Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Rick Warren’s Deft Invocation

In one of the most anticipated invocations ever, the controversial pastor managed to offer a prayer that was broadly inclusive yet true to his faith. There many other interesting bits worthy of detaild fisking

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Let Us Pray:Almighty God, Our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of You alone. It all comes from You, it all belongs to You, it all exists for Your glory. History is your story.

–This is central theme of Purpose Driven Life, his bestselling book. It’s about God, not you. “History is your story” is an understated way of reminding believers that God is in charge.

The Scripture tells us, ‘Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’

–Interestingly, this is the English translation of the Sh’ma, the most important prayer of the Jewish faith. It’s a nice, subtle welcome to Jews.


and You are the compassionate and merciful one and You are loving to everyone You have made.The phrase “compassionate and merciful” is highly evocative of Muslim prayers.

Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 43rd time, we celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African Immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

–I happened to be standing on the mall in a group of mostly African Americans, who were responding to Warren throughout with yells of “tell it” “that’s right”. They erupted at the cloud of witnesses line. This is a reference to a passage in Hebrews about those who had hope in the years before Jesus and finally saw that hope finally fulfilled through Christ. The idea of hope deferred, of course, could not be more resonant than at this inauguration, and in a passage about the first African American president. For those who assumed Warren was a right winger, this passage may have surprised and reassured.


Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet and every one of our freely elected leaders.Help us oh God, to remember that we are Americans. United not by race or religion or by blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

–His statement that it is not religion that defines us as Americans runs slightly counter to the views of many evangelical leaders who argue that our “Christian heritage” is a defining characteristic of national identity.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

–In the era of the Founding Fathers, leaders routinely called on Americans to confess their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. In recent years, prayers at public events have had more of a “God bless America” feel, simply assuming that we’re worthy of God’s favor. Warren’s prayer was more confessional than most recent ones. Warren extended no explicit olive branch to gay Americans but we’re left to wonder whether he was speaking in part of the gay marriage controversy when he asked for forgiveness “when we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect they deserve.”


And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches and civility in our attitudes–even when we differ.

–A return to a Warren theme. Civility.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations, and all people will stand accountable before You. We now commit our new president and his wife Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life–Yeshua, Esa, Jesus, Jesus–who taught us to pray:

—Warren prayed in Jesus’s name (or names), which should please his evangelical flock. (Four Jesus names!) But he did it in a non-exclusionary way. He talked about how Jesus changed HIS life, not how he must change the lives of other Americans. This stands in stark contrast to the 2001 prayer by Franklin Graham, who called on Americans to acknowledge Christ alone as savior and God.


Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

—Because he closed with the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps the most familiar prayer in the English language, hundreds of thousands of people on the Mall reverently recited these words together with Warren, creating a powerful sense of unity among many attending. It’s a Christian prayer, but ironically because it was, according to the Bible, spoken by Jesus, it doesn’t mention Jesus and therefore may seem more universal.


Cross-posted with The Wall Street Journal Online

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posted January 20, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I agree with Rick Warren on very little theologically or socially, am hurt by his attitude toward the gay community and was appalled to learn he’d been chosen to give the Inaugural invocation. But I have to say he did a masterful job in crafting this prayer. I know some non-Christians were annoyed about his use of the Lord’s Prayer, but the peitions, taken on their own terms, are not “Christian” petitions. Warren had to walk a minefield between inclusion and integrity of belief; he did about as well as one might expect, especially given his own rhetorical style and theology. And the fact that Evangelicals, non-Evangelicals and non-Christians are peeved at him is an indication that he “got it close to right.”

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posted January 20, 2009 at 8:46 pm

“in a passage about the first African American president. For those who assumed Warren was a right winger, this passage may have surprised and reassured”
I really don’t understand. Are you saying that “right winger” is equivelant to racist?

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The Dissident

posted January 20, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Given this man’s reputation, I guess we’re all just lucky he didn’t open his mouth and let loose with a string of obscenities…

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posted January 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Would it be crass to say that Rick Warren won the battle of the invocations? Probably. He is way too much a gentleman to think in that manner. To get hundred of thousands praying in unison. It must have been awesome to be there.
He certainly silenced some but not all of the shrill cries of “Hateful”, “Bigot”, and “Homophobe.”

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posted January 21, 2009 at 12:56 am

After the sh’ma, Warren used the words “You are the compassionate and merciful one”, which are the conventional Muslim attributes for Allah. Two elegant allusions in one sentence.
Ending with the Lord’s prayer — which after all is a Jewish prayer — avoided having to use the evangelical phrase “We pray all this in the name of Jesus”.
So it was extremely inclusive, even brilliant that way. Unfortunately, he had to use that fancy footwork and was not able to say outright that he was praying to a universal God of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

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Your Name

posted January 21, 2009 at 9:34 am

“and You are the compassionate and merciful one and You are loving to everyone You have made.”
A hand reaching out to Muslims who use this language from the Koran in prayer?

