FaithWorld

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.

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).”

GUESTVIEW: Obama inauguration: An interfaith invocation to answer the critics

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.

By Matthew Weiner

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).

No votes, no resolutions — a typical Anglican fudge?

Archbidhop of Canterbury Rowan Williams with African clergy at Lambeth Conference, 16 July 2008/Ho NewThe Lambeth Conference, the once-in-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops from around the globe, has come up with what it hopes will be the perfect solution for avoiding any mud-slinging.

No news could be said to be good news for the beleaguered church right now and the organisers of the Anglican summit in the English cathedral city of Canterbury may well have the Zulus to thank for that.

Anglicanism has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons as conservatives and liberals lock horns in an increasingly bitter war of words over the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. Up to a quarter of the bishops have stayed away from Lambeth in protest, a move that has shaken the Anglican Communion but, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Willliams says, will not lead to a schism.

Bishop Gene Robinson reflects on ever present threats

Bishop Gene Robinson preaches in London, 13 July 2008/Alessia PierdomenicoSitting in the sun-kissed grounds of a London church, U.S.Bishop Gene Robinson reflected in sombre mood on what it meant to be the first openly gay bishop in the 450-year history of the Anglican church.

Robinson, a divorced father of two, has received death threats and wore a bulletproof vest at his consecration back in 2003. Two uniformed police officers stood guard last month as he entered into a civil partnership with his longtime partner. He was heckled when preaching in London over the weekend.

“I take the threats very seriously, I have to,” he said. “But I am not interested in being a martyr, I just want to be a bishop.”

“I’ll be at Lambeth telling my story…” — Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson, 7 March 2004/Brian SnyderBishop Gene Robinson hasn’t been invited to the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference, which opens next week, but he’s sure to be in the news all the same. The openly gay Episcopal bishop, whose consecration in 2003 sparked a near-schism by traditionalist Anglicans from the Global South, plans to preach in churches, attend receptions and appear at a film premiere in Britain before, during and after Lambeth (details below). He also plans to blog at a site called Canterbury Tales from the Fringe. Extensive coverage seems guaranteed.

The absence of the Communion’s most critical conservatives should heighten Robinson’s media presence. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who led the rival GAFCON conference in Jerusalem last month, is boycotting the ten-yearly Lambeth Conference, as are four other traditionalist primates. So it seems unlikely that reporters there will hear headline-grabbing sound bites like accusations of apostasy against Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (as Akinola made at GAFCON) or charges that gay hit men might be ready to whack their critics (as Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Orombi said in a recent sermon).

Mike Conlon has blogged here about the effort to lower the Lambeth Conference’s profile, which could indirectly raise Robinson’s. The 1998 session was dominated by a divisive debate about homosexuality and voting on a resolution “rejecting homosexual practice as Lambeth 1998, 17 july 1998/Kieran Dohertyincompatible with Scripture.” That makes headlines. This time around, the organisers seem to have taken the wind out of the critics’ sails by drawing up an agenda with no voting rounds on it. “Everything they’ve suggested says there won’t be any voting of any kind at any point,” said Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference

Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.

Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 28 Oct 2005/Antony NjugunaWell, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.

Provocative Harper’s essay on Anglican split over gays

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola (with Bishop Martyn Minns), 5 May 2007/Jonathan ErnstThe June issue of “Harper’s Magazine” has a provocative essay by Garret Keizer called “Turning Away From Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church.”

The split in the global Anglican Communion over the consecration of the openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and the broader issue of the church’s take on sexual orientation and other social issues in general has been extensively reported on.

These fault lines are partly but far from exclusively geographical, dividing more traditional churches in the developing world — especially Africa — from those in the developed world. It threatens to undermine Anglican provinces like the Episcopal Church in the United States by creating competing authorities within them, one for a more liberal majority and another for a conservative minority.

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

Rowan’s response to Anglican crisis has something for everyone

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 25 Feb. 2005Reporters are often accused of “pack journalism” when they essentially write the same story from an event. So what should we call it when they write different reports about the same thing? That happened on Friday when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams issued his Advent message. This was the long-awaited statement of his views on the crisis tearing away at the Anglican Communion. It turned out to be a grab-bag with something for everyone.

Jim Naughton over at The Lead blog on Episcopal Café noticed the problem and highlighted it in a quick review of the stories about the Advent message. The list shows how the same text can spawn different articles. For example, our story’s lead went for a broad overview, the AP story stressed a U.S. angle and the British papers highlighted details of the Anglican disputes.

“Reporters had their hands full yesterday trying to figure out how to pull a “lede” out of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter about the state of the Anglican Communion,” Naughton wrote. “He dumped cold water on everybody, so how to determine which side was wetter?”

Episcopal Church likely to pass over lesbian candidate for bishop

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts SchoriIs there a straw that will break the Anglican Communion’s back? One move that, like the gay bishop consecration that started the current crisis, can trigger a landslide that finally pushes the Communion into schism? Religion reporters are now watching each and every conference and bishop’s election to see if it will hit the tripwire.

The next flashpoint in the Anglican Communion’s struggle with gay issues looked like it could come from Chicago, where the Episcopal (U.S. Anglican) diocese on November 10 will pick a new bishop from among eight candidates, one of them an openly gay woman. The Episcopal Church promised last month to “exercise restraint” in naming further homosexual prelates. In an interview this month, its Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (in picture at right) stressed there would be “no outcasts in this Church.

Judging from how things look now, the lesbian Rev. Tracey Lind, who is now the dean of Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral, may not be among the favorites vying for the post, Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear reported on Monday.