Past sermon derails pastor's inaugural prayer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An Atlanta pastor has withdrawn from delivering the benediction at President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration ceremony because of a sermon he preached on homosexuality.

Obama's inaugural committee had announced yesterday that Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Ga., was to give the benediction. Gay activists quickly criticized him for a sermon he preached in the mid-1990's about homosexuality.

The sermon, "In Search of a Standard — Christian Response to Homosexuality," identified homosexuality as sinful, and offered the hope of transformation based upon 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Uproar over Giglio's comments is the latest in a string of attacks against Christians supporting a biblical view of sexuality, including Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy and pastor Rick Warren.

Giglio's 2013 Passion conference, aimed at engaging college students in an international, Bible-based campaign against slavery, drew over 60,000 attendees, the largest group in the gathering's 17-year history.

Comments from the inaugural committee cast doubt whether Giglio's withdrawal was fully voluntary.

"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," inaugural committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said in a statement Jan. 10.

"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," Whisenant said.

Studies from LifeWay Research indicates 44 percent of Americans believe homosexuality is a sin, said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay's vice president of research.

"This Louie Giglio moment, and the Chick-fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that raise the question: Where do we go from here?" Stetzer blogged.

"Furthermore what does this mean for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and so many more who believe that their authoritative religious texts teach something the prevailing culture finds so unacceptable that, even if they are working to eradicate slavery, they are no longer welcome in mainstream context?"

In announcing his withdrawal on the website of Passion City Church that he leads, Giglio said his inclusion in the inaugural would place him in the middle of a fight not of his choosing.

"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 15 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," Giglio said. "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."

Preserving personal freedoms are critical, Giglio said, even as salvation is offered to unbelievers.

"The issue of homosexuality ... 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," he said. "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."

President Obama had selected Giglio to pray at the inaugural that falls on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, because of Giglio's campaign to end slavery worldwide. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, also is on the program.


Christian Examiner staff contributed to this report