The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.
The choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, and the drama surrounding it, was President-elect Barack Obama’s latest carefully planned move to prove that he is not a far out liberal, but instead mainstream. Obama is good at the art of compromise, but also at improvisation. The liberal outcry that followed, and his addition of the openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to join the party, continues to demonstrate his skill as political tai chi master. (Photo: Obama and Warren at Saddleback Church,17 Aug 2008/Mark Avery)
But 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).
Interfaith as it has developed over the last century is often misunderstood. It does not mean many religious groups merging into a kind of single religion or religious Esperanto. Nor does it mean different religions holding hands in a kumbaya moment. Instead, good interfaith takes place when different religious traditions offer their own unique perspectives, one after another, in a shared public space. It allows people to remain who they are, amidst others who do the same.
Interfaith events hold the basic symbolic value of bringing everyone together, and this upcoming situation clearly calls for such a strategy. In fact it does so in Obama fashion far more than his current choice of a single conservative voice, no matter what his pragmatic arguments are.