Five Women President Obama Should Invite to Give the Inaugural Benediction

No replacement has yet been named for Louie Giglio, the evangelical Christian pastor who days ago withdrew his acceptance of President Obama’s invitation to deliver the inaugural benediction. (Don’t miss Sarah Posner’s coverage of the Giglio “imbroglio” here.)

And as Ed Kilgore recently noted, the task of recruiting a replacement has been complicated by President Obama’s efforts to use the invite as a form of “outreach” to evangelical Christians—albeit, as Kilgore pointed out, a fairly “ineffective” form of outreach.

Of course, outreach across the partisan divide to evangelical Christians is made even more complicated at this moment in American religious history by a stark religious divide over homosexuality.

It’s a divide that has split some centuries-old religious bodies and has others in full-fledged, hard-edged retrenchment.

This is not the sort of thing that gets fixed on camera.

So perhaps it might be wise to use the inaugural benediction to shift focus for a moment away from gay-Christian gridlock. For as critical as our national conversation about LGBT equality is, it’s not the only critical conversation, nor are conservative evangelicals the only religious demographic that could use a little acknowledgment and reconciliation.

What if President Obama invited a woman leader from a non-Protestant faith tradition to deliver the inaugural benediction? Can you imagine the national conversations such a bold albeit entirely symbolic gesture would inspire?

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A few ideas:

Captain Pratima Dharm: A decorated Iraq veteran, Dharm is the first Hindu chaplain appointed by the US Army.

Rabbi Sharon Braus: Braus is founder of the progressive non-denominational IKAR Jewish community in Los Angeles and a respected Jewish voice on matters of social justice and spiritual revitalization.

Sanaa Nadim: Nadim (pictured above in official White House photo) is one of the first Muslim chaplains at an American university and among the first women to serve as a Muslim university chaplain.

Anapesi Kaili: A Mormon Tongan-American community organizer and founder of the HYPE (Helping Youth Pursue Emancipation) Movement for and by Pacific Island Youth. And she’s a layperson. Because it’s important to remember that laypeople know how to pray too.

Valarie Kaur: A