The Louie Giglio controversy echoes one from President Obama's 2009 inaugural, when he angered many gay people by selecting the Rev. Rick Warren to give the benediction.

Share story

WASHINGTON — The minister selected to deliver the benediction at President Obama’s inaugural this month has withdrawn from the program amid controversy about remarks he made about homosexuality in a sermon in the mid-1990s, according to an inaugural planner.

The minister, the Rev. Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion Conferences, an Atlanta organization that brings college students together in prayer and worship, withdrew Thursday, a day after the sermon came to light.

In it, Giglio called on fellow Christians to fight the “aggressive agenda” of the gay-rights movement and advocated “the healing power of Jesus” as “the only way out of a homosexual lifestyle” — a comment that some gay-rights advocates interpreted as an endorsement of reparative, or so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy.

Repeatedly in the sermon, Giglio also urged congregants to welcome gays and lesbians to the church and said God loves them.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

An official with Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee said the committee, which operates separately from the White House, vetted Giglio. People familiar with internal discussions said the Obama administration viewed the selection as a problem for Obama and told the panel Wednesday night to quickly fix it. By Thursday morning, Giglio had withdrawn.

“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,” said Addie Whisenant, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Giglio said Thursday that he was honored to have been invited to give the benediction and would “continue to pray regularly for the president” — including on Inauguration Day — but that he was withdrawing his acceptance of Obama’s invitation.

“Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15 (to) 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,” the minister said.

The minister’s quick withdrawal comes at a time when Obama’s candidate for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, a former Nebraska senator, is under fire for comments he made about gay people in the 1990s; some activists said the administration could ill afford two controversies over gay rights at the same time.

The Giglio controversy echoes one from Obama’s 2009 inaugural, when he angered many gay people by selecting the Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, to deliver the benediction, which he did.

“I think this is actually a bigger deal than Rick Warren because this gentleman is in many ways much worse,” said Richard Socarides, who advised President Clinton on gay issues. “Rick Warren was not a good choice but he is kind of in the mainstream of religious thinking, but this guy is really an outlier.”

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.