January 10, 2013

Controversy over an anti-gay sermon by Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta forced him to withdraw his acceptance of the invitation to deliver the benediction at the presidential inaugural. Good. President Obama should not have to share the stage with him.  

Obama is the most pro-gay person to occupy the Oval Office. He ended the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. His administration has stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court. He has expressed his personal support for marriage equality. And in pronouncement and policy, the president and his administration have made bringing dignity, equity and fairness to gay people and their families a priority.

That’s why it boggled the mind that the Presidential Inaugural Committee would force Obama to share the stage with Giglio. The pastor got on the radar because of his work and leadership against human trafficking. This issue is important to the president, who devoted his entire speech  at the Clinton Global Initiative last year. But whatever good works Giglio has done in that arena are marred by his anti-gay statements.

In a 1990’s sermon, Giglio preached that being gay is a genetic “malfunction.”  He also advocated that homosexuality could be cured, saying “[T]he only way out of a homosexual lifestyle, the only way out of a relationship that has been engrained [sic] over years of time, is through the healing power of Jesus….It’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change.”

Even though those words were delivered years ago, they reflect what many folks still believe. These bigoted beliefs that use religion for cover have done damage to countless people and families for far too long.

Don’t even attempt to make a parallel between Giglio and Chuck Hagel’s homophobic remarks from the same time period. Hagel has apologized and has promised to continue the president’s inclusive work. Giglio has not, as his statement announcing his withdrawal from the festivities makes clear. That is his right — as it is our right not to have an unrepentant bigot be given such a high honor on Inauguration Day.   

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.  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.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.