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. marctheduck

    I hope he picks better than the last time... sheesh!

    January 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  2. raisequestions

    Why don't they ever choose a Rabbi to deliver the benediction? Or how about a Hindu priest? Just once could we deviate from the "requirement" that this be a Christian nation?

    January 15, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • inspiration for the rest

      Since religion is an absurd, moronic idea, are we a Christian nation or a nation of idiots?

      January 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • inspiration for the rest

      I like a nation of idiots. We need a preacher that represents all idiots if the United States. That way, all religions will be included.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • End Religion

      maybe if they had a service that had 1 "high priest" from each of the 33,000 religious sects. Make it PayPerView because there will be a fist fight if even one claims it is "the true one".

      January 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  3. inspiration for the rest

    The scientists now know there are 100 billion stars in 100 billion gallagies. Times the average number of planets (5?) surrounding each star. That makes it pretty tough for any god to take care of. I bet he has a slight headache.

    Why are we still give credence to this absurd idea from a couple of thousand years ago?

    January 15, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • inspiration for the rest

      Since religion is an absurd, moronic idea, are we a Christian nation or a nation of idiots?

      January 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  4. David

    Jeremiah Wright busy that day?????????????

    January 15, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  5. PJ

    The last thing we want is to hear an anti-gay Pastor during the Inauguration. I am glad he withdrew. I would have been furious and offended.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:45 pm |


    By book of Mithra savior ism, bible.
    hindu, fabrication called Jesus claimed to be, like personality of Hebrew teaching's, Jonah. if true,
    Jonah jumped off of a ship, HE WAS ALIVE,
    Jonah swollen by a fish, HE WAS ALIVE,
    While in the belly of fish, HE WAS ALIVE,
    Spitted out by the fish, HE WAS ALIVE.

    Fabrication Jesus arrested, HE WAS ALIVE,
    Put on a so called cross, HE WAS ALIVE
    while on a cross, HE WAS ALIVE,
    While in belly of tomb, HE WAS ALIVE.

    hindu, fabrication Mithra savior of followers of hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism Jesus transfigured in to another person in front of his disciples, or became some one else, or he changed his form to their amazement.
    Time of last supper, before his so called arrest, he smiled on Judah, and Judah smiled in kind,
    hindu, fabrication Jesus, kissed him, and Judah kissed him in kind.
    Judah transfigured in to Jesus and Jesus transfigure in to Judah.
    Judah was arr rested as Jesus and Jesus escaped as Judah,

    January 15, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • wejie

      100% guaranteed fake posing as Muslim. Ask my dad.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  7. us_1776

    We don't need a stupid prayer.

    We need only a committment to our fellow man to help each other.


    January 15, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  8. william

    Why would ANY Bible believing Pastor be willing to compromise to stand for a man who wouldn't blink an eye to slaughter the unborn...who spits in the face God with his 'evolution on marriage'. Shame on this "pastor". I sure don't want to be in his flock!!!!!Q!!!!!!

    January 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm |

      Because dollar is his real god.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • djc84

      You're a complete_idiot. Genesis 2:7 "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." which is why it you were always considered alive when you took your first breath. Right up until it became politically beneficial to convince the stupid that it was at conception. Get a clue.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Bob O

      I used to be pro abortion until I saw a aborted fetus. It sure didn't look a glob of tissue to me. It had eyes, ears, nose, fingers, and a beating heart before it was sucked out of its mother's womb.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • jack

      your name coupled with the way you wright makes you sound nutty

      January 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Bob O, minus the fingers and plus working lungs and life experience so did the cow and chicken I suspect you've eaten in the last week.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Time to face the music

      Admit it. You've already lost. Abortion is legal and here to stay. Gays are being accepted into main stream America and into main stream American churches. America has passed you by and is moving forward into a bright future that you have no place in. And since "everything is a part of god's plan" he obviously approves.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Bob O

      You've given yourself away. "Pro abortion" is a name that conveys a straw man of the pro-choice people. I have never met a single person, nor have I heard of a person who says "Hmm, yea those abortion things should just always be used all the time. I'm pro-abortion". We stand for CHOICE Bob.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  9. joshua

    You all need to see dr owour get help before is too late. see harvest army for latest prophecies. internet will go off and earthquake coming for north atlantic ocean. wake up God is REAL.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Aezel

      Yeah yeah yeah, it's been the end of the world any day now for 2000 years according to your book of fairy tales.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • jack

      "and some people thinking that the end is close by, stead of learning to live they are learning to die"
      Bob Dylan

      January 15, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • End Religion

      sweet prophecy. you realize north atlantic has earthquakes every day? there were 2026 in the last year in the north atlantic. there were 4 TODAY!

      January 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • Webmaster

      "see harvest army for latest prophecies..." How about you and many other Christians on the planet stop trying to predict the future! God's Word stands on it's own and needs no expansion from you. Revelation tells us what's coming and admonishes us not to add or take away from it – so why are you making up your own garbage and proving yourself a FALSE prophet?

