Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Gene Robinson, Rick Warren and The Inaugural Prayer Thicket

generobinson-1.jpgThe 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?

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posted January 12, 2009 at 4:42 pm

This nonbeliever has a Gordian-knot-type solution: Don’t have an invocation at all. Uninvite Warren, Robinson and the rest of them.
First, a prayer is inappropriate at what should strictly be a civic, secular ceremony.
Second, we don’t need “inspiration” or “hope” at this point. We’re in a downward spiral. We need somebody to yell at us. To chew us out and fire us up.
This is a job for Bobby Knight.

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posted January 12, 2009 at 6:30 pm

This is great! Some inaugurals back we wouldn’t have had what we used to call a Holy Roller, Woman Minister or a Gay Minister. Onward and upward President Obama!!!

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posted January 12, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Whether it was in the works before the Warren issue, PE Obama let the left know he did not forget those that brought him to the dance.
I especially like the openly gay pastor. And for all the religious right that will not ordain women, the choice of a woman is icing on the cake.
I read several stories about specific gay individuals that worked very hard for Obama, but were cancelling the parties planned for the 20th. I am very glad that the sting from Warren will be reduced.

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posted January 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

This is not so polarizing as framed here. Robinson plans to offer a non-sectarian prayer. He said he will not refer to the Bible, and that the prayer will not be exclusively Christian. His prayer will be inclusive of all people of faith… as well as everyone else. I expect it will be similar to the prayers for the president that he wrote for GQ, with an emphasis on poverty, social justice and tolerance.
He was chosen for this not because he is gay, but because he was (and continues to be) a strong supporter of the Obama campaign, and an advisor to the president-elect on gay issues.

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posted January 13, 2009 at 10:11 am

It’s likely a Catholic priest wasn’t invited because it would have created yet another firestorm from the pro-life movement and the politicizing the Eucharist crowd within the orthodox Catholic wing.
Obama appears, from all indications, to be a progressive Protestant. so having the head of the Disciples of Christ and the most well-known Episcopal bishop in America appear at a pre-Inauguration event is a no-brainer.

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Rob the Rev

posted January 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I sure wish that the Obama transition team had let this be known at the same time it released the choise of Warren as praying the invocation at the inaugural. I would have liked to see Bishop Robinson giving the inaugural invocation rather than Warren though. I also am disappointed that there is not more faith diversity that included non-Christian spiritual leaders as well, like a Muslim, Buddhist and or Hindu.
check out for resources

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Stewart Macfarlane

posted January 13, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Obama is a slippery game player with few principles, except to win.
Gene Robinson is one who has come to twist and destroy God’s word and Obama is happy to assist him.

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Your Name

posted January 13, 2009 at 7:49 pm

This invitation of Gene Robinson will probably prove to be one of Obama’s political backfires. Here’s why:

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Gerard Nadal

posted January 13, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The “Catholic” vote alluded to by Steven no longer exists. Catholics tend to vote in the same proportions as the rest of the country. Over 52% of Catholics voted for our new President. The only Catholics for whom his snub of our clergy would matter are those who voted against Obama, so no loss. The rest of Obama’s clergy picks represent a cross-section of his political constituency, with Warren being the olive branch to evangelicals.
Our Catholic Bishops and clergy represent the most potent opposition to the new President’s pro-choice orientation. Having invited one would have cost him nothing and shown Obama to be above such pettiness. I suppose the calculation was that pro-choice Catholics wouldn’t care much.

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posted January 13, 2009 at 10:32 pm

What I can not understand, is how he can say he is not going to pray a Christian Prayer. What religion is he again???? He (Robinson) says he will pray to the “God of our many understandings”. When we stand for nothing we will believe everything. That’s why we must stand for truth the Bible and can’t continue to compromise everything we believe!!!!!

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Alice C. Linsley

posted January 14, 2009 at 4:58 am

Gene is ever eager to be in the limelight. He must be thrilled!
I note that the news release came from New Hampshire, not Obama’s press people.
Good report, Steven! Thanks.

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Ellsworth D. Ware, III, Esq.

posted January 14, 2009 at 8:27 am

President-elect Obama could have avoided the sturm-and-drang over this matter by inviting one of the still-active ministers who participated in the civil rights movement in the South to do the opening prayer. What better symbol for where he and this country has come from and may be capable of going in the future?

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Your Name

posted January 15, 2009 at 9:33 am

This is beyond sad. Like Obama, Robinson is a post Christian pagan. Both un-fathered. Let’s pray that what Robinson’s elevation to bishop has done to Anglicanism, Obama’s presidency doesn’t do to America.

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John Lofton, Recovering Republican

posted January 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Allowing the “openly gay” V. Gene Robinson to participate in Obama’s Inaugural activities is a blatant violation of “Lofton’s Law #28″ which is: “Never, ever allow to participate, in any way, in any Presidential Inauguration, any man (?) whose first name is ‘Vicki.’” A boy named “Sue?” No problem. But, a man (?) named “Vicki”? No way — never!
John Lofton, Editor
Recovering Republican

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Your Name

posted January 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Imagine the spirit that will be released during Robinson’s prayer…this will be the introduction to Sodom & Gomorrah!

