Pastor pulls out of inauguration program over anti-gay comments

The Rev. Louie Giglio will not be delivering the invocation at President Obama's inauguration after all. ABC News reports that he backed out of the ceremony over criticism of anti-gay remarks he made in the mid-1990s:

Rev. Louie Giglio, who had been announced as the pastor to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration, has now pulled himself out of the ceremony, after criticism of his previous anti-gay comments and actions, sources confirmed to ABC News.

Giglio, who is now Pastor at Passion City Church in Georgia and his role at Obama’s second inauguration was first announced Tuesday. But the liberal website Thinkprogress reported Wednesday on audio of Giglioi delivering a sermon in the mid-1990s in which he said homosexuality is a sin and advocated gay “recovery.”

ThinkProgress has posted this statement from the pastor:

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.

Read ABC story here. Here is a roundup of the anti-gay statements that created the controversy, as reported on ThinkProgress Wednesday.

Comments (17)

Well, he could have said something like, "I haven't spoken on this issue for 15-20 years. And the reasons for that are...."

He might have said that he'd changed his mind, like many others have over that time - or that he understood why people felt the way they do and did. And then we could have had an actual discussion about some of these issues.

Instead, he went right into divider-not-uniter mode, and to point fingers at other people and their alleged sins: "those," that is, "seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."

Doesn't he see that this, too, is another "agenda"?

I dunno. As I read over his message from the bottom part of the posting above, I could see myself writing those words if I were found in a situation that found some paper I'd written as a college student or something, and brought sudden and unwanted public attention to a community I was serving. Like Pastor Giglio, I could see myself declining the opportunity to create additional national attention around the issue, leaving it to those who are already pursuing it.

His comments around finding common ground and friendship, the ultimate significance of making much of Jesus Christ, and staying out of fights not of our choosing that might compromise the values that we have are all things that I can nod along to without crossing my fingers.

It seems to me that we are defined at least in part by the grace we offer to those we disagree with.

He could also have resigned without the casting of aspersions on other peoples' motivations - deciding that their "agenda" is to "be the focal point of the inauguration."

Aside from being false, all that has nothing to do with "grace."

(I mean, he's perfectly free to say these things, too - but they are unproductive. I might have felt sorry for him if he hadn't added that "agenda" remark, in fact.

He couldn't resist, though, apparently - and now, I have no sympathy for him at all.

Ironic, isn't it?)

What Barbara Said. Totally graceless.

JC Fisher

[I can't help thinking also of what +Gene Robinson said: "The Gay Agenda is Jesus" (I assume he meant "the Gay Agenda for gay Christians")]

Thank you Benedict, you put it better than I.

Barbara, what does an "agenda" look like to you? Think Progress,a very partisan,pro-LGBT group went digging for dirt farther back than the U.S. gov't. When they found it they didn't just gripe, they caused a media storm and petitioned to get the guy fired. Many of those on Think Progress think ONLY Pro-gay priests,poets and speakers should be allowed,presumably because they'll bring it up in their speeches. If one's opinion on gay matters is the only reason to include or fire him/her--sounds like a focal point to me.

Obama chose Rev. Giglio for his work trying to stop human trafficking. If the Pro-gay lobby isn't the focus of the ceremony, then why protest him? Why isn't fighting that horror a good enough reason to be included?

For that matter,since the Democrats pride themselves on their diversity and since even PB Schori believes there are many ways to God, why not have a Rabbi,Imam, and/or Monk give the blessing and really let the President show his devotion to liberalism and diversity? Would people here sign a petition to stop that?

Chris Harwood

Well, Chris: to me the chances of any pastor, coming from any point of view, at any time now or in the future, for any reason - the chances of this person using the Inaugural Benediction as a platform to advocate for gay rights are so vanishingly small as to be nonexistent. (If only because the President would never allow it!)

Which is why I said the claim was false - and why I wonder why he felt the need to say this. It ends up looking like he has to wildly exaggerate in order to make a point - and to me that says something pretty telling about the merits of his argument. (Of course, we've all been subject to wild exaggerations - that's putting it nicely, BTW - many, many times over the course of the past few decades.)

