MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tackles the resignation of Louie Giglio, the anti-gay preacher who was originally tapped to lead the benediction prayer during the inauguration.
An Episcopal priest selected to deliver the closing prayer â€” or benediction â€” at President Obamaâ€™s inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Monday was one of the leaders in 2009 of an interfaith group of clergy that campaigned for D.C.â€™s same-sex marriage law.
Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of St. Johnâ€™s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, also known as the Church of the Presidents, served on the Steering Committee for D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality.
The group has been credited with boosting support for the same-sex marriage bill among people of faith as it made its way through the D.C. City Council, which passed the measure in December 2009.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Leon to deliver the inaugural benediction after Pastor Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Georgia, who was initially invited to give the benediction, withdrew from that role after news surfaced that he expressed anti-gay views in the 1990s.
Reports that Giglio had advocated for â€śex-gayâ€ť therapy intended to change peopleâ€™s sexual orientation from gay to straight and that he urged Christians to prevent the â€śhomosexual lifestyleâ€ť from being accepted in society prompted LGBT activists to raise strong concern over his selection.
At the time Leon joined the steering committee of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, he signed a joint statement released by the group saying, â€śWe declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couplesâ€¦ We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.â€ť
A biography of Leon posted on the St. Johnâ€™s Church website says he was born in Guantanamo, Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of 12 as part of a large number of Cubans who fled the island nation at that time.
He began his tenure as pastor, or rector, of St. Johnâ€™s in 1995. People familiar with the church say it has the reputation of being LGBT-supportive and that it has hired openly gay priests.
When he spoke at one of the first public gatherings of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, Leon invited news photographers to take a â€świde angleâ€ť photograph of the assembled clergy, who stood at the front of a church.
â€śToday we stand together as a diverse group of multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic religious leaders in support of the marriage equality movement,â€ť he said. â€śAll of us gathered here today are grateful for the rich diversity of this group, which, by its nature, stretches our minds, deepens our hearts, broadens our faiths, and convinces all of us that no human being should ever be patient with prejudice at the expense of its victims.â€ť
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to answer questions Wednesday about a new report that the Georgia-based pastor selected to give the benediction for President Obama’s inaugural once held vehemently anti-gay views.
Asked by the Washington Blade whether the White House has a problem with the views reportedly expressed in a sermon by Louie Giglio â€” which include support for widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy and urging Christians to prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society â€” Carney said he hasn’t seen the ThinkProgress report and deferred comment to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
“I haven’t seen that report,” Carney said. “I would refer you to the inaugural committee. I haven’t seen the report.”
Asked to clarify whether the administration was unaware of the sermon before the selection was made, Carney reiterated, “I’m saying that I haven’t seen the report.”
The inaugural committee didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Giglio’s remarks.
The Blade’s questioning about Giglio came later in the briefing after ABC News’ Jonathan Karl â€” referencing new objections from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) â€” asked Carney about 1998 anti-gay remarks that defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel made that have stirred controversy in the LGBT community. Carney noted Hagel apologized for those remarks.
“I think Sen. Hagel was very clear about the fact that he thought those comments were not appropriate,” Carney said. “He regretted them, and they don’t represent the totality of his views. I would point to the statement he made.”
Carney added the Senate will have “theÂ opportunity through the confirmation process as they do traditionally and repeatedly to ask him questions about his views on this” issue,Â and â€” touting Obama’s support for the LGBT community â€” said Hagel would execute Obama’s policy as directed. Outstanding LGBT issues that remain at the Pentagon include certain partner benefits, the lack of non-discrimination policies and prohibition of openly transgender service.
“The secretary of defense â€” Sen. Hagel, when he is confirmed as we hope he will be â€” carries out the president’s policies and, I think, the president’s policies on LGBT issues are both commendable, supported by the LGBT community and will continue to be the policies of this administration as long as President Obama is in office,” Carney said. “So, again, I think you’ve seen what Sen. Hagel said about this, and the president is very confident that Sen. Hagel will be confirmed and that he will be an excellent secretary of defense and will implement all of the president’s policies with regards to the Defense Department.
The Blade concluded its questioning by noting both Hagel’s 1998 anti-gay remarks and the anti-gay sermon from the 1990s from Pastor Giglio and asking whether the administration had a kind of statute of limitations for when someone can make such comments and still be deemed acceptable by the administration.
“I think I’ve addressed the question about Sen. Hagel,” Carney replied. “And I would simply point you to President Obama’s record on LGBT issues as representative of his beliefs, convictions and his policies, and where he believes this country is moving and where he hopes to lead it.
