Who Can Pray For America? The Inauguration Benediction Question

After Rev. Giglio's past anti-gay sermon surfaced, the White House has decided that he is not the right person to be praying for a blessing on the people of the United States. This leaves us with an opening in the program for a new faith voice.
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The White House invited Rev. Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor of the Passion City Church, in Atlanta, Ga., to lead the benediction at President Obama's inauguration. However, once Rev. Giglio's past anti-gay sermon surfaced, the White House has decided that he is not the right person to be praying for a blessing on the people of the United States.

Rev. Giglio was selected because of his work in mobilizing college students to oppose slavery and sex trafficking. However, when ThinkProgress discovered that he referred to the "aggressive agenda" of the LGBT community, advocated for so-called "ex-gay" therapy, and called being gay a "malfunction," the White House realizes that his presence does not reflect the LGBT-inclusive record of the Obama administration, or of the American people.

Rev. Giglio released a statement that acknowledged that his anti-gay messages of the past has become a stumbling block to his effectiveness in the inauguration:

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.

Addie Whisenant, the Presidential Inauguration Committee Spokesperson, agreed:

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. 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.

This leaves us with an opening in the program for a new faith voice. Four years ago, the White House attempted to balance out anti-gay preacher Rick Warren with openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson. Other portions of the inauguration have LGBT representation. Richard Blanco will be giving an original poem as a part of the inauguration ceremony. As LGBTQ Nation points out, Blanco is the first Latino, youngest and first openly gay person to be given such an honor.

Many had to wonder why it appears to be so difficult to find a faith leader without an anti-LGBT background. Just a couple of weeks ago, GLAAD released 10 Pro-LGBT Faith Voices of 2012. Any of these people would have been superb. Some are clergy, some are real people. All of them have shown a commitment to their faith and to justice for ALL people.

The president's own Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships includes Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, which has been a haven and an advocate for LGBT people for over 40 years. Rev. Wilson can surely pray for the president and for America, as she has demonstrated a willingness to work with him.

It must be noted that the benediction does not have to be given by an LGBT-identified person. There are numerous straight faith leaders who affirm God's love for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Let's name a few:

Jay Bakker has been ministering to young adults and those on the margins after growing up the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. His church and all his writing place a heavy emphasis on grace. He is theologically quite conservative, even while being outspoken in his advocacy for inclusiveness of all people.

Jacqui Lewis is Senior Minister of Middle Church and Executive Director of The Middle Project, a not for profit institute that trains progressive ethical leaders for a just society.

Andrew Marin learned from his own anti-gay history to become a better ally. He now runs a ministry to build bridges between the evangelical and LGBT community.

Rabbi Denise Eger is vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and has been recognized as an LGBT advocate.

James J. Martin, prominent Catholic priest and theologian and chaplain to the Colbert Report has supported Spirit Day as a day to protect all youth.

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Obama's former church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, has been a strong voice of unity for all Americans, resisting wedge issues at the voting box.

Rachel Held Evans has been a voice to challenge the notion of "biblical living, " as well as building an authentically Christian and inclusive community.

These suggestions are just possibilities. The person giving the benediction doesn't have to be LGBT identified. However, they should reflect the growing sentiment in the U.S. and in faith communities that LGBT people are full and equal parts of society. When the Inauguration Committee makes their decision, we hope they will keep this in mind.

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