Right. The Atlantic Wire reports that conservative Christians didn't like a report that came out of West Point about the steady increase in far right extremism from the 1990's to the present day:
Aren't conservatives supposed to be hawkish on terror? They tend to be when it comes to foreign terrorists, but many are taking umbrage at a new West Point report on violent far-right extremists home-grown right here in the U.S. Earlier this week, the Combatting Terrorism Center (CTC) at America's leading military academy published an extensive report on the "dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics." Christian fundamentalists, Militia movement groups, Skinheads, neo-Nazis, and violent anti-abortionists were all cited in the report, titled Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America's Violent Far-Right. These factions may harbor different ideological goals, but as this chart shows, they've all ramped up their violent tactics in trying to achieve them.
According to the article, prominent conservative journalists deny the evidence as a left wing myth, and of accusing the government of "whitewashing" the "real" dangers of Islamic extremism in order to denounce the Christian Right.
The upshot? They're worried that they are headed for irrelevance. However, there are plenty of other venues today for conservatives to partake in during the inauguration. Perhaps it's about the company you keep.