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.