Anyway, the result is: I'm no longer sympathetic towards any possible unfair treatment he may have received - and frankly now I'm glad he won't be giving a blessing that's meant to be on behalf of all citizens.

I guess people simply can't stop themselves from taking these weird parting shots, but there it is....

No. I do not feel badly that this man has pulled out over his previously expressed beliefs and the outrage that it generated. The time for "tolerance" of these "sincere" and alternate views has passed. In a ceremony that celebrates the fundamental aspects of our political life, I cannot condone the presence of any person who openly affirms that some people are entitled to less rights than others. Which of us would want an avowed racist or segregationist or someone who would withdraw the right to vote from women and minorities to take part in the inauguration? The fact that he has "done good" in other areas is quite irrelevant. Had he wished to disavow his prior statements, he had a perfect time to do so. His unwillingness to say that he had repented of his previously clearly-stated bigotry is more than enough to disqualify him from participation.
As "liberals" we always want to be "tolerant," but we need to continue to draw the line at persons who would, by their actions and words, continue to perpetuate the myth that such attitudes are just a "matter of sincerely held opinion."
Whenever I find myself wavering in this resolve, I find it helpful to read the Phoenix Declaration and also Bishop Spong's "Manifesto." Although both are now several (in the case of the Phoenix Declaration 10) years old, they are a good statement of the simple fact that, quite simply, we will no longer tolerate intolerance in the name of tolerance. He has the LEGAL right to speak his mind, but he does not have the right to expect that we will just say "OK" to whatever he wishes to say or just "look the other way" in the name of tolerance. Nope. Not any more.


I'm still pretty unconvinced.

If I were a pastor who had -- because of my work opposing human trafficking -- been honored to give a blessing at a presidential inauguration, and found myself in a position where consecutive news cycles were being given to a topic I had spoken about twenty years prior, I might pull out of the thing too.

As a Christian, I believe this man's statements in the mid-90s were wrong and theologically flawed; as a citizen of the US, I believe his advocacy against human trafficking is politically necessary.

Churches and congregations are at very different places on sexuality -- including, we might remember, within the Episcopal Church, and I don't think that Giglio's decision NOT to begin talking about something that hasn't been part of his public message for years is necessarily a failure of justice.

I'd rather think of him as a hand within the Body of Christ, as imperfect as I am, doing what he can to serve that Body's head, and doing it well and righteously when he opposes human trafficking.

If I were Pastor Giglio, I'd be waiting for the media storm to end, and comforting myself with Matthew 5. I disagree with him, but I'm sympathetic to a decision to step away from a national spotlight without additional comment, come what may.

It's perhaps worth adding that his decision not to speak (either at the inauguration or in response to the criticisms being leveled against him) doesn't seem to harm any LGBTQ person or cause, whereas frankly, a nation that can have productive participation by opposed viewpoints around whatever their common ground as part of the inauguration of its president might, in the long run, help us build a better national conversation around the things that divide us, including the discussion of LGBTQ rights. The more peaceful these conversations can become, the better; and frankly, when they are violent, the heat of that violence winds up on the doorstep of the LGBTQ community, and not the allies or the political advocates of either side.

Without being fully familiar with Rev Giglio's past statements on homosexuality, I doubt they were worse than Sen. Chuck Hagel's in the same time period.

But Chuck Hagel apologized! *

That's the issue here: Rev Giglio (apparently) either doesn't want to apologize, or doesn't want to be SEEN to apologize, by his fellow (homophobic) conservative Evangelicals.

I'm fairly certain that even a *vaguely apologetic disclaimer* by Giglio, would have gotten the Obama team (who erred so disastrously in not vetting Giglio to begin with) to "pull a Warren", and insist he be part of their Big Tent.

But Giglio's own "agenda" was more important to him, than any kind of apology whatsoever. Made bed -> lie in it.

JC Fisher

* I'm not going to get into how "genuine" Hagel's apology (esp. to Amb James Hormel) is or not. He SAID it, is the relevant thing.

My 2 cents.

We celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation this year. And given his slavery work that made him a good choice.

