(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)
WASHINGTON – Sources close to the Oval Office are saying that there was disagreement within the Obama administration with how the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) handled the Rev. Louie Giglio, after a liberal blog unearthed a mid-90s sermon where he defined homosexuality as a sin. Giglio, after accepting PIC's invitation to give the inaugural benediction, declined the invitation after two days of controversy over his 17-year-old comments.
The PIC reportedly upset some White House officials when it began to pressure the evangelical pastor over his homosexual comments – though publicly both sides are saying he withdrew. PIC issued a statement claiming that Giglio does not reflect the Obama administration's "vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans." One source familiar with the process told CP that some White House officials disagreed with PIC's statement, arguing that it is highly unlikely President Obama would define his "vision of inclusion" the same way as PIC – one that excludes Christians who have a traditional biblical view of homosexuality, as well as Muslims, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews who have similar views.
"The Inaugural Committee's decision shouldn't be taken as synonymous with the president's breadth of inclusion," the source told CP. "This decision shouldn't be interpreted as President Obama's definitive view of the inclusiveness of his administration."
Sources say that PIC had already begun confronting Giglio before White House officials and President Obama received word of what was happening, and after Giglio's decision to step away it was too complicated by then for them to intervene.
The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships did not respond to repeated efforts by CP for clarifications to questions regarding the matter by press time, but simply referred the matter to PIC.
Stephanie Young, PIC director of Constituency Press, responded to CP with the following statement: "The Pastor made his own decision to withdraw from participating in the Presidential Inaugural ceremony and to infer anything different does not reflect the facts."
An inquiry to PIC if its statement on "vision of inclusion" represents that of President Obama went unanswered by press time. The Rev. Louie Giglio declined to comment on the article.
Giglio, founder of the Passion movement and pastor of Passion City Church in Roswell, Ga., was invited to give the benediction at President Obama's inaugural swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21, and PIC made that invitation public on Jan. 8. Just a day later, Think Progress, a liberal blog connected to the Center for American Progress, dug up a mid-1990s Giglio sermon about what the Bible says about homosexuality and described it as "vehemently anti-gay." Two days after PIC's enthusiastic announcement of the prominent Atlanta pastor for the inaugural benediction, the same committee asserted that including him doesn't fit well with the administration's "vision of inclusion."
The online magazine Slate observed, "Even though he (Giglio) was the one who technically withdrew, the Presidential Inaugural Committee released a statement that certainly makes it sound like he was at the very least nudged."
In Giglio's mid-90s sermon, he also warned that gay activists were likely to seek to exclude Christians from the public forum for holding traditional biblical views of homosexuality. He said: "Underneath this issue is a very powerful and aggressive movement. That movement is not a benevolent movement, it is a movement to seize by any means necessary the feeling and the mood of the day, to the point where the homosexual lifestyle becomes accepted as a norm in our society and is given full standing as any other lifestyle, as it relates to family."
In his statement stepping away from the benediction, Giglio said that his decision to withdraw his name comes from not wanting to make the issue of homosexuality the "focal point of the inauguration." He also emphasized that "clearly" the issue of what the Bible says about homosexuality is not the priority or core message in his ministry, given that he has rarely spoken about it and the sermon cited is over a decade old.
"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," stated Giglio.
In his sermon titled, "In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality," delivered in the 1990s, Giglio said:
"We must lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community. … [I]f you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle … homosexuality is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God. You come to only one conclusion: homosexuality is less than God's best for his creation."
The controversy surrounding Giglio and the inaugural benediction is similar to the uproar surrounding the Rev. Rick Warren delivering the inaugural prayer in 2009 for then President-elect Obama. At the time, gay rights activists had been up in arms that Warren, who supported California's Proposition 8 measure that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, would be given such a prominent role at the historic ceremony – the swearing-in of the nation's first black president.
However, Obama defended his decision to invite Warren to deliver the prayer, stating that his inauguration will feature "a wide range of viewpoints."
"And that's how it should be, because that's what America is about," Obama had said at a news conference when asked about inviting Warren to participate in his inaugural ceremony. "That's part of the magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."