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First on CNN: Obama picks D.C. Episcopal priest to deliver inauguration benediction
The Rev. Luis León walks with the first couple on January 20, 2009, the day of President Barack Obama's first inauguration.
January 15th, 2013
06:14 PM ET

First on CNN: Obama picks D.C. Episcopal priest to deliver inauguration benediction

By Lisa Desjardins and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Washington (CNN) – The president has picked a neighbor to deliver the closing prayer at the inauguration.

The Rev. Luis León told CNN on Tuesday the White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited him last week to deliver the closing prayer at the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

León pastors Saint John’s Church, an Episcopal parish just across Lafayette Park from the White House, dubbed the “Church of the Presidents.”

"I found out last week,” he told CNN in an interview on Tuesday.

A source close to the inaugural committee confirmed León would be delivering the benediction and said a formal announcement would be coming later in the week.

The historic church León has pastored since 1995 has been connected to every president since its founding in 1815. Inside the historic building, Pew 54 is reserved for presidents whenever they come to worship.

President Barack Obama and his family have worshiped at the church numerous times during his first term. They have visited the church more times than any other during his presidency, and the president and León are said to have a good relationship.

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León’s benediction will mark his second appearance on the inauguration stage. In 2005 he delivered the invocation for the President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.

"You don't get used to this. I'm just as nervous now as I was the first time,” León said. “From the moment someone asks you to do that, your wheels are spinning with what to say. So my wheels were spinning now."

León was the president’s second choice for the benediction.

The selection comes less than a week after Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor from Atlanta, bowed out of the closing prayer after a sermon he delivered in the mid-1990s surfaced that critics called “vehemently anti-gay.” Giglio’s sermon has been defended by some socially conservative Christians as ardently as critics have opposed it. Giglio, known for his work in raising awareness of and combating global slavery, withdrew the morning after the sermon was posted by liberal advocacy website Think Progress. Giglio said in a letter to the White House and the inaugural committee, “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration.”

CNN: Giglio bows out of inauguration over sermon on gays

After Giglio withdrew, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said they 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."

“I don't mind being in the bullpen; relievers are very important," León said, smiling. He added, "I was delighted to be asked and honored to be asked."

León said it will be important for him to craft a prayer for the present time. He said he’s talking and listening closely to those around him for inspiration on what he will say when he steps up to the microphone.

“I think when we're asking a blessing for this country,” he said, “I think we're asking God to lift us up, to lift up what's good in us. To remind us of what's good in us and remind us to do what's proper, what's the good, the right thing for the country."

León, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Guantanamo, Cuba. He came the United States in 1961 at age of 11 as one of the "Peter Pan children.” At the time, many Cuban parents sent their children out of Cuba fearing Fidel Castro's regime would take them and put them in camps. León’s mother eventually joined them in the United States.

There are large issues facing his adoptive country, León said. "The thing that I think is on everyone's mind is, how are we going to work together? You know, everybody, after each election, talks about mandates. My perspective is the American people's mandate is to work it out. And somehow we need to be drawn together by that which binds us and not that which separates us. I think that's mostly on everybody's mind."

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León also said the president and the vice president will be attending a pre-inauguration service at Saint John’s on Monday morning.

The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican tradition,  voted at their annual convention in July to approve the blessing of same-sex ceremonies. Such services are not considered marriage ceremonies, media affairs representative Nancy Davidge told CNN at the time.

"We have authorized a blessing, and a blessing is different than a marriage," Davidge said. "A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship."

The move makes the church, with 2 million adherents, the largest U.S. denomination to sanction such ceremonies. Earlier this month the Washington National Cathedral announced it would begin hosting such ceremonies immediately following the implementation of a Maryland law allowing same-sex marriage.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Episcopal • Politics

soundoff (326 Responses)
  1. The Reverend Susan Russell

    "We have authorized a blessing, and a blessing is different than a marriage," Davidge said. "A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship." - AND when it comes to civil marriage equality, the Episcopal Church adopted by an overwhelming majority a resoltuion calling for the repeal of DOMA at its 2012 General Convention. Just for the record.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • lol??

