Obama, the inaugural prayer and U.S. culture war

By Reuters Staff
January 17, 2009

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.

In a FaithWorld FaithWorld guest contribution, Matthew Weiner of the Interfaith Center of New York writes:

“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?


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What happed to the separation of church and state? Prayers are not necessary to the inauguration process, I say leave them out all together!

Posted by Marla | Report as abusive

who was that african american preacher praying after Obamas inauguration speech? said something about brown stick around, yellow being mellow….and white brace for what is right? Now, all the football players and such that have been nailed for racial comments, somebody need to say something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by hello? pot? kettle? what?!?! | Report as abusive

As they say, ignorance and arrogance is bliss. The fruit of Rev. Joseph Lowery’s prayer is bare. Faith to piss off many supporters…mission accomplished.Shouldn’t the prayer be intended to support to the tune of a well being nation? Joseph Lowery’s doesn’t believe in harmony and peace between races, pay back is sour…yet he believes is sweet. It’s obvious that he thinks other races do not possess the necessary skill and knowledge to perform adequately. Guess what Joseph Lowery’s is suffering from? You got it! An inferiority complex.He will never feel good enough, therefore, he bashes and discrimates others for their race.Martin Luther King represented honor and respect. Shouldn’t Joseph understand the meaning to forgive by now? I guess not with such a victorious inferiority complex he has set by example.He has insulted Obama’s white Mommy, and all other races. Instead of working on peace and harmony between races, he did the opposite.Joseph is sending me the message that various races are not a human beings but a color.Thank God he isn’t my grandpa…I’d be embrassed even at his age of 87. I guess I have to forgive him…because his heart is filled with torment and hate.As for Joseph Lowery….”Les gens qu’on honore ne sont que des fripons qui ont eu le bonheur de n’e” tre pas pris en flagrant de¤ lit. Respected people are only rascals who have had the good fortune not to be caught in the act.”In conclusion, Thomas Traherne once said,”Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven: see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”

Posted by Sara | Report as abusive

My forefathers came to America in the 1600′s and through their sacrifices, We can Today all be free. Let us not forget that our Country was firmly founded on the Principles and Beliefs stated that we can still say that, IN GOD WE TRUST! We must not forget to whom we trust and whom we are dependent on. Our Beautiful Land of the Free! Home of the Brave! Is a Blessing from God! Let us NOT Continue to Turn our BACK to Him. I ask that we continue to Praise Him in Prayer, and to respect all that come to Our Great Land and Share our Freedom, so that they may find Peace. We MUST Continue to put our TRUST in God as our Forefathers did, and Study His Word, please start with 2 Chronicles 7:14, and may God continue to Bless America. We must Keep our President and all our leaders in Prayer, Daily. May God Bless you and Keep you! Love to Be an American, now share that Love with all you meet!

Posted by Joe Alan Ricks | Report as abusive