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News

Inaugural pastor withdraws over anti-gay remarks

The evangelical pastor chosen to give the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration withdrew from the ceremony Thursday after remarks he made two decades ago condemning the gay rights movement surfaced.

The Rev. Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta said in a statement he withdrew because it was likely that the "prayer I would offer will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."

Addie Whisenant, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said the committee had chosen Giglio because of his work to end human trafficking.

"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," Whisenant said in a statement.

The liberal website ThinkProgress posted audio of the sermon Wednesday. In the talk, which the pastor said he gave 15 or 20 years ago, Giglio cites Scripture and called same-sex relationships sinful and an abomination. He warned congregants about what he called the "aggressive agenda" for acceptance of the "homosexual lifestyle." And he recommended the writings of an advocate for therapy that aims to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. Repeatedly in the sermon, Giglio urged congregants to welcome gays and lesbians to the church and says God loves them.

In Thursday's statement, Giglio said "speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past 15 years."

Obama's inaugural planners have put an emphasis on reflecting diversity in the festivities, including the participation of gay Americans. Obama personally selected Richard Blanco, whose work explores his experience as a Cuban-American gay man, as the inaugural poet. And the Lesbian and Gay Band Association of St. Louis was one of the first selections to march in the inaugural parade.

Whisenant said the committee was considering others to deliver the benediction at the Jan. 21 event.

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Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed from Washington.

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