      Women are allowed to teach OTHER women about loving children and hubbies.

      January 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • stafcoyote

      We did, Mother Susan, and rightly so! And Kendall Harmon doesn't like it one little bit. But am I being a little too Inside Episcopal baseball here?

      January 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • lol??

      Coyotes hunt in packs.

      January 17, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  2. Jesus is truth.

    THOSE WHO DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER HEAR MY VOICE... JESUS SAID COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM BE SEPARATE YOU WILL BE IN THE WORLD BUT NOT APART OF THE WORLD....

    January 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Bob

      According to your horrid Christian book of nasty AKA the bible, your god also says:

      Numbers 31:17-18
      17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
      18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

      Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

      Leviticus 25
      44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.
      45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
      46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

      Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

      Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

      And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

      So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      January 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      May by hindu fabrication called Jesus, but son of blessed Mary has nothing to do with your hinduism, absurdity.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  3. Bob

    We will be free the day our government stops shoving religion down our throats.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  4. delusional zealots

    prayer... the act of thinking your doing something, while accomplishing nothing. LMAO!!!!!

    January 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  5. Jesus is truth.

    Jesus said I AM THE TRUTH THE WAY AND THE LIFE NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER BUT BUY ME.... JESUS PAID THE PRICE AND DIED FOR YOU, CRUCIFY YOUR FLESH CARRY YOUR CROSS AND DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER...

    January 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • Bob

      According to your Christian book of nasty, AKA the bible, your god also says:

      Numbers 31:17-18
      17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
      18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

      Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

      Leviticus 25
      44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.
      45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
      46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

      Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

      Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

      And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

      So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      January 15, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Bob

      F
      u
      c
      k
      GOD!

      January 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  6. darte

    Ironic a black president is being sworn in using a religion which allowed slavery.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Saraswati

      A black president is being sworn in to lead a country that allowed slavery. Organizations and people change.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • darte

      The Bible stll allows it. You may be thinking about the U.S Bills of Rights which prohibits it.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Santi Clause

    It would be awesome if he invited Reverend Wright.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  8. Tom

    Pray for gun control laws and higher IQ's in republicans.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I assume Republicans are as subject to the Flynn effect as everyone else.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • j s

      lets pray they do something about abortions, they are killing our babies more than guns do.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  9. Read it

    Read for yourself the truth of the Holy Bible and make a choice. Don't let a man compromise for you, Gods' word never changes!

    Smile Jesus Loves You!

    January 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Contradictions

      Read it. Nothing could have been more effective at discrediting Christianity than reading the Bible. That must be why so few Christians actually do read it, and those that do have apologists like Topher standing by to tell you why it says what it doesn't say.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • darte

      Never changes? You might want to compare the Old Testament, New Testament, King James ect......

      January 15, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  10. truth be told

    All so called atheists lie all the time. Recognizing this Truth puts all atheist comments in proper perspective.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Andre

      Oh, please.........................

      January 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • midwest rail

      It is always a good day when we get to be entertained by the comedic genius of t.b.t.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • Mr Dalloway

      A swing and a miss.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • j s

      whats sad is, if we still let religous nuts run things we would still think the world was flat and the the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun revolves around the earth. not to mention people still beleive a virgin gave birth and that a man put 2 of every animal into a boat but yet it is impossible for aliens to exist.
      go look at some religions that were around at the time of christ, mithra for one, and you will see that he too was born of a virgin, blah blah blah, same life as christ, but before christ was thought of.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  11. sybaris

    Stupid

    Nothing fails like prayer

    January 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Contradictions

      Oh no, Jesus said prayer works absolutely, exactly how you ask, including praying for a mountain to throw itself into the sea. So it's true, obviously. The Bible is 100% true, and Jesus just can't be wrong.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  12. Jeeves

    Why is this allowed? David Souter, in his opinion on Lee V. Weisman, pointed out that the supreme court has held the opinion that the establishment clause protects against the preference of religion against nonreligion; not just one religion over another religion. Why would is a presidential inaguaration any different?

    January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Chives

      My understanding is that the only official government part of it is the oath itself. The rest is just a big half-time show. I would prefer Lady Ga-Ga or the Rolling Stones to a benediction, but I don't think the rest of it is government sponsored. Maybe it is.