      While I love you as a brother in Jesus, I must admonish you for bad teaching/doctrine.

      I completely understand the desire to put the pieces together and to spread God's Word boldly, but as your spiritual-brother, I gotta slap you up-side-the-head and hold you to account. Remember that a prophet is measured by his/her fruit, and that Scripture has all the prophecy we need – it proves itself always. Return to the Gospel and FOCUS!

      Yes, there WILL be a mother-of-all-earthquakes that signals the beginning of the last days, but the when is unknown to us and the where is Universe-wide. What's most important is that we are ready for it, that is, saved by our inward turning to Jesus for undeserved restoration to God's Kingdom instead of doomed by our refusal to accept His payment on our behalf. How can an unbeliever even consider turning towards Jesus if your going to make a mockery of His Word? If you want to be a true prophet, speak God's WORD, not your own.

      If you don't believe in God or haven't accepted Jesus as the Son of God – please consider taking a lousy five seconds of your life to make an effort (in your head) to simply ask Him to reveal Himself to you truthfully, in a way that you can accept. What can you lose from that? If there is no God then nothing will happen, but if there is, and if He keeps His promises like He says He does... well that's something else isn't it? No church (building) is needed – you don't even need a Bible – tens of millions went to their martyrdom without ever seeing one! There's no magic prayer to say, just make your request genuinely and not as a mockery or in jest. Seriously, how long does it take to think 'Hey Jesus... You there? Can we be cool?'

      I Love you all.

      January 21, 2013 at 3:58 am |
  10. wrm

    IDGAF. Skin deep dog and pony show for a guy that couldn't care less.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • Karthkart

      As it should be. The guy who cared got us into two useless wars, ordered torture, opened a concentration camp, suspended habeas corpus, ran secret renditions to black pricons in countries that tortured and executed for us, wiretapped Americans wholesale, allowed New Orleans to suffer ridiculously, sat by as the economy collapsed then threw insane amounts of money at the perpetrator banks . . .

      Christianity hasn't been so good in presidents lately.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I didn't realize that Darth Cheney publically espoused a specific religious belief.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
  11. Jesus is truth.

    Jesus said, you can not serve two masters. Jesus also said the world hated me first, But when Jesus spoke He said love oneanother as i love you.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:19 pm |

      But hindu ignorant Christians do, hindu crook king and his hindu sanatan, filthy goon fortune teller as their god's.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      esus said nothing. some men came along afterward and made it all up, and half of what jesus is purported to have said is the polar opposite of the other 50% so that you can read whatever you want into the fraud.

      January 15, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
  12. Jesus is truth.

    Every knee shall bow every tounge confess that Jesus is Lord forever.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm |

      only in hinduism absurdity of a hindu, ignorant.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:13 pm |

      What does word begotten means to you.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • Your Momma


      Mohammed is a drunk, and rotting in hell

      January 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  13. YBP

    I was raised Catholic. Very Catholic.

    I studied for the priesthood for two years. Experienced things that you wouldn't believe.

    I ran away in the middle of the night. True story.

    I have since read well over 100 books on the historic figure of Jesus, the history of the religion, who wrote the gospels (where, when, why, and in what language), etc, searching for the truth.

    All written by University and Seminary Professors. No hacks whatsoever.

    I have thus found Christianity (and Judaism) to be lacking in any kind of veracity or relevance whatsoever.

    I suggest that all the true believers out there open your minds and do some research.

    It won't be easy, but you really must.

    Because you have no credibility pretending to believe in things that you really know nothing about, using the Bible to prove itself, make impossible claims without any evidence, denying 400+ years of modern science, etc.

    There are opposing views to what you've been taught to believe.

    Look into it.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Colin

      Well said. I would suggest " The Historical Jesus" or "The New Testament Canon" art Ehrman. The Teaching Company publishes a series of CDs. Very eye opening.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • william

      God LOVES you so much that HE sent HIS Son for you. Accept that free gift. It will save you.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • ryanbudde

      The answer to this is faith. All the scientific "proof" or ideas is meaningless, all the lack of evidence or understanding is meaningless. We are not God, we cannot therefore understand all of his ways. We are not meant to. We are to study and learn what we can but at the point the evidence and proof stops we are called to take the next steps in faith, believing in our hearts what the eyes cannot see. All Scripture is true, whether you can prove it or understand it or not is not a valid argument for stating something to be false.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Bob O

      Hmmmm, I can believe this fallen away Catholic and his "100 books" or I can believe the early Chruch Fathers. I think I'll go with the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and St Augustine of Hippo and day over this johnny come lately.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Faith is a ridiculous tool since it can be used equally well with and applied for the same reason as any other belief no matter how crazy or delusional. There's no evidence for unicorns, but you can sure use faith. Stupid.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Colin

      Really bob O? In that case, you must be an anti-semetic, semi-gnostic who believes in the most ridiculous of semi-pagan nonsense.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      "God LOVES you so much that HE sent HIS Son for you. Accept that free gift."