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Your Name

posted January 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

“to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.”
In what way is Warren committed to either for God’s gay and lesbian children?
Such blatant hypocrisy/lying.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Being an evangelical, I am a little confused as to the comment that Warren’s quote from Hebrews 12 may surprise people who thought he was a “right winger.” First what does “right winger” mean? Second, why does quoting a scripture common to most evangelicals present a surprise to non-evangelicals? Evangelicals are so often painted with such wide and ignorant brushes that it surprises me how distorted the caricatures have become.

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Your Name

posted January 21, 2009 at 1:19 pm

“Would it be crass to say that Rick Warren won the battle of the invocations?”
No, robroy, not “crass”, just incorrect.
“To get hundred of thousands praying in unison.”
Not such a difficult thing. Pretty much anywhere in America, all you have to do is say, “Let’s recite the Lord’s Prayer” and 9 times out of 10, you’re going to get a roomfull (or a stadiumfull – yes, I’ve seen it done in a football huddle of all places, and in sports dressing rooms, and in theatre rehearsal halls, etc.) of people acquiescing to the request. Those who aren’t christian merely keep their mouths shut, for the most part. Sadly.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I simply look forward to seeing how actions are taken to reveal the full intentions of the prayer’s words.

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Your Name

posted January 21, 2009 at 1:21 pm

“You are the compassionate and merciful one and You are loving to everyone You have made”
True, God is. Too bad Warren isn’t.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Thank you for these insightful annotations! This is exactly what I was hoping to find online today.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 5:58 pm

As a “non believer” described by President Obama, Warren’s invocation went in one ear and out the other. I don’t think people shelled out lots of money to hear Rick Warren pray. They came out because of Obama, whether its because he’s the first African-American president or just because he stands for a real break in the past, I know I didn’t wake up and think ooh Rick Warren, gotta go down. The US was founded on republican ideals of liberty, freedom, self-determination. The world watched the inauguration because of this and what Obama represents. Lots of times we get bogged down in quagmire over minor details, and Warren was a minor detail that was balanced off by Gene Robinson and Joseph Lowry, the first gay reverend at the top of the Episcopal church and a Civil Rights Era icon that served along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., respectively.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Warren’s nod to Muslims was so subtle we (including my dear Muslim friend) had to be told about it. I was willing to grant him acknowledgment of “the one who changed my life,” but when he started with the “Lord’s prayer,” this Presbyterian screamed aloud in protest. It was hugely offensive to use such a widely recognized prayer of a single portion of America’s faith community. Getting thousands praying it together is exactly what’s wrong with it in an inaugural setting: It makes each listener decide whether to be in or out. And it makes it a magic formula, a set of words supposed to have greater power than others.
BTW, very sly scheduling and a technical glitch that is at the least questionable robbed the balancing of Bp Robinson’s prayer. Is it here on beliefnet?

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posted January 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I think that Warren’s carefully constructed prayer was particularly insensitive to Jewish concerns in two ways: (1) the use of the Shema (Judaism’s unique affirmation of one God) was inappropriate in the midst of a Christian prayer; and (2) the use of the Hebrew version of Jesus’ name– Yeshua– is rarely used by Jews but is often used by Messianics who are seen by the normative Jewish community as attempting to mislead those they seek to convert by inaccurately claiming to be Jewish.

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posted January 22, 2009 at 10:59 am

If Rick was a true example of a “Christian” I think there would be NO Christians. Would think it might be hard to reconcile one’s belief in a JC, Savior etc. and still spout your non-acceptiance of a large part of His or Her creation…homosexuals. He is just another guy playing on people’s fears and getting paid BIG BUCKS for it. Don’t expect he is living in the slums.
As to his invocation…what a waste of hot air. Nothing spectacular.

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posted January 23, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Thank you, Reverand Warren for your thoughtful, beautiful prayer. May we all be praying for our new leaders, to make the right decisions. May God bless us and keep us in these very distressed times, in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Your Name

posted January 24, 2009 at 9:41 am

In reading these comments to the article, one thing that strikes me is that, for the majority of those posting, it is all about them, their prejudices and the filter they make when viewing the world.
Most people who despise Christians of any type were already dismissive of the words of Rev. Warren. Those who were prejudiced by a political leaning, and who have come to view evangelicals as a political force rather than a moral choice, also dismissed him.
As for myself, I give him points for trying in what was, obviously from the comments here, an unwinnable situation. A lot of commenters were predisposed to be dismissive or to be antagonistic. A lot of these folks are the one’s who most want to claim the “change” mantra as their own – but for them, “change” just means forcing their worldview on others, just as others had been forced on them.
Luckily, President Obama’s view of change is different – he is in search of a consensus, of building a platform which encompasses multiple viewpoints and acknowledges all of them as valid. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely most of his supporters will learn to adopt and accept that style. This failure will be the cause of the return to politics as usual.

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