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Pastor nixed from Obama inaugural over anti-gay remarks

Pastor Louie Giglio, who was set to deliver the benediction at President Obama's inauguration, has been removed from the ceremony. The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart joins Thomas Roberts to discuss.

A pastor chosen by President Obama to deliver the inaugural benediction later this month has withdrawn amid controversy over anti-gay remarks he made more than a decade ago.

In a mid-1990s sermon, Rev. Louie Giglio, an Atlanta minister and founder of the Passion Conferences, a group dedicated to uniting students in worship and prayer, advocated for "ex-gay" therapy and urged listeners to prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted.

He also invoked a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people to be executed and argued that homosexuals choose to be gay.

“People aren’t born gay – but even if they are, it’s still a choice like giving into alcoholism, addiction and overeating,” Giglio said in a 54-minute sermon called “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality.”

The Presidential Inaugural Committee issued a statement in response to Giglio's withdrawal.

“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,” Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the committee, said. “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.”

In a statement, Giglio said he was withdrawing from the inaugural because staying in would not best serve his core message.

“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.”

Whisenant said that even though the committee vets a number of people to deliver the benediction, they were only recently made aware of his comments when they surfaced on ThinkProgress, a left-leaning political blog. He stressed that it was Giglio’s decision to withdraw his name. 

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, lauded Giglio’s removal.

"It was the right decision,” Griffen wrote in an email Thursday. “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."

In 2009, Obama chose Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation, drawing outcry from some on the left because of Warren's opposition to same-sex marriage.
NBC's Miranda Leitsinger and Carrie Dann contributed to this report.