By my lights, when you take your oath of office with benefit of clergy, they should be clergy that represents you, not someone else. It’s kind of like members of Congress picking a book to swear on–be it the KJV, the Tanach, the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita, or Tom Paine’s Age of Reason.
And that’s what President Obama has belatedly accomplished in selecting Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square near the White House. St. John’s is where the First Family tends to worship when in town and deciding to go to church. Moreover, the Episcopal Church USA now, like the president, supports same-sex marriage–and will be celebrating same at its National Cathedral within a few months. Plus (and there might be a little politics here), Leon is Hispanic and ECUSA is the only mainline Protestant denomination whose leader declined to call on Congress to consider cutting back aid to Israel.
Leon replaces evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, who withdrew from benediction duties under reasonably obvious pressure from the White House after comments he made condemning homosexuality 15 years ago surfaced. In the subsequent tempestette, various conservative religious voices decried this latest manifestation of liberal McCarthyite political correctness.
And one can be a little sympathetic to them, given what White House spokesperson Addie Whisenant said in exoneration of Giglio’s defenestration.
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.
Better to have been able to say something like the following:
We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect the president’s beliefs about homosexuality. We believe that prayer at the president’s inaugural should be given by those who share the president’s own spiritual convictions and values. The time for broad inclusion of the full range of America’s rich and varied religious traditions is at the prayer service the day after the inaugural at the National Cathedral. And we hope to see Pastor Giglio there.
Yes, at that National Cathedral.