The Rev. Louie Giglio, the Atlanta pastor scheduled to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama's second-term inauguration, said Thursday he is withdrawing from the ceremony amid questions about an anti-gay sermon he gave in the mid-1990s.
The sermon, in which he spoke against the "aggressive agenda" of the gay rights movement, would make his inaugural prayer "dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration," Giglio said in a statement. "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."
The sermon, "In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality," is posted on Discipleship Library, a Christian website that archives sermons. In it, Giglio tells listeners that being gay is a sinful choice and that gay people will be prevented from "entering the Kingdom of God."
The "only way out of a homosexual lifestyle ... is through the healing power of Jesus," he says in the sermon. "We’ve got to say to the homosexuals, the same thing that I say to you and that you would say to me … it’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change."
It lasts just under an hour, and echoes similar comments made by Rick Warren, the California megachurch pastor who gave the invocation at Obama's first inauguration. Obama, who was widely supported by the gay community and gay-rights advocates, was strongly criticized for his choice but did not remove Warren from the schedule.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which announced Giglio's selection Tuesday, was "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," said spokesperson Addie Whisenant.
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called the move "the right decision."
"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," said Griffin.
Giglio's full statement is below:
I 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.
UPDATE: 3:29 p.m. -- In a letter to his congregation on his church's website, Giglio elaborated on his decision.
The issue of homosexuality (which a particular message of mine some 20 years ago addressed) is one of the most difficult our nation will navigate. However, individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.
As a pastor, my mission is to love people, and lead them well, while lifting up the name of Jesus above anything else. I’m confident that anyone who knows me or has listened to the multitude of messages I have given in the last decade would most likely conclude that I am not easily characterized as being opposed to people—any people. Rather, I am constantly seeking to understand where all people are coming from and how to best serve them as I point them to Jesus.
In all things, the most helpful thing I can do is to invite each of us to wrestle with scripture and its implications for our lives. God’s words trump all opinions, including mine, and in the end, I believe God’s words lead to life.
My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.
UPDATE: 12:22 p.m. -- Speaking on background, a source on the inaugural committee said that it was Giglio's choice to remove himself from the inauguration and that his replacement has not yet been picked. When it was announced Tuesday that Giglio would deliver the benediction, the committee indicated that Obama played a role in selecting the pastor. On Thursday, the committee member told HuffPost that it was unclear if the president and pastor had talked about withdrawing or if the president was involved.
At the inaugurations of Franklin D. Roosevelt on Jan. 20, 1937 and Jan. 20, 1941, the invocation was delivered by ZeBarney Thorne Phillips, an Episcopalian and the Chaplain of the United States Senate. Photo: Chaplain of the United States Senate ZeBarney Thorne Phillips delivering prayer to open the session, 1939.
At the fourth inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, on Jan. 20, 1945, the invocation was delivered by Bishop Angus Dun, an Episcopalian and then Bishop of Washington. Photo: A crowd gathers outside the south portico of the White House to attend Franklin D. Roosevelt's 4th Inaugural speech January 20, 1945 in Washington D.C. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
On January 20, 1949, Rev. Edward Hughes Pruden, a Baptist of the First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., delivered the invocation for the inauguration of Harry S. Truman. Photo: The inaugural stand in from the the Capitol before the inauguration of Harry S. Truman.
On Jan. 20, 1953 at the inaugural of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the invocation was delivered by Patrick A. O’Boyle, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington. Photo: Dwight D. Eisenhower takes the Oath of Office as the President of the United States during his Inauguration January 20, 1953 in Washington D.C. Also pictured is former president Harry S. Truman, left, and Richard M. Nixon, right. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
On Jan. 21, 1957, at the second inaugural of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the invocation was delivered by Rev. Edward L. R. Elson, a Presbyterian and then the Chaplain of the United States Senate. Photo: Reverend Edward L. R. Elson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate. He is shown wearing military ribbons reflecting U.S. Army chaplain service.
At the Jan. 20, 1961 inaugural of John F. Kennedy, the invocation was given by His Eminence Cardinal Richard Cushing, a Catholic. Photo: John F. Kennedy gives his inauguration address after being sworn in.
At the Jan. 20, 1965 inaugural of Lyndon B. Johnson, Archbishop Robert E. Lucey, a Catholic, delivered the invocation. Photo: Archibishop Robert E. Lucey Co Rentmeester//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images).
On Jan. 20, 1969, at the inaugural of Richard Nixon, the invocation was given by Rev. Charles Ewbank Tucker, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Photo: Richard Nixon being inaugurated.
At the Jan. 20, 1973 inaugural of Richard M. Nixon, the invocation was delivered by the Rev. E. V. Hill, pastor of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Photo: Archbishop Iakovos greets Richard M. Nixon at his second inauguration. The Greek Orthodox leader gave a prayer at the ceremony.
Rev. William Cannon, a United Methodist, delivered the invocation at the Jan. 20, 1977 inaugural of Jimmy Carter. Photo: Jimmy Carter at his inauguration.
At the Jan. 20, 1981 inaugural of Ronald Reagan, the invocation (and benediction) was delivered by Rev. Donn Moomaw, a Presbyterian and pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Photo: Rev. Donn Moomaw gives the invocation at the 1981 inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. Also pictured are House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Vice President George H. W. Bush, President Reagan, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan.
On January 21, 1985, at the second inaugural of Ronald Reagan, the invocation was given by Rev. Timothy S. Healy, a Catholic and then-president of Georgetown University. Photo: Ronald Reagan's 1985 presidential inauguration.
On Jan. 20, 1989, at the inauguration of George H. W. Bush, the Rev. Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist leader, delivered the invocation. (Here is the full text.) Photo: George H. W. Bush, with his wife, Barbara, and the Rev. Billy Graham at his inauguration.
On Jan. 20, 1993 and Jan. 20, 1997, at both of Bill Clinton's inaugurations, the Rev. Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist leader, delivered the invocation. (Here is the full text from 1993 and 1997.) Photo: US President Bill Clinton bows his head as Reverend Billy Graham gives the invocation at the beginning of the inaugural ceremony 20 January on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Clinton was sworn in for a second term as U.S. President. (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)
At the Jan. 20, 2001 inaugural of George W. Bush, the invocation was given by Rev. Franklin Graham, a Southern Baptist. (Here is the full text.) Photo: George W. Bush delivers his inaugural address.
At the Jan. 20, 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush, Rev. Luis León, an Episcopalian and rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square (Washington, D.C.), delivered the invocation. (Here is the full text.) Photo: With his left hand resting on a family Bible, President George W. Bush takes the oath of office.
Rev. Dr. Rick Warren, a Baptist and pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., gave the invocation at the Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. (Here is the full text.) Photo: Barack Obama bows his head during the invocation by Rev. Rick Warren at his inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America on the West Front of the Capitol January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama becomes the first African-American to be elected to the office of President in the history of the United States. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)