But the mental moral contortions that supported chattel slavery of African Americans are those that today deny LGBTQ equality.

Giglio had the opportunity to repudiate harsh views he expressed in the past. Many in public life have done so. He chose not to. It's the equivalent of passing on the opportunity to revise a pro slavery view.

Giving the inaugural benediction is a privilege, not a right.

The thing is, Benedict: many, many people have been hurt a lot by the antigay argument. Some of us remember the really bad old days, when it was about deep shame, repression, self-loathing, forced "treatment," blackmail, jail, and death. Half of the gay people I knew were alcoholics or addicts - and many others were suicides. There's still plenty of violence around, and the fear of violence. This is a matter of life and death for us; we're just not that far away from all that - and the antigay argument wants to drag us all back down into the muck again.

The reverse isn't true; gay people aren't hurting anybody. There aren't bands of marauding gay people running around straight-bashing. Straight people aren't made to feel ashamed - or made crazy by attempts to "convert" them. As you point out yourself: in many cases gay people can't even go to their local church and worship God in peace, without being surrounded by hostility.

So these two "opposing arguments" simply don't have the same weight - and I agree with Jeffery: I don't respect the anti-gay position and don't think it deserves a place at the table. It does real damage to real people. The "opposing argument" you refer to is a defense of "personal beliefs" - that many, many people have given up now, BTW - about a matter that doesn't touch the people who hold these beliefs personally in any way - but they are a clear and present danger to my well-being and that of others; I don't know why anybody would be surprised we fight against them. As Jeffrey notes: people are free to think and say what they want - but we don't have to just smile and go along.

Here's a parallel for you: I can't and don't respect proponents of female genital mutilation; "beliefs" that trump human life and well-being deserve no respect at all, to my way of thinking.

I would imagine there are many, many other pastors who do good work against slavery; let's pick one of those instead, eh? This doesn't seem difficult to me.

In any case, gay people have been putting up with antigay pastors at the Presidential Inaugural for many, many years now. It's rather refreshing to me that we possibly won't have to, this time....

I appreciate a lot of what's been said, and, frankly, if none of it were being raised by others, I'd probably be pushing to make sure the voice of justice for LGBTQ rights be considered as part of this. As I've noted above, I disagree with Pastor Giglio's positions; and I'll add that if he were speaking today the soundbytes from 20 years back publicly near me, I'd be applying the rigor of my thought and engagement to opposing his ideas.

But it is increasingly difficult to create a voice of moderation in public discourse in the nation, and this seemed to me to be an easy moment to adopt an irenic stance of not shooting in the back someone already in retreat.

Put most simply, I think that -- as in the civil rights movement -- the cause of justice is not served only by boots on the ground, but also by building a better national conversation. Destroying the opponent doesn't do that; loving them and holding your ground does.

Nobody's "shooting" anybody, Benedict; we're having a discussion on a weblog about a current event. Nor has anybody been "destroyed."

Hyperbole like that is neither moderate nor irenic.

Pardon; I really didn't mean for that metaphor to be heard as hyperbolic.

But, focusing on "having the discussion," what do you think about my suggestion of loving the opponent while being firm?

It's been suggested several times here that Pastor Giglio's decision not to repudiate his remarks from the 1990s has the consequence that he's no longer a candidate for such Christian virtues as charity or mercy.

Nothing being said here is causing me to feel that I cannot both affirm the rights of gay and lesbian persons AND still hold charity towards those who disagree.

I think there are three kinds of wisdom to this:
The first is the Christian wisdom that we should bless those who curse us, love our enemies, and offer forgiveness even from a cross.
The second is the wisdom of the civil rights tradition that light, not darkness, drives out darkness, and love, not hate, builds love.
The third is a political pragmatism, where I believe you can have deeper conversations and more appreciation of nuance if you build trust around commonality, rather than force conflict around divisions. (This pragmatism stands pretty squarely on the notion that the political theatre of having a given person bless the presidential inauguration is not likely to have a direct impact on the justice or equality issues for LGBTQ American citizens)

All of these, it seems to me, are reasons to reflect soberly on whether we prefer a political climate where Pastor Giglio cannot, politically, fulfill this role, and whether we wish to have a media response of villifying him. My own answer to the first question is that it's problematic, and to the second, that it's tragic.