      Ignorance is not a gift.

      January 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • tins6

      Now faith IS the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT seen. (Heb.11:1).
      But without faith it is impossible to please Him.(Heb.11:6).

      April 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  14. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Ah yes, Episcopalians, ... "God's frozen people".

    This was a pun I heard made by an author promoting his book (about the religiosity of the founders) on the Colbert Report – when he self-deprecatingly defined himself as 'one of God's frozen people'.

    For some reason I thought it might have been Stephen Waldman ("Founding Faith") or perhaps more likely, David L. Holmes ("Faiths of the Founding Fathers").

    But I can't find the interview. As a subst!tute here is one by Jon Meacham, (another Episcopalian) promoting his book "American Gospel".

    January 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      On second thoughts, maybe not David L Holmes either.

      Anyway the term is not considered derogatory and seems to be in fairly common usage. I thought it was funny.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  15. Jesus is truth.


    January 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Colin

      So, the way you see it, a god impregnated a virgin with himself, so he could give birth to himself, then grotesquely sacrifice himself to himself to "forgive" the original sin of a couple we now all know never existed.

      Once again, proof our education system is a train wreck.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • GAW

      Why does Bong hits for Jesus come to mind after reading this?

      January 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm |

      What does word begat ton means in your hinduism, absurdity called bible.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  16. joe

    Why can't we have a Secular Humanist at the inauguration, and show the world that we believe in reason and human intellect?

    January 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Because this is a democracy and with a majority Christian country that would be political suicide for the party.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm |

      And deny truth absolute, foundation of American consti tution.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • GAW

      Based on the way thinks are going I don't have much faith in the human intellect. Religious or non religious.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @GAW, and right you shouldn't. We're a pretty dumb species...not that I've seen anything smarter. 🙂

      January 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  17. Antiatheist

    Here come the Atheists out of the woodwork! Like roaches, they won't go away.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • GAW

      Oh come on let them have a little fun. Most of them are just trolls doing practice runs.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • j s

      wow, thats very christian of you

      January 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • twalk

      practice what you preach. Talk is cheap.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  18. Gir

    Why would the president (or any member of gov't) feel obliged to be truthful during his term of office when he's sworn in with a book of myths?

    January 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I doubt anyone who "felt obliged to be honest" has ever been elected as a national leader, either here or anywhere else. I'm not criticiaing; that's just how it works.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • GAW

      Symbolism son...symbolism. I you don't like it then refuse to use a Bible if you ever get sworn into office.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It is not required by the Const!tution.

      It is an unfortunate tradition that follows a precedent set by George Washington who (unnecessarily) added "So help me God" to the oath of office.

      The idea that a bible would be 'required' clearly contravenes Article VI where it says:
      "but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

      It is entirely voluntary. Though I would love to see the reaction to the next President who – like John Quincy Adams or FDR chooses not to use a bible when they take the oath of office.

      The oath as specified in Article II, Section 1:
      "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Const!tution of the United States."

      January 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  19. Colin

    Praying hey? Isn't that where you think silent thoughts like "please God help President Obama to be a good President" and an immortal being that created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies about 13,720,000,000 years ago, reads your mind and intervenes to alter what would otherwise be the course of history to answer your request?

    That we still believe this utter garbage in the 21st Century is both astounding and disappointing. If it is not proof that our education system has been a train wreck for at least a generation, I don't know what is.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Peter Bishop

      You really come across both ignorant and arrogant. Don't like religion, then don't practice it. It is still a free country at the moment.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Colin

      So, my obvious personality shortcomings aside, Peter, do you disagree with what I daid? If so, what did I get wrong?

      January 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • Daniel

      Hey Colin, it is true that many believe prayer is exactly as you described it, a litany of requests to an interventionist God. Many of us, however, believe no such thing. For some, we experience prayer as simply time spent in the presence of the mystery of love, the transformative, creative power of the universe. Prayer is many things. Indeed, your post was a prayer.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • inspiration for the rest


      you must have been watching the PBS program on space. It really drives home the fact how improbably the whole God idea is – 100 billion stars in 100 billion gallagies. Times the average number of planets (5?) urrounding each star.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • marctheduck

      Even though you probably know better than others, at least give them the right to make their own choice about religion. Fair enough?

      January 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm |

    Absolute hinduism, violation of American consti tution , recognizing none other than truth absolute as GOD, foundation of America, not hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism called Christianity, hindu Mithraism, racist savior ism Christianity has no place in offices of America. Keep hinduism racism out of American society for good of America.

    January 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Freddy

      Do you realize that your writing makes no sense in English? Seriously, I can't make any sense of it.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • GAW

      I got a headache trying to read this and now for a seizure.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm |

      Get a brain, or borrow one if you do not have one to understand my post.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • GAW

      My brain is too valuable to try to read this nonsense. Please learn to write in coherent sentences.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:13 pm |

      Have better one transplanted.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:16 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.