An Atlanta pastor who was to deliver the benediction at President Obama's inauguration has withdrawn from the ceremony after gay and lesbian groups protested anti-gay remarks he made in the 1990s.
The Rev. Louie Giglio, in a letter to the White House and the inaugural committee, said he was withdrawing because he believes his participation and his prayer would be "dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."
Giglio said the remarks were made 15 to 20 years ago and that "speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years."
A video of the sermon first surfaced on the blog, Think Progress, which characterized it as a "rabidly anti-LGBT" 54-minute sermon and said Giglio advocates for "ex-gay" therapy, "references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to 'firmly respond to the aggressive agenda' "
The inaugural committee said it was unaware of Giglio’s past comments when he was selected, and that they "don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural."
The committee on Wednesday announced the selection of Richard Blanco as the inagural poet, the first Hispanic and gay person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony; it said Giglio had been selected "in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world."
A petition posted Wednesday on the White House's "We the People" site had called on Obama to replace what it called the "anti-gay Pastor Louie Giglio" with a "pro-LGBT member of the clergy."
The petition says that according Think Progress, "Pastor Giglio, like Rick Warren, has delivered sermons urging Christians to fight against LGBT equality. Four years ago Rick Warren was unacceptable for doing that. Today, Giglio is."
Giglio's participation was announced just Tuesday, along with Myrlie Evers-Williams who was selected to deliver the invocation. The committee at the time said Obama "was involved in the selection of participants in the Inaugural program, including Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio."
The press release included a quote from Obama that he and vice president Joe Biden were "honored" by their participation, saying that "their voices have inspired many people across this great nation within the faith community and beyond. Their careers reflect the ideals that the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans – justice, equality, and opportunity."
Giglio said in that statement that it was his "privilege to have the opportunity to lead our nation in prayer..During these days it is essential for our nation to stand together as one. And, as always, it is the right time to humble ourselves before our Maker. May we all look up to our God, from whom we can receive mercy, grace and truth to strengthen our lives, our families and our nation. I am honored to be invited by the President to lead our nation as we look up to God, and as we look ahead to a future that honors and reflects the One who has given us every good and perfect gift."
The committee noted that Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, is also the founder of Passion Conferences, a movement "gathering college-aged young people since 1997 in events across the country and around the world."
It noted Passion had hosted more than 60,000 people at Passion 2013 in the Georgia Dome, "uniting students in worship and prayer and raising awareness about modern-day slavery, human trafficking. In 2008, Louie and his wife Shelley led the team that planted Passion City Church, a local community of faith with the spirit of the Passion movement. Their desire is to inspire this generation to live for what matters most."
Obama is familiar with Giglio: He was one of an estimated 150 members of the clergy from around the country to attend an annual Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of White House last April.
Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Giglio's anti-gay remarks Wednesday, but said he was unfamiliar with reports about them and referred reporters to the inaugural committee.
Giglio's full letter:
am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at
the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not
agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common
goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.
"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. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.
"Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President's invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.
"Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God's grace and mercy in our time of need."
The full statement from the inaugural committee: "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," Addie Whisenant, PIC Spokesperson.