The inaugural commitee has now announced that the inaugural festivities will also feature prayers from Rev. Gene Robinson, the episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, who is openly gay — and whose selection prompted a worldwide global schism within the Anglican church. In addition, Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman to head a major denominational body, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), will preach at the National Prayer Service the day after the inaugural.
The Obama folks told Politico that this was in the works before the controversy erupted over one of Obama’s other designated pray-ers, Rick Warren.
In any event, it sure seems that they’ve countered the selection of someone who infuriates the left with someone who infuriates the right. Balance, yes. Harmony, not so much.
Something else likely to get lost amidst the yelling: these three, plus the other inaugural speaker, Rev. Joseph Lowery, are all Protestants.
The last nine people to pray at inaugurations have been Protestant. But before the 1990s, Presidents typically made a point of including a Catholic and, often, a Jew. (Click here for my new archive of all the inaugural prayers)
Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inaugural included his personal pastor Rev. Donn Moomaw, but also Rev. Timothy S. Healy, a Catholic and Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, president, Hebrew Union College .
Richard Nixon in 1973 had a Baptist (Rev. E.V. Hill, a Jew (Rabbi Seymour Siegel), a Greek Orthodox (His Eminence Lakovos) and a Catholic (Archbishop Terence J. Cooke – Catholic).
Even back in 1949, when it was a much more Protestant nation than now, they mixed it up. Harry Truman’s inaugural included a protestant (Rev. Edward Hughes Pruden), a Jew (Rabbi Samuel Thurman of St. Louis) and a Catholic (Father Patick A. O’Boyle).
In fact, from 1937-1977, every single inauguration featured at least one non-Protestant.
Now that Protestants make up only 50% of the population they get 100% of the inaugural speakers. Politically, this is particularly odd given the importance of the Catholic vote to Obama.
I suspect the Obama folks got so tangled up in the culture war politcs — balancing on gay rights, gender and race issues — that they forgot, or downplayed, old fashioned religious base-covering.
Religious politics grows ever more complicated with each year, doesn’t it?