THAT WAS a nice save by President-elect Obama to invite Gene Robinson, the openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal bishop, to give a prayer at the pre-inauguration celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Obama riled many people, including me, by inviting mega-church pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. Warren endorsed the successful California ballot measure to ban gay marriage, and suggests that evangelicals who believe life begins at conception consider abortion a holocaust. "I take the Obama people at their word that my invitation was in the works for awhile, along with Warren's," Robinson said in a telephone interview this week. "But the person who called me did say, 'We understand there are people in the gay community who were stung and hurt (by the Warren invitation) and they said they hoped this was a step in the right direction.' "
It is more than a step. Though it was secondary news, it was a leap beyond Robinson's sexual orientation. Robinson will not deliver an exclusively Christian prayer, such as in 2001 when Franklin Graham filled in for his father, Billy, to pray for the presidency of George W. Bush "in the name of the Father and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ." Graham also gave the sermon at the national prayer service the next day, extolling "Christ, whom the Bible speaks of as the source of all wisdom."
Calling such prayers "aggressively Christian," Robinson asked, "My God, what does a Jew, a Muslim, a Sikh, or a Hindu think when they hear those prayers?" He said his prayer will refer to "the God of our many understandings."
As if the Obama team is following that script, the Associated Press reported this week that Jewish and Muslim prayers will be offered at the national prayer service that ends the festivities next Wednesday. The Muslim prayer will be delivered by Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America.
That is the way it should be after a seminal election in which Obama won with the most brilliant rainbow of voters in history, winning even though he lost among white Americans by 12 percentage points.
But in no small surprise, Robinson, who endorsed Obama in 2007, has been deluged by over 200 angry e-mails from people who read about his plans for an inclusive prayer. "One e-mail said I was shirking my responsibility as a Christian and a bishop because I had the chance to save countless millions of people from everlasting burning in hell," Robinson said. "As if the mere mention of Jesus saves them."
At least in this case, Obama saves - his inaugural hide.
While Robinson still believes the Warren choice was a mistake, he said he has a fresh appreciation for the complexities Obama faces. "He now has to be a lion tamer," Robinson said. "He will have his hands full keeping everyone on their perches."
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