Actually, I also agree with Fred Clark: there really shouldn’t be an official prayer on the program at all. Like the National Prayer Breakfast, these carefully orchestrated inaugural invocations and benedictions both muddle the government’s official nonsectarianism and—more importantly, at least to me—cheapen the idea of prayer.
But really, only a little. I was at the 2009 inauguration, and Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery’s prayers seemed out of place to me, but also pretty harmless. The people around me were hardly listening. Sure, the symbolism matters. But does it matter very much?
Do you remember who prayed at the last several inaugurations? Clinton called on Billy Graham both times. At Bush’s second inaugural, both prayers were given by nonwhite pastors from mainline denominations. You could make a lot out of either of these things. Or you could, you know, not. Especially if (like me) you had to look up the information because it wasn’t important enough to remember.
I’m no fan of Warren or many of his views, but I wasn’t appalled that Obama selected one of America’s most influential pastors to give one of two prayers at the 2009 event, even though he’s a white evangelical who’s opposed to same-sex marriage.It’s political window-dressing, not a seat at the policymaking table.
Despite the outcry, Warren gave the invocation. It was weird, and then it was over, and then Obama served a generally LGBT-friendly first term.
A wry congratulations to the LGBT community. You just chased an evangelical pastor widely known and celebrated for his anti-trafficking efforts out of the President’s inaugural for the thought-crime of believing (or once believing) that homosexual sex is sinful, and homosexual desires can be controlled or cultivated in other ways. In so doing, however, you proved not only that you (unlike most oppressed minorities) wield immense political power, but you also proved that the oppressed can also be oppressors, the bullied bullies, and you proved too that evangelicals are right to have concerns that their religious conscience freedoms are in danger.
Sure, if being excluded from churches and other social institutions, subject to ridicule and verbal abuse and violence, and generally treated as less than human were equivalent to not giving the benediction at a presidential inauguration. I can understand why gays and lesbians don’t want to see Obama honor Giglio with an official role, and I get that his past statements are harder for them to ignore than they are for me.
But I hope we’ll keep praying for our nation and our leaders in our homes and churches—in places where prayer is appropriate and crucial, not just a goofy bit of civil religion and political opportunity.