      Better without it, but it's really just a spammy stage show where everyone is acting.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  13. JM

    He sounds like a good man.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  14. Vinny "Pork Chops" Yamamototelli

    They may as well have Snooki Polizzzi mime and yodel and rain dance the benediction for all the good it will do.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  15. TR in ATL

    "... and tells him what to say." Now you have the rest of the story.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • pattysboi

      I see NOTHING in the story about someone telling him "what to say". Please cite your sources.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  16. Andre

    Why does one have to be chosen at all? Isn't that a violation of "church&state"?

    January 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Not at all.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Andre

      Any why not? A "pastor" serves no purpose to this ceremony at all.....It's ludicrous...

      January 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Tradition. Would you want to be in the party that dropped this while the US is still majority Christian?

      January 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Andre

      Tradition or a way to appease those who believe he is a Muslim??

      January 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • midwest rail

      It's not a violation because no law is being established recognizing one religion over another. I'm as much opposed to a theocracy as anyone, but that's simply not an issue here.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Caleb

      Do you have any idea what is TRULY meant by "the separation of church and state"? I HIGHLY recommend reading George Washington's Farewell Address as well as this: http://www.valuesandcapitalism.com/dialogue/faith/putting-end-confusion-separation-church-and-state

      January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Andre

      Caleb..thanks for the link...I read it...but I do not believe it has any merit as far as this discussion..The article seems to address mostly the federal government's vs. States government's ability to regulate religion....

      January 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • mama k

      Just be glad he picked one of the more moderates. James Madison, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution and that all-important 1st Amendment, aside from being one of the fiercest advocates for separation of church and state and the 4th POTUS, was also the 4th Episcopal bishop in the U.S.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Andre

      Midwest Rail. I appreciate the point of view, it is just my personal opinion that religion should not be part of a ceremony of this kind.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • mama k

      And although it is not illegal and is tradition, I agree with you, Andre.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • mama k

      WOW. OK. I have to post a correction also over on the article about the National Cathedral.

      James Madison, 4th POTUS was not the 4th Bishop of the Episcopal Church. It was his cousin, also named James Madison (also from Virginia; born two years apart; both Episcopals, both supporters of separation of church and state). This cousin who was the 4th Episcopal bishop became the eighth president of the College of William & Mary.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • ejc

      To Mama k's response: James Madison the politician isn't the same as James Madison the Episcopal Bishop. They lived at the same time and in the same areas, but they were different men.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • mama k

      Thanks, ejc. I just discovered that.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  17. patw

    This pastor should be thrown out of the Church for now-towing to Obama.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Is that the opposite of then-towing ?

      January 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • JM

      Sadly, I am beginning to think that many evangelical churches in this country are worshiping Satan, not the God of love.

      Because of whackjobs like you who seem to be spewing teaching anti everything that Christ taught.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • frank

      lmao. now-towing. tard deluxe.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • thewiz71

      You mean honoring the invitation of the President of the United States to lead the nation in prayer at the start of the second term of his Presidency? I mean, if you are a Christian, have you even read St. Paul, where he enjoins Christians to pray for those in authority? Those words were even written at a time when said authorities were actually actively hostile to Christians. So please, take your hate, because that is what it is, somewhere else.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Earth: The Planet of the Apes

      Saying a benediction at the inaugural no more makes politicians holy than singing the National Anthem makes drunken baseball yahoos patriotic.

      Or, and H. L. Mencken said, "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good."

      January 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  18. jo

    Yes....excellent choice....

    January 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  19. Erlinda

    Lovely choice!

    January 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  20. It is Called

    iReport: Why I Raise My Children Without God

    Good advise for Obama remember and address the nation on?

    January 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • thewiz71

      No, it is not good ADVICE to remember and address the nation on.

      January 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • It is called

      1 day old PBS has
      PBS Nova Decoding Neanderthals doc-umentary

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nH1fqd0Ryo&w=640&h=390]

      January 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • dzp

      so we should worship neanderthals?? ohhhhhhhhh

      January 15, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.