Civil Rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams and Atlanta Pastor Louie Giglio were selected to offer a prayer at the 2013 Presidential Inuguration. (CNN/Getty Images)
Rev. Louie Giglio arrives at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards held at Staples Center on February 12, 2012 in Los Angeles (Getty Images)
ATLANTA -- Rev. Louie Giglio, pastor of Atlanta's Passion City Church, previously selected to deliver the benediction at President Obama's inauguration, has withdrawn his name from the services, amid fresh controversy over past comments he made regarding gay marriage.
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According to The New York Times, Giglio delivered a sermon during the 90s calling for Christians to fight the "aggressive agenda" of the gay rights movement.
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Liberal blog Think Progress brought up the sermon by Giglio in a Wednesday afternoon post.
Giglio released a statement shortly after noon on Thursday:
I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.
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.
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. 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.
The Obama inaugural committee's spokesperson, Addie Whisenant, released a statement Thursday afternoon:
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.
The committee said that President Obama had been involved in the selection of Giglio and Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, to deliver the benediction and invocation at the inaugural ceremonies on January 21.
Giglio, a pastor and the leader of the Passion Movement, was chosen because he's a "powerful voice for ending human trafficking and global sex slavery" and due to his work in mobilizing young people in that effort, said a source with the inaugural committee.
"It is my privilege to have the opportunity to lead our nation in prayer at the upcoming inauguration," Giglio said upon accepting the invitation.
"During these days it is essential for our nation to stand together as one," he said. "And, as always, it is the right time to humble ourselves before our Maker. May we all look up to our God, from whom we can receive mercy, grace and truth to strengthen our lives, our families and our nation. 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," he added, in the statement released by the committee.
An inauguration official speaking on background said the president viewed the selections as "spiritual and not political."
"Their voices have inspired many people across this great nation within the faith community and beyond," the president said in a statement on Tuesday. "Their careers reflect the ideals that the vice president and I continue to pursue for all Americans - justice, equality, and opportunity."
Obama has highlighted Giglio's Passion movement several times in the past year. He mentioned the movement of young evangelicals against slavery in his 2012 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Giglio was also a participant at Obama's annual Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House. Most recently, the president noted the work of Passion in a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative.
The official swearing-in of the president and the vice president will take place on Sunday, January 20, in keeping with the constitutional requirement. A public ceremonial swearing-in will take place Monday, January 21 on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.
This year, the inauguration falls on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which officials told CNN played into the selections of Evers-Williams and Giglio.
Evers-Williams' husband, Medgar Evers, was the NAACP's Mississippi field secretary when he was gunned down in the driveway of their Jackson, Mississippi, home in 1963. Evers-Williams went on to chair the NAACP from 1995-1998 and has remained a tireless advocate for civil rights.
A source close to the inauguration's planning called Evers-Williams' work and life an example for the nation. "Following her husband's murder she worked tirelessly not only for justice for his murder but for justice for the nation as well," the source said.
"I am humbled to have been asked to deliver the invocation for the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States - especially in light of this historical time in America when we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement," Evers-Williams said in a statement from the inaugural committee. "It is indeed an exhilarating experience to have the distinct honor of representing that era."
"I think it's a poignant thing for the ceremony to open with someone who to many folks in the country symbolizes courage but also some of the rough times we've been through as a country," an inauguration official had said before Giglio withdrew his acceptance. "To close with a pastor from the South who is fighting modern slavery in this generation, I think there's a poignancy to that that shouldn't be missed."
"Both individuals meet the moment," the source had said.
A similar controversy came up in 2009, when Rev. Rick Warren, author of "A Purpose Driven Life," and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage was selected to deliver the invocation at President Obama's first inaugural. Gay rights advocates protested the decision then.
(CNN contributed to this report.)