Rev. Louie Giglio, the pastor of the Georgia-based Passion City Church chosen to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, has removed himself from the ceremony after anti-gay comments made in the 1990s were unearthed yesterday.
In a statement delivered to the White House and inaugural committee this morning, Giglio withdrew his participation, blaming the distraction his presence would cause.
"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," Giglio said. "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," said Giglio, adding that he would continue to pray for the president. "Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God's grace and mercy in our time of need."
First reported by ABC's Jonathan Karl, Giglio's withdrawal from the inauguration comes two days after the inagural committee announced he would deliver the benediction and one day after ThinkProgress, affiliated with the Center for American Progress, published a vehemently anti-gay sermon Giglio delivered in the mid-1990s.
In the 54-minute sermon, titled "In Search of a Standard – Christian response to Homosexuality," Giglio railed against the "homosexual lifestyle" and encouraged Christians to "lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community."
In November, Giglio was also the convocation speaker at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reports Giglio was one of Obama's guests at the White House's 2012 Easter prayer breakfast as well.
According to a statement from a spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee rebuking Giglio's comments, the committee was unaware of Giglio's anti-gay sermon.
"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," said Addie Whisenant. "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."
It is unclear how the inaugural committee overlooked the sermon discovered by ThinkProgress yesterday.
Although Giglio's invitation ultimately came from President Obama, the White House has not responded to Giglio's decision to excuse himself from the inauguration ceremony. A White House spokesperson directed all questions to the inaugural committee. Yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters he was unaware of the ThinkProgress report.
The controversy surrounding Giglio comes four years after the LGBT community criticized the participation of Rick Warren, a staunch opponent to same-sex marriage and pastor of California's Saddleback Church, in Obama's first inauguration. Despite that criticism, Warren went on to deliver the invocation. Four years later and less than a year after Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in May 2011, it appears times have changed.
"It was the right decision," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. "Participants in the Inaugural festivities should unite rather than divide. Choosing an affirming and fair-minded voice as his replacement would be in keeping with the tone the president wants to set for his Inaugural."
Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said they had informed the White House about their concerns over the choice of Giglio. Nipper added that the selection of Cuban-American gay poet Richard Blanco as inaugural poet further magnified "how out of step the choice of Giglio was."
"We are hopeful that Obama will now choose a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president himself has called the nation to uphold," said Nipper.
The inaugural committee has not yet announced who will now deliver the benediction on Jan. 21.
Bryan Fischer of the anti-gay American Family Association took to Twitter to denounce the inaugural committee and the LGBT community for forcing Giglio to remove himself from the ceremony.
"The bully bigots at Big Gay win huge victory for fascistic intolerance," Fischer tweeted. "Bouncing Giglio a shameful display of intolerant anti-Christian bigotry and hate. Welcome to Obama's America."
[Image: Louie Giglio speaks at Liberty Univeristy in November (Screenshot from YouTube).]