It seems that Rev. Rick Warren of the famed Saddleback Church is taking some criticism over being appointed to offer public prayer at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The LGBT wing of America is furious because he supported California’s Proposition 8 (which passed), amending the state’s constitution to define marriage as one male/one female. They think that because they worked so hard to get Obama elected, only pro-gay clergy should have been invited.
Others fear that Rev. Warren may utter the name of the Trinity, or actually pray in the name of Jesus. This would “offend” all the non-Trinitarians (such as Muslims, Unitarians, Mormons, and Jews). Atheist Michael Newdow is suing to remove all religious references from governmental ceremonies (he also initiated legal actions to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency).
Well, call me naïve, but I’m going to side with the atheist on this one. I have always been uncomfortable with prayer at civic occasions. Obviously the people who serve in our government need prayer. But civic prayer seems to imply that America is at its essence a Christian nation, that is, not only whose population is majority Christian, but a country founded on Christianity. I have seen many “civic” prayers, and they all seem to be led by Christians. But civic prayer etiquette requires that they be generic and inoffensive—no “Jesus” references allowed. Some even consider it in bad taste to use the patriarchal and oppressive masculine names like “Father” or “Lord” for God.
Would those who like Christian ministers praying in public for government be just as happy with a rabbi, imam, Hindu priest, or Unitarian? Do the Wiccans and Druids in America get a shot at public prayer?
My preference would be to let civic occasions be civic. Let the president-elect implore all religious groups in the country to pray for him at their assemblies. And when the Christians pray, they can let the name of Jesus ring out as the one Gatekeeper with access to the Father, Lord of the universe.
Straight talk. Real hope.