WASHINGTON — A day after questions were raised about comments on homosexuality made by the man slated to give the benediction at President Obama’s inaugural ceremony Jan. 21, Rev. Louie Giglio stepped down and will not be speaking, ABC News first reported and BuzzFeed confirmed Thursday.
Addie Whisenant of the Presidential Inaugural Committee told BuzzFeed, “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. 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.”
ABC News’s Jonathan Karl reported that an inaugural source said “Giglio pulled himself out when he realized this was going to be a distraction.”
Leading LGBT rights groups were satisfied with the decision, but looked forward to seeing who will give the benediction.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said, “It was 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.”
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force deputy executive director Darlene Nipper said, “We are hopeful that Obama will now choose a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president himself has called the nation to uphold.”
The mid-1990s comments critical of gays and lesbians that sparked the debate were reported by Think Progress on Wednesday afternoon. Additionally, BuzzFeed reported Wednesday evening that as recently as November, Giglio had spoken about the positive influence of the late Jerry Falwell — a leading religious figure who had virulently anti-gay views — in a speech at Liberty University, which Falwell founded and is now run by Falwell’s son.
In a statement provided to Think Progress, Giglio wrote, “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.”
UPDATE: At his Passion City Church blog, Giglio expanded Thursday evening on his earlier remarks, writing, in part:
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.