Obama, the inaugural prayer and U.S. culture war
President-elect Barack Obama hopes to reach across the political divide, but the uproar over the preachers at his inauguration celebrations show just how wide some of those divisions are in America, our Dallas correspondent Ed Stoddard writes in a pre-inaugural analysis.
(Photo: Obama in Philadelphia at the start of his train voyage to Washington, 17 Jan 2009/Brian Snyder)
Some gay rights activists have expressed anger at Obama’s choice of California pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation prayer at his inauguration on Tuesday because of Warren’s opposition to gay marriage. And some conservatives are up in arms over openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson’s role in an earlier part of the celebrations.
But political analysts and activists say many Americans appear weary of the “culture war” battles over issues like gay marriage, and Obama may find some safe ground in the middle.
Read Stoddard’s analysis in full here.
“Obama would be more in keeping with his own sense of diversity if he had the first ever interfaith invocation. Instead of a single speaker from a single religion, why not have many from a diversity of faiths and political positions? Instead of a liberal Christian or an evangelical Christian, he could have a conservative Christian, a liberal Jew, and a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Hindu (or any such combination).”
Among the other articles published these days about prayer at the inauguration, Steven Waldman’s “Why The Inaugural Prayers Have Become Less Inclusive Over Time” on Beliefnet stands out for showing that these ceremonies have become less religiously inclusive over time even though American society has become more diverse:
“Including the two prayers at Barack Obama’s inaugural, 12 prayers will have been delivered at inaugurations since 1989. All of them will have been delivered by Protestants. By contrast, in the previous 48 years, fewer than half of the prayers were offered by Protestants. Every president prior to George H.W. Bush had a Catholic and more than half also had a Jewish or Greek Orthodox clergyman…”
“Barack Obama mostly seems focused on ideological rather than denominational diversity. 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. He’s also reportedly going to have a full range of faiths–including Muslims and Jews–at the prayer service the next day. But at the high-profile, official event–the swearing in–there will be just Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery, both Protestants…”
“As Messrs. Warren and Lowery take the inaugural stage next week, they’ll be trying to achieve two different missions. They are Christian ministers and need to stay true to their faith. But they are the only clergy on the podium and therefore must represent all Americans. If they can’t restore the proper balance that existed before 2001, then their prayers will–and should–increase the drumbeat to get rid of inaugural prayers entirely.”
What do you think about the debate over the invocation? What does it say about the role of religion in U.S. politics? Has this prayer become a political and religious football that should be abolished?