Praying the Inauguration – Who prayed what and who cares how?

The Rev. Rick Warren, of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., gives the invocation as President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, left, bow their heads during swearing-in ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

We are almost done with inauguration week. Almost. The National Prayer Service, a tradition which dates back to 1789, is happening today, but many prayers have been publicly offered this week and a few have generated great discussion even before they were offered.

First it was announced that Rick Warren would provide the invocation at the inauguration itself. Many people were furious at this given Warren’s stance on homosexuality. I was able to hear this prayer (I missed the benediction) and thought that it was OK. The text is here. In an online forum of Episcopal clergy there were many  outraged that Warren concluded his prayer in the name of Jesus and with the Lord’s prayer. (Am I the only one who wondered why Obama did not join in reciting the Lord’s prayer?)

While I do not think it was the most engaging prayer I have ever heard I think it is laughable that we (especially other Christian clergy) should be critical of someone offering a prayer in the form of their religious tradition and convictions. After all, that is who they are and presumably why they were chosen. Criticize a Christian pastor for praying to Jesus? I would no more criticize that than I would a Muslim cleric praying in Arabic to ‘Allah.

Then there was Bishop Gene Robinson whose prayer was on Sunday, before Warren’s but I deal with it hear since he was apparently asked after Warren’s participation was announced (although accounts, including Robinson’s differ on that). His invocation was at the concert given at the Lincoln memorial. The text is here. This apparently was not aired on HBO and MSNBC and there is quite a lot of hot generated about why that happened.

His prayer, as you can imagine was largely hailed as wonderful on the aforementioned list. It was OK and I find nothing objectionable aside from his wishy-washy universalistic opening, “O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will….” It was this inclusiveness of his prayer that has been particularly singled out as being excellent by some. I sense a self-loathing among many Christian clergy that we cannot even pray (or are embarrassed when others do) as Christians.

In all of this discussion about the prayers and the people praying I am reminded of  the true statement that equality is not sameness. I would add that inclusiveness is not universalism. It is about participation and respect, including to one’s own faith.

All of that being said, it is odd that the PIC did not include very many (none that I heard, but I am told there were others) prayers by non-Christians….

(The National Prayer Service has occurred, which has many non-Christians participating in it but was “at its core, Christian to reflect Obama’s personal beliefs.” I have not seen a transcript yet.)

 

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