The selection of Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation raises all sorts of provocative questions.
Has Barack Obama betrayed the left by choosing someone so closely identified with the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage positions of the Christian Right? Does this mean Warren has succeeded Billy Graham as America’s pastor? Will the 2009 Inaugural Invocation be the first in American history delivered by a man with a goatee?
I think the most interesting question won’t be answered until Warren speaks on Jan. 20. To whom (Whom?) will Warren deliver the Inauguration’s opening prayer? Will his language be inclusive or exclusive? Will he pray to the sort of generic Creator God mentioned in the Declaration of Independence? Will he pray to the monotheistic and paternalistic God the Father? Or will he, as a conservative Christian pastor, pray in the name of Jesus?
Does it matter?
Billy Graham used inclusive language when he delivered the Inaugural Invocation in 1989. “0 God, we consecrate today George Herbert Walker Bush to the presidency of these United States,” he said. But four years later, Graham ended his invocation at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration this way: “I pray this in the name of the one that’s called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Amen.”
Do you remember anyone complaining? I don’t. It’s Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the 20th Century. How else would he pray?
Graham was too frail to deliver invocations for George W. Bush. At Bush’s 2005 Inauguration, Rev. Luis Leon’s prayer language used inclusive language, praying to a “most gracious and eternal God” and closing his prayer by saying, “We ask in Your most holy name.”
But at Bush’s first inauguration in 2001, the pastors who delivered the invocation and benediction created a bit of a stir when both of them prayed to Jesus. The invocation by Franklin Graham ended “in the name of the father, and of the son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.” The benediction by Kirbyjon Caldwell ended with the words, “‘We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ.”
Among the critics was Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Graham’s “particularistic and parochial language . . . excluded tens of millions of American Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists from his blessing . . . The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that Bush’s America is a Christian nation, and that non-Christians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens.”
So what will Rick Warren’s prayer say about Obama’s America? What should it say?