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Religion | January 11, 2013

Giglio withdraws from Obama inauguration


President tells organizing committee pastor's 20-year-old sermon about homosexuality is a problem

Louie Giglio (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

Evangelical pastor Louie Giglio canceled plans to give the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration after a liberal group accused him of "homophobia."

On Wednesday, ThinkProgress posted audio from a sermon Giglio preached 15 to 20 years ago, in which he warned listeners about the aggressive agenda pushing for acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. During the sermon, Giglio referred to homosexuality as a sin but also encouraged the church to welcome gays and lesbians with God's love.

Giglio, 54, pastors Passion City Church in Atlanta and founded the Passion Movement, an annual conference for Christian college students. The conference's regular teaching team includes Francis Chan, Beth Moore, and John Piper.

Earlier this week, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Giglio's selection for the benediction, recognizing him for his work to end human trafficking.

Although Thursday's announcement makes it sound like Giglio withdrew, he might have been asked to back out quietly, according to a report in The New York Times. When the president found out about Giglio's selection, he feared it would be a problem and asked the committee to fix it, the Times reports. Less than 24 hour later, Giglio bowed out.

The committee was not aware of Giglio's previous comments about homosexuality, said committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant.

"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," she said in a statement.

In a letter to the White House announcing his decision to withdraw from the ceremony, Giglio said any prayer he offered now would be "dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."

He also seemed to distance himself from his earlier comments, saying he had not made speaking on the issue of homosexuality a priority for the past 15 years. But he acknowledged he and President Obama, who announced his support last year for same-sex "marriage," did not always agree.

"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," Giglio wrote.

Giglio's ouster from the inauguration is part of a trend toward marginalizing people who still believe homosexuality is wrong, said Ed Stetzer, writing on his blog Thursday.

"Where do people of faith with long-standing traditional religious/scriptural convictions go from here?" Stetzer asked. "Some are wondering if those who hold to traditional evangelical beliefs on homosexuality are no longer welcome in the public square."

In a blog post explaining the situation to his church, Giglio said homosexuality is one of the most difficult issues facing the nation.

"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," he said.

Giglio is not a stranger at the White House. In April, he presided over the Easter Prayer Breakfast. Although he will not pray publicly during the inauguration, Giglio said he would still pray for the president on his big day. He urged all Americans to do the same.

Giglio would have been the second evangelical pastor to pray during an Obama inauguration. In 2009, Rick Warren, of California's Saddleback Church, offered the invocation before the president took his first oath of office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.