A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters and Carney on Hagel and Giglio follows:
ABC News: If I could just ask you about Chuck Hagel, who was criticized pretty strongly today by Ben Cardin, who’s not a exactly an arch-conservative here. Certainly, right in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, one of the things he raised was the comments that Hagel made against James Hormel, which had come under fire by gay groups. I’m wondering if you could help me understand, he made those comments 15 years ago, calling James Hormel aggressively and didn’t apologize for them until a month ago when it was clear that he was in the running to named secretary of defense. Why that kind of a delay and does he have to explain why 15 years of those comments â€”
Jay Carney: I think Sen. Hagel was very clear about the fact that he thought those comments were not appropriate. He regretted them, and they don’t represent the totality of his views. I would point the statement he made.
ABC News: But 15 years later â€”
Carney: Senators will have the opportunity through the confirmation process as they do traditionally and repeatedly to ask him questions about his views on this. The secretary of defense â€” Sen. Hagel, when he is confirmed as we hope he will be â€” carries out the President’s policies and, I think, the President’s policies on LGBT issues are both commendable, supported by the LGBT community and will continue to be the policies of this administration as long as President Obama is in office. So, again, I think you’ve seen what Sen. Hagel said about this, and the President is very confident that Sen. Hagel will be confirmed and that he will be an excellent secretary of defense and will implement all of the President’s policies with regards to the Defense Department.
Washington Blade: The website ThinkProgress is reporting that the Pastor Louie Giglio, whom President Obama selected to deliver his inaugural benediction, held vehemently anti-gay views in the 1990s. In a recording attributed to him from that time, Giglio advocates for widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy, references a biblical passage often attributed to require gay people to be executed and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the homosexual lifestyle from becoming adopted in society. Does the White House have a problem with Obama’s inaugural pastor holding those views?
Jay Carney: I haven’t seen that report. I would refer you to the inaugural committee. I haven’t seen the report.
Blade: So it’s fair to say that the administration was not aware of this sermon before the selection was made?
Carney: I’m saying that I haven’t seen the report.
Blade: The news is breaking days after the President nominated Chuck Hagel, whom, as you acknowledged, made those 1998 anti-gay comments against Jim Hormel. Is there some kind of statute of limitations on when someone can make anti-gay remarks and still deemed acceptable by the administration, and if so, what is it?
Carney: I think I’ve addressed the question about Sen. Hagel, and I would simply point you to President Obama’s record on LGBT issues as representative of his beliefs, convictions and his policies, and where he believes this country is moving and where he hopes to lead it.
A Georgia-based pastor who came under fire for expressing vehemently anti-gay views in a 1990′s sermon has withdrawn from President Obama’s inaugural celebration, where he was previously scheduled to give the benediction.
In a statement delivered to the White House and Presidential Inaugural Committee, Rev. Louie Giglio of theÂ Passion City ChurchÂ announces his decision to “respectfully withdraw” participation from the Jan. 21 celebration in the wake of revelations of the anti-gay comments.
“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 fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”
Giglio added he doesn’t 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” and will “continue to pray regularly for the President.”
In a separate statement, Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee, said organizers of the event weren’t aware of the anti-gay sermon when the initial selection was made.
â€śWe were not aware of Pastor Giglioâ€™s past comments at the time of his selection and they donâ€™t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural,” Whisenant said. “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 administrationâ€™s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.â€ś
ABC News’ Jonathan Karl firstÂ tweeted out the news on Giglio Thursday morning, saying “Rev Gigilo, who had been selected to give the inaugural invocation, has been removed from the program.”
The news came after ThinkProgress, a blog for the liberal think-tank known as the Center for American Progress,Â reported WednesdayÂ that in the 1990s, Giglio gave a 54-minute sermon â€” titled â€śIn Search of a Standard â€“ Christian Response to Homosexuality” â€” whichÂ backs widely discredited â€śex-gayâ€ť therapy, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and calls on Christians to â€śfirmly respond to the aggressive agendaâ€ť and prevent the â€śhomosexual lifestyleâ€ť from becoming accepted in society.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment when the Washington Blade asked him about the anti-gay sermon, saying he hadn’t yet seen the ThinkProgress report.
Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization applauds Giglio’s removal and had previously expressed concern about his participation to the White House.
“We let the White House know of our grave concerns about the choice of the Rev. Louie Giglio â€” a minister with a history of anti-gay statements who has engaged in spiritual abuse of LGBT people â€” to deliver a prayer at the inauguration ceremony. Having him deliver the benediction was a divisive choice, and we applaud his removal from the program,â€ť Nipper said. â€śFurthermore, we commend Obama’s selection of Cuban-American gay poet Richard Blanco as inaugural poet, which had also served to magnify how out of step the choice of Giglio was. 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.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also expressed satisfaction with the move.
“It was the right decision,” Griffin said. “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.”
The full statement from Giglio follows:
“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.Â 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.Â I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so.Â 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.”
NOTE: This article has been edited for clarity.