There was quite a dust-up about the prayers at the Inauguration. Analysis of the prayers of others is not something I’m fond of, so I stayed back but this week’s prayer in The Book of Common Prayer — to be repeated by all Anglicans and Episcopalians — speaks volumes about Bishop Gene Robinson’s inaugural prayer.
I begin with how Robinson described what he would be doing in his prayer:
“Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through
history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively
Christian they were.”
“I am very clear,” he said, “that this
will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or
anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred
texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is
Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer
to “the God of our many understandings,” language that he said he
learned from the 12-step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.
Fleming Rutledge, one of America’s finest preachers and the first Episcopalian woman to be ordained, calls into question Robinson’s theology:
“The basic problem with Bishop Gene Robinson is not that he is openly
and actively homosexual. The real problem is that he does not believe
Christianity is a universal faith, nor does he believe that the Hebrew
and Christian scriptures have a universal message,” she wrote after
Robinson previewed his prayer in a New York Times interview.
” For a Bishop of the Christian Church to say (aggressively) that he is
shocked by Christian prayers offered at past inaugurations and that he
will not offer a Christian prayer suggests that he does not really
believe that the Christian gospel is truly universal (I do not use that
wimpy word ‘inclusive’).”
I’m for religious tolerance in the public square in political conversation and debate. But religious tolerance in a prayer very often amounts to denying the faith of the person praying. This week, The Book of Common Prayer asks every Anglican to say these words every day:
Give us grace, O Lord,
to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim
to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the
whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
Rutledge is right. Robinson’s prayer, which denies the universality of the Christian faith, doesn’t square with what he is reciting this week, the affirmation of the need and the call (of “our Savior Jesus Christ”) to evangelize “all people.” Let me push on this for one brief moment: Those of us who love the BCP are not a little shocked by the relentless denial in practice and theology and preaching of what is said so profoundly, accurately, biblically, and eloquently in the daily prayers of the same people.
This is all about words — saying what you mean and meaning what you say.