Obama taps Rev. Luis Leon, Episcopal priest, to deliver inauguration benediction

((Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst))

The White House and Presidential Inaugural Committee has chosen the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, minister of the Episcopal church where President Obama and his family frequently attend, to deliver the benediction at the Jan. 21 inauguration, media outlets reported Tuesday.

The Washington D.C. pastor will replace the Rev. Louie Giglio, who withdrew after gay rights activists criticized a sermon he delivered 15 years ago that called homosexuality a sin.

Leon, pastor of St. John's Church, known as the "Church of the Presidents," confirmed Tuesday to CNN and The Huffington Post that he will deliver Obama's inauguration benediction. He did not elaborate further since an official announcement from the White House is still forthcoming.

In contrast to Giglio's conservative Evangelical background, Leon's Episcopal denomination has gay, non-celibate priests, a gay bishop and welcomes openly gay members. His church blesses same-sex marriages and ordains transgender priests. The Washington National Cathedral, also part of same denomination as Leon's church, said this month that it would start holding gay weddings.

Giglio withdrew from Obama's inaugural on Jan. 10, two days after his role was announced. The founder of the Passion conferences and Passion City Church in Atlanta is known for his work fighting human trafficking, but his views on homosexuality expressed in a past sermon overshadowed those accomplishments.

At the time of Giglio's withdrawal, the White House stated: "Choosing an affirming and fair-minded voice as his replacement would be in keeping with the tone the president wants to set for his inaugural."

The stepping down of Giglio has sparked outrage among conservative evangelical Christians who view the controversy surrounding his views on sexuality as a sign of a "new Moral McCarthyism."

In the beginning years of entering the Oval office, Obama had opposed gay marriage but expressed support for gay civil partnerships. The president's views evolved over the years and now fully backs same-sex marriage, even refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

The Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who is best known for his book Purpose-Driven Life, delivered the benediction at Obama's first inaugural ceremony in 2009.

Leon gave the invocation at George W. Bush's second inaugural ceremony in 2005.

Since 1995, Leon has served as the 14th rector of St. John's Church, which is located directly across the White House. He is a graduate of the University of the South. He holds a Masters in Divinity degree from the Virginia Theological Seminary and an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of the South, where he is a member of the Board of Regents. He is a founding member of both the Washington Interfaith Network and the Wilmington Interfaith Network.

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