Obama and the Louie Giglio Controversy

UPDATE: Giglio has withdrawn. Read more here.

President Obama has tapped Louie Giglio, pastor of Atlanta’s Passion City Church, to deliver the benediction at his inauguration. Think Progress has found, not terribly shockingly, that the 54-year-old Giglio delivered an anti-gay sermon in the 1990s. You can read all the ugly details here. I say not terribly shockingly because even today Passion City describes itself as “conservative and evangelical,” and in the 1990s, this was certainly not unusual, and isn’t even today. I’m not excusing it, I’m just saying this seems sort of inevitable if Obama is going to pick a conservative evangelical. The question is why he does.

Whether this will cause the same uproar that Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his first inauguration remains to be seen, but already one can sense some the outcry brewing. But unlike with Warren, whose anti-gay comments were recent and pertained to the still-fresh Proposition 8 fight in his home state of California, Giglio’s comments were unearthed from an archive of old sermons, and there hasn’t been any evidence, so far, of anything more recent. What’s more, since the Warren pick, Obama has established his bona fides on marriage equality, and has tapped Richard Blanco as the first openly gay inaugural poet. Obama’s selection of Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation marks the first time a non-clergyperson, and a woman, has been tapped for that honor. Nonetheless, questions remain about why he picks a participant like Giglio for these sorts of events. 

Paul Raushenbush has some smart observations about Obama’s seemingly unquenchable desire to try to make nice with white evangelicals, who are never going to like him. Obama does seem to have a need to pick a white evangelical with big reach — in 2009, Warren, pastor of a megachurch and author of best-selling books, in 2013, Giglio, pastor of a megachurch and founder of the so-called “Passion Movement,” described by Christianity Today as being “known for its annual conferences aimed to help college students and young adults experience a spiritual awakening.” Last year, Giglio gave the closing prayer at Obama’s Easter Prayer Breakfast, and Obama mentioned the Passion Conferences in a video address delivered to the evangelical Q Conference in Washington. Michael Wear, who worked at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships before he ran faith outreach for Obama’s reelection campaign, appears to be a fan

One has to wonder why, given the thousands of clergy in the United States Obama couldn’t simply pick someone who didn’t have a high profile at all, someone who would deliver a pleasing ecumenical prayer, someone who didn’t appear to have been picked so that Obama could reach a particular constituency, or whose selection insults another. Although I said I wasn’t surprised that a blogger found Giglio delivered an anti-gay sermon, it wouldn’t be hard to find a clergyperson who never had.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email