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Katie R.

posted January 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm

So, let me post a prayer (pre-pardon any typos :^), in hopes of finding agreement that will release power from heaven, even as Jesus taught us in Matthew 16.19 and 18.18:
“Father God, our Father in heaven, Your Name is glorious and will always be so. You do not change, therefore we have hope. We long for Your Kingdom to come–righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit over all the earth. We long for Your will to be done in our nation, in all nations, in all hearts, as it is in heaven. Thank You that this is Your desire first, and You are growing it in us…
“We ask You to have mercy on America unto repentance. Turn our hearts away from everything unclean and spiritually stinky. Let us experience these things as they really are in Your light of day, not as masked by the selfish sufferings and greedy desires of our flesh. Open our eyes to Your goodness, in all the richness that You are to us in Christ. Grant us all grace to surrender our lives to You, for You alone are worthy to be crowned King in each heart…
“Father, we commit our nation into Your hands. We ask for righteousness and truth to be exalted in America, in President Bush as he leaves the presidency, in President-elect Obama as he takes it up, and in every soul. We need You, gracious Savior. Father, I ask for Your saints everywhere to be stirred to seek Your heart, seek Your face, and determine to agree with You no matter what…
“Father, forgive us for dishonoring You in so many ways, as a nation, and the Church in this nation. Keep us from pointing fingers, but grant us humility to bow beneath Your mighty hand and resist the devil. We know You love us, and we accept Your chastening that will work the character of Christ in us. He is meek and lowly of heart, this King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who came as a servant to pour out His life for His enemies…
“Lord Jesus, for the joy set before You, You endured shame, betrayal, rejection, and excruciating death. We are that joy; sinners’ lives saved from hell and wrath are Your joy. As Christians, we rejoice that for love’s sake and because of our hopeless sinfulness, You were crucified for us, buried for us, raised for us, and lifted into the heavenlies for us. Your Word declares to us, “All things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” This is too amazing, and we wouldn’t dare say it if You hadn’t said it first…
“Thank You for the Spirit of grace upon Your people. Keep our hearts in Your peace. We resist, renounce, and rebuke the spirit of fear, and send it away in Jesus’ Name, every unclean fear, leaving only the holy and clean fear of God which brings to many blessings. We welcome Your Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind, the mind of Christ…
“Father, we agree in Jesus’ Name to rebuke the spirits of mammon and greed and “never enough” that drive so many of us; these spirits denigrate Your authority, Your character, Your generous heart. We repent of ever agreeing with them, for You are Lord, You are good, and You are all we need…
“Lord our God, we ask You to sweep America clean of every unclean spirit, starting in the hearts of Your people. Let us grow in agreement with You, that our lives might align with Your purposes. We bless our enemies, in Jesus’ Name. We are blessed because we put our trust in You, even unto death. Thank You for that. Thank You for all things. Thank You for working in and through Your people, that we are growing into what You call us: “the fullness of Him who fills all in all”. Thank You for Your Spirit continually teaching us to love You, to love one another, and to love all people, that Jesus might be revealed, that the Father might be revealed, in all purity, holiness, sanctity of the truth: Your Word is Truth. Hallelujah!”

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david lee

posted January 16, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Mr. Waldman,
Respectfully, the ordination of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire no more “…prompted a worldwide global schism within the Anglican church.” than did the ordination of the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion, the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, as Bishop of Massachusetts; or for that matter the ordination of 11 women as priests by the Episcopal Church USA in 1974, which also led some congregations to break with ECUSA and realign.
The so-called “schism” was caused by self-styled “traditionalists” within ECUSA in collusion with right-wing evangelical protestants. They were then “legitimized” by SOME archbishops in SOME countries in Africa who chose to overstep their legal (that’s church law), recognized boundaries by extending their reach in the the Archbishopric of the Episcopal Church in the USA. This was all for the gain of political and media capital; and somewhat for more financial capital – the value of the property which some of these breakaway churches and diocese wish to take with them – and which was held in trust by them for the ECUSA – is substantial.
It may help to point out that there is no monolithic “Anglican Church”. The body of which you attempt to speak is The Anglican Communion, which is a global organization of 44 distinct and separate churches which are held to be in “full communion” with The Church of England and it primate, The Archbishop of Canterbury. Each of these churches is independent, with each having its’ own constitution, liturgy, polity, and property.
Please stop laying the burden of this unfortunate and complex situation on the shoulders of Bishop Robinson. He was duly and properly elected by the members of the Dioces of New Hampshire. He has done nothing wrong.

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david lee

posted January 16, 2009 at 7:21 pm

perhaps we should pray:
“Thy Will Be Done”
and leave it at that.

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posted January 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I don’t really understand the “boy named Sue” comment above. Gene Robinson is gay, not transgendered. Does anyone understand this comment? It seems ill-informed to me.

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Your Name

posted January 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I’m sorry to say that I missed hearing both Bishop Robinson and the Rev. Rick Warren. Both men are children of God as we all are. There are alot of ideas on why people are gay and there is only one that truly knows why and no one should second guess the creator. God made everything good! We need to love each other and judge not. We also need to forgive our neighbor as our God also forgives us. God bless you and our country!

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posted January 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Both Archibishop Wuerl (Prayer for the Nation) and Auxiliary Bishop Gonzalez (Epistle-Romans 12:9-13, 18) of Washington, DC,participated in the Inaugural Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral.

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posted June 14, 2010 at 8:26 am

If I had a dollar for every time I came here! Incredible read.

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