WASHINGTON — An Atlanta pastor who was to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration withdrew from the ceremony after gay and lesbian groups protested anti-gay remarks he’d made in the 1990s.
The Rev. Louie Giglio, in a letter to the White House and the inaugural committee, said Thursday that he was stepping aside because he thought 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 15 years."
A video of the sermon first surfaced Wednesday on the blog ThinkProgress, which characterized it as a "rabidly anti-LGBT" 54-minute sermon in which Giglio advocated 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 hadn’t been aware of the remarks when Giglio was selected, and that they "don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural."
Giglio’s participation was announced Tuesday. The committee on Wednesday announced the selection of Richard Blanco as the inaugural poet, the first Hispanic and gay person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony.
The resignation marks the second dustup involving an inauguration pastor for Obama, and a petition posted Wednesday on the White House’s "We the People" site called on the president to replace the "anti-gay pastor Louie Giglio" with a "pro-LGBT member of the clergy."
The petition contends that "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."
Obama’s choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his 2009 inauguration drew protests from the gay community, which took exception to Warren’s stance on gay issues and his support for Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. Warren did speak at the inauguration.
The inaugural committee had announced the selection of Giglio along with that of Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil-rights worker Medgar Evers, to deliver the invocation. The committee said at the time that Obama "was involved in the selection of participants in the inaugural program, including Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio."
The news release included a quote from Obama that he and Vice President Joe Biden were honored by the two speakers’ participation, saying, "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."
The committee noted that Giglio, the 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 said Passion had hosted more than 60,000 people last week at Passion 2013 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, "uniting students in worship and prayer and raising awareness about modern-day slavery, human trafficking.”
Giglio had been asked to deliver the benediction “in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking,” committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said. She said the committee would work to find a replacement and would “ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.”
It wasn’t the first White House invitation extended to Giglio: He was one of an estimated 150 members of the clergy from around the country who were invited last April to attend Obama’s annual Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House.
Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked Wednesday about Giglio’s anti-gay remarks, but he said he was unfamiliar with reports about them and referred reporters to the inaugural committee.