Hollywood Presbyterian Pastor Moomaw at Reagan’s inauguration.

Billy Graham took care of both prayers at the January 20, 1989 inaugural of George H. W. Bush, then again at Bill Clinton’s January 20, 1993 inauguration. 

Each time it hardly made the news. And so, it’s a troubling sign of the times for inaugural praying to be embroiled in controversy – with special interest groups vetoing prayer-givers who have offended them and politicians scurrying to dodge being the next target, setting dangerous precedents in the process.

Billy Graham at the Reagan White House

At George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration, there were two clergymen. The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell prayed in “the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ.” And the Rev. Franklin Graham urged Americans to “acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.”

“Why did Franklin Graham go this far?” asks Steven Waldman, former editor-in-chief of Beliefnet, writing in the Wall Street Journal. “To some degree he and Mr. Caldwell probably just prayed the way

they normally pray without fully realizing their special roles as the only clergy on the stage that day.”

George Bush praying with Billy Graham

Franklin admits he did it for personal reasons. “I knew stating that there is no other Name by which an individual can be saved grate on some ears and prick some hearts,” Franklin Graham wrote in his book, The Name. “However, as a minister of the Gospel, I was not there to stroke the egos of men. My role was to acknowledge the all powerful One and please Him.

“I want to please my Father in heaven no matter the cost.”

A Houston, Texas, prayer session for America

When he was criticized by some civil libertarians after the inaugural, "Graham wore their criticism as a badge of honor and used it to warn Christians about their marginalization, noted Waldman. 

“The response to the inaugural prayers is additional evidence of a disturbing trend in American life," wrote Graham. "Christians who use the name of Jesus and insist that He is ‘the one and only way to God’ are increasingly viewed by many in the liberal media as narrow-minded religious bigots who represent a threat to the rest of society."

“Against this tide Franklin Graham had bravely stood,” wrote Waldman, “achieving at least one small victory. The media attention span is short, but at least for a few days in early 2001, the name 'Jesus' was heard in public discourse as something other than a curse word.”

For his first inauguration, Barack Obama mostly seemed "focused on ideological rather than denominational diversity,” observed Waldman. “He chose Rick Warren, who opposes gay marriage, and then added Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire, to pray at a morning service."

Rick Warren offers the invocation at Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

“But at the high-profile, official event — the swearing in —" noted Waldman, there would be just Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, both Protestants. For his participation, Warren, a California Baptist megachurch pastor, was blasted by both the left and the right. Some on the left said he was unworthy. Some on the right slammed him for participating at all. Then after the event, he was lambasted for the content of his prayer.

“Pastor Rick Warren’s invocation at President Obama’s inauguration today has ignited a flurry of critiques for using words from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy texts as well as including the name of Jesus – in several languages,” observed Drew Zahn for WorldNetDaily.