Gene Robinson, Gay Episcopal Priest, Will Give an Inaugural Prayer
The presidential inauguration will be a 4 day event that includes a day of community service on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The kick-off is this Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial: a “We are One” ceremony. And the invocation for that event will be given by Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson, who is married legally to his partner under NH law, is the first openly gay Episcopal bishop (and, therefore, a lightning rod of controversy for the global Anglican communion of which the Episcopal Church, USA is a part). Robinson will also attend the inauguration itself on Tues. I hope God’s providence, if not any human agents, seat him next to Rev. Rick Warren, the anti-gay mega-church pastor who will stiill be giving the inauguration ceremony’s invocation. I do know that a gay couple will be seated on the dais near Warren, so maybe Obama’s attempt to be inclusive is NOT just pandering to the Religious Right.
Other clergy involved include: Reverend Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will preach the sermon on the National Day of Prayer service held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday 21 January, the day after the inauguration. This service is unofficial, but traditional since the days of George Washington.
The benediction at the end of Tuesday’s swearing -in ceremony will be delivered by Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowry, a black United Methodist minister and a giant of the Civil Rights movement (who is also a champion of gay rights in both church and society).
Also an atheist group has sued to keep all religious references out of the oath/affirmation of office itself. The Constitution prescribes an oath or affirmation (for those with religious objections to swearing oaths) with certain words–and no reference to God is included. But, at the first inauguration, Pres. George Washington spontaneously added, “So help me God.” The tradition of concluding these words has stuck–so much so that many Americans believe they are part of the oath of office itself. The Supreme Cout A U.S. District Court ruled that it was up to Obama whether or not to include these words. Nothing in the Constitution either demands or prohibits them. Well, Obama has asked Chief Justice Roberts to include them, so that’s that.
(My objection is to Christians taking oaths at all, in direct opposition to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. I think just substituting the word “affirm,” is semantics: It’s still an oath, still more than simply “yes” or “no.” But that’s just one reason why I will never be president! One of many!)
I still would not have given Rick Warren so prominent a role in the inauguration. But I like the fact that Obama is trying to get past the culture wars. A less divided country while we face so many problems would surely be helpful.
But why only Christian clergy? Ours is a very diverse and pluralistic culture. The whole world will be watching this event (far more than with most U.S. political events!) and showcasing rabbis (e.g. Rabbi Michael Lerner, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, or Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb–all active in promoting Middle East peace), imams or other Islamic clerics (e.g., Rabia Terri Harris; Chaplain Bilal Ansai of the Muslim Chaplains Association); Buddhist clerics, etc. Even within the Christian faith, the clergy represented are all Protestant. I would think showcasing Catholic and/or Orthodox priests or heirarchs would be very desirable.
More diverse a portrait than the world has seen for the last 8 years? Definitely. Enough diversity represented for the world context we face? Definitely not.
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