By John Pierce

Will Campbell spent some time at Mercer University in 1995 as writer-in-residence. So I drove down from Atlanta to sit in on a presentation that was mostly readings from two of his books, Brother to a Dragonfly and The Stem of Jesse.

He also pulled out his guitar and sang “Good-Hearted Woman, “ a song made popular by his old friend Waylon Jennings. But I will always remember his opening words on that evening in Newton Chapel.

“Life is getting more and more authoritative and unfree from both the right and the left.”

Nearly two decades later, that still rings true. Many on both ideological extremes are always seeking to discredit and exclude those with whom they disagree.

Intolerance is not the sole property of the far right or left. Firing squads line up on both sides.

Case in point: Popular Christian speaker and leader Louie Giglio was invited to pray at President Obama’s upcoming second inauguration. He got on the White House radar when about 60,000 young Christians at Giglio’s recent Passion 2013 Conference pitched in $3 million dollars to combat modern slavery and sex trafficking of children and young women.

But a left-wing group dug up a 15-year-old sermon in which Giglio condemns homosexuality. Their noisemaking led to Giglio being pressured to back out of the planned prayer.

His withdrawal was then followed by poor interpretations of the situation from both those who relish in spearing a conservative Christian and those whose attempt at defense doesn’t help the situation.

Defenders like Baptist Press and Baptist spokesman Al Mohler were quick to say that Giglio had been punished for taking a biblical stand against homosexuality. However, for the sake of their followers, they carefully omitted Louie’s clear statement that he doesn’t preach those kinds of sermons any longer, and hasn’t in a really long time.

Instead, he is engaging young people in the cause of Christian discipleship that includes important works of justice and mercy.

Those who aided and/or find joy in Giglio’s absence from the inauguration are celebrating a hollow victory. They have simply verified the claims of those on the opposite side of the spectrum who say that intolerance and legalism reside on the left.

Indeed, his critics had to dig deeply into the archives to resurrect this old sermon. I’d say that if takes that long to find something offensive, stop looking. Most of us don’t have to go back that far to find something we wouldn’t want brought out in public.

We all should be allowed to mature without everything we’ve ever said or done being used to define who we are today.

While I don’t know Louie personally, it seems pretty clear that he is nothing like the person his critics have tried to project. Hatemongers don’t raise millions of dollars to combat the scourge of slavery, and motivate young people to care more about others than themselves.

If this long-ago, isolated sermon makes Giglio unfit to participate in such an occasion as the inauguration, then who is qualified? Jesus made a real good point that casting first stones is never a good practice.

Do we exclude all Catholics because women are denied priesthood, or Episcopalians because there are no female Anglican bishops?

Could a Mormon or a Southern Baptist participate considering their organizations’ racist roots?

What about American Jews who subjected us to lentil soup? Or atheists, with no one to whom they can pray?

The list could go on.

Honesty compels us to admit that we say and do things along the way that we later regret — or even some things we don’t regret that could be considered as insensitive to someone else.

The larger question, however, is whether the balance is weighted heavily toward the good. In the case of Louie, that seems to be clearly in his favor.

The poet Carl Sandburg was right when asked to identify the ugliest word in the English language, and he replied: “exclusive.”

Sadly, we spend a lot of time and energy on insulting and seeking to discredit one another rather than learning to live in respectful relationships if not harmony.

Sure, there are those whose destructive attitudes and actions call for a public outcry and even opposition. But the sniping has gotten way out of hand.

Like Brother Will noted, it’s a shame when authoritative folks on the right and the left want to make life so “unfree” for everyone who is unlike them.


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