Atlanta, Georgia — A pastor known for his work with the popular Passion conferences for college-aged students has bowed out of his invitation to deliver the benediction at the inauguration of Barack Obama over criticism surrounding his past comments about the Bible and homosexuality.
Louie Giglio is the pastor of Passion City Church in Roswell, and is the co-founder of 268 Generation, which hosts the renowned annual Passion conferences for youth in an effort to “see a generation stake their lives on what matters most.” The event, which first began in Austin, Texas, and grew into a world tour, is now hosted each year at the Atlanta Dome in Georgia. Last year, approximately 40,000 youth and adults flocked to the event, and this year’s conference saw an estimated 60,000 attendees.
While Giglio has been criticized by some evangelicals for inviting Bible teacher Beth Moore to preach at the event in recent years, as well as for hosting the band Jesus Culture, which is associated with Bill Johnson’s Bethel Fellowship in Redding, California, he has now also come under fire from homosexual advocates in recent days for being chosen as an invited participant in the Inauguration.
According to reports, Giglio, whose father created the logo for Chick-fil-A in 1964, had delivered a sermon in the 1990’s during which he stated that the Bible prohibits homosexual behavior, and that people can be set free by the saving power of Jesus Christ.
“Men, women, I can’t say anything other to you tonight than this — that if you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not [just] an alternate lifestyle. … Homosexuality is not just a sexual preference. Homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin,” he said in the sermon entitled In Search of a Standard – A Christian Response to Homosexuality. “It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.”
“As the Church of Jesus Christ, we cannot sit on the sidelines. We cannot sit back inside our churches, but we must reach out and we must aggressively move toward the homosexual community because we have a message and we’ve got something to say,” he continued. “Our message is [that] we know Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is powerful enough to do anything and to do everything. And the only way out of a homosexual lifestyle, the only way out of a relationship that has been ingrained over years of time, is through the healing power of Jesus.”
After digging up the sermon preached by Giglio following the announcement that he was to deliver the benediction at the Inauguration, homosexual advocates expressed much criticism at his invitation.
“[T]his is a reversion to the kinds of actions which angered the LGBT community ahead of Obama’s first inaugural ceremony, when Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren was selected to deliver the invocation,” wrote Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin.
“It would be a shame to select a preacher with backward views on LGBT people at a moment when the nation is rapidly moving forward on our issues,” remarked homosexual activist Wayne Besen. “It is imperative that Giglio clarify his remarks and explain whether he has evolved on gay rights, like so many other faith and political leaders.”
At first, Giglio willingly accepted the invitation from the White House.
“During these days it is essential for our nation to stand together as one,” Giglio wrote in a statement released on Tuesday. “I am honored to be invited by the President to lead our nation as we look up to God, and as we look ahead to a future that honors and reflects the One who has given us every good and perfect gift.”
However, this morning, following two days of outrage from homosexual groups, Giglio bowed out of the event, stating that homosexuality is not a focus of his preaching, and that he fears that his presence at the Inauguration will turn the occasion into an argument over the issue.
“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,” he wrote. “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,” Giglio continued. “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.”
He also noted in his statement that he disagrees with Obama on various issues, but has nonetheless “fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals” with the president.
Through his Passion conferences, Giglio focuses on the issue of sex trafficking, and raised approximately $3 million in support for his anti-slavery efforts last week during his enormous gathering at the Atlanta Dome. The Presidential Inauguration Committee says that Giglio had been selected for this reason.
“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. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world,” the Committee wrote in a statement issued today. “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.”
However, some are lamenting Giglio’s departure from the event.
“It’s unfortunate that this kind of political correctness doesn’t allow people who are doing great work to pray at the Inauguration,” Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, told reporters. “He was being asked to deliver a prayer. All sorts of people deliver prayers who we don’t agree with on a number of issues.”
On the other hand, Cromartie agreed with Giglio that there are more important issues to focus on at this time than homosexuality.
“[Louie] doesn’t like to get involved in the culture war because it blurs the larger points he wants to make,” he said.
Many evangelicals are likely to speak out on this issue in the days ahead, both for and against Giglio’s withdrawal from the Inauguration.