It was predictable and inevitable that President-elect Obama would have to placate his outraged GLBTQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersexed, Allies) base that was in an uproar over his choice of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver his opening inaugural prayer. His choice of Bishop Gene Robinson was also somewhat predictable given that Obama had met with Robinson on several occasions during the primary election as a meeting of two “firsts.”
First of all, his choice of Warren was a political move intended to enhance the image that he is really a centrist, not a leftist. Please note the word “image.” His balancing act with Robinson reveals much more about who he really is given Robinson’s service as the Great Divider of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. Here is the bishop speaking in an NPR interview:
“I have actually read back over the inaugural prayers of the last 30 or 40 years, and frankly I’ve been shocked at how aggressively Christian they are. … I want this to be a prayer to the god of our many understandings and a prayer that all people of faith can join me in.”
Let’s set aside for the moment Robinson’s rejection of Scriptural authority and integrity, his divorce and rejection of his wife and children, rending an entire denomination asunder, etc., to just focus on Robinson’s embarrassment of how “Christian” the inaugural prayers have been in recent decades. Imagine – a Christian bishop recoiling in horror over Christian prayers! What does that reveal about the real issue with Robinson, but more importantly with Obama?
Given the fact that Christianity has historically been recognized as the majority religion in the United States since our founding, it should not shock the good bishop that the inaugural prayers reflect that reality. Even given the increase of religious plurality and other religions in recent years, Christianity still receives the adherence of over 75 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Since George Washington spontaneously added, “So help me, God,” to the oath of the president in his first inauguration, recognition of our allegiance to, dependence upon and desire for blessings by God have been integral to the ceremony. Since the modern recording of inaugural prayers in 1937, all clergy have been Protestant or Catholic Christians, with eight rabbis participating through those years to recognize the deep, historic connection of those faiths.
From Father John Ryan of Catholic University concluding with “Through Christ, our Lord. Amen,” in FDR’s 1937 inauguration, to Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell’s “Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen,” for George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005, prayers have been broad, inclusive, benevolent and promoting tolerance.
For Bishop Robinson – who blasted Obama’s choice of Warren – that tolerance should apparently only extend to those who embrace the radical pluralism of the cultural, political, media and religious elite.
For him, Jesus is out, and Hari Krishna is in, as Obama has seen fit to diversify by including a Hindu priest in inaugural activities. (Hindus make up a whopping four-tenths of one percent of the population!)
We should be shocked at Robinson’s aggressively anti-Christian attitude, however not surprised. He also states that, “I believe in my heart that the church got it wrong about homosexuality. There is great excitement in my heart to be living in a time when the church is starting to get it right,” and “It’s important for any minority to see themselves represented in some way. … Whether it be a racial minority, an ethnic minority, or, in our case, a sexual minority – just seeing someone like you up front matters.”
His bold theft of a revered civil rights moment by declaring of his appearance at the Lincoln Memorial event, “It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the ‘I have a dream speech’ was delivered by Dr King …” is patently offensive to millions of black Christians for whom that speech represented an affirmation of justice and righteousness, not an embrace of sexual diversity.
What is puzzling is that in spite of the divisive and militantly offensive nature of Robinson’s person and role as well as his claim that his involvement proves the “new president’s commitment to being the president of all the people,” Rick Warren affirms his role by asserting that because of his choice of Robinson, “I applaud (Obama’s) desire to be the president of every citizen.”
In the end, as with every administration before his, Obama will be measured by what he does rather than what those participating in his inauguration represent or pray. What the American people must decide is far more important and is the same decision put before the people of Israel by Elijah at Mt. Carmel as well as every other prophet and apostle in Old and New Testaments: Choose which god we will serve and accept the consequences.
I pray the church will rid itself of the confusion represented by Robinson as well as clergy who seek security, prosperity, fame or power over a passionate and sacrificial loyalty to their calling to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
Patrick Henry understood this when he affirmed our foundations: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.”