Benedict, I actually agree with quite a bit of what you've written here. In fact, my one and only point at the start of this thread was that Giglio could possibly have garnered some sympathy for the incident - if he had departed with grace. Instead, he preferred to continue the culture war battle in his exit speech - at which point, I totally lost interest in him (not that I had ever had much to begin with, since I'd never heard of him before).

I was commenting, IOW, on the way human beings actually shoot themselves in the foot more often than not, merely to have the last word (or keep the fight going). In fact, I gather this is part of what you're saying here too.

I would point out that ThinkProgress is a liberal political organization, and has nothing, as far as I know, to do with Christianity. I really don't understand why they - or anybody else not a Christian - would be held to the "love your enemies" standard.

Nobody on this board, as far as I can tell, had anything at all to do with his removal - so I don't understand, either, why you're taking people to task here. We were just talking about our reactions to a news item; I believe that's what this board is for.

The conversation then turned to whether or not we had respect for these views - a separate issue, as I see it. You may be able to "be in charity" with those who aren't trying, after all, to exterminate you. It's easy to "forgive from the cross" if you're not the one having to do it. Most of us just aren't that advanced - and anyway even "forgiveness" doesn't imply passive acceptance. Just as some of us said above.

You should probably be aware that many of us have a great deal of experience with this situation; most of us have disapproving family members, and we have had to deal with this situation personally anyway - sometimes for a very long time.

That all makes sense, Barbara; and thanks for taking the time to return to the topic here and write it.

I have various pieces of "skin in the fight" on this. One is simply that moderate voices tend not to bother speaking as often, and so I try to offer mine when I have a moderate opinion on something.

Another is that Christians ought to be held to the "love your enemy" standard (I have no idea what sort of commentary or feedback is going on over on ThinkProgress's forums or comment boards).

A third is that I truly believe that a sustained moderate approach is more likely to serve the ultimate cause of justice for LGBTQ Christians and Americans. My concern is that refusing to allow “the other side” any space makes it incredibly difficult to discuss "compromise" positions, such as civil marriage benefits under the name "union" (LGBTQ supporters certainly differ on whether this is whatsoever helpful or acceptable).

The question you raise about who is, in fact, "on the cross" is of course an apt one, and it's certainly a real and challenging line for "Allies" to walk, whether we be allies of LGBTQ rights, anti-racism work, or other causes. Certainly, those of us who are straight don't have to deal with sexuality prejudice with the same immediacy that those whose sexuality is being decried do. I'm not sure where the metaphor places us: whether we're "merely" friends at the foot of the cross, or some other group.

But wherever we are, I believe that we have it in ourselves to offer mercy and forgiveness too. When someone acts against the dignity of human persons through prejudice, or finds a theology that promotes evil, I do believe the response of all Christians must be twofold: both to firmly oppose the injustice, and not to offer evil in return for evil, violence in return for violence, or hate in return for hate. To do those things is always tempting. Discerning where the line of firm opposition becomes violence is tricky, and persons of good conscience can disagree about where the line belongs.

All of that is, I believe, different from passive acceptance.


I think it's always helpful to try to think of ourselves in the Other's shoes, so we might imagine a case where someone (who happens to advocate gay marriage) in a strongly anti-gay-marriage state receives a state award for work on, say, fighting urban poverty and food deserts. If the citizens of that state stood up and cried them down for also being pro-gay-marriage, it would, I presume, seem surprising, oblique to the activity in question, and a disappointing lack of restraint, given the unrelated scale of the honor actually being conferred.

It's been suggested above that an analogy like this shouldn't hold, because what evangelical pastors should actually be compared to is something like a ku klux klansman, but I find that roundly unhelpful and ungracious (though it's also been suggested that grace shouldn't be offered).

As to why we talk here, I could speak at length about the value of holding a firm position on a discussion board, but the shortest version of it is that I believe these boards can, in fact, have discussions of great integrity, and I try to participate in a way that offers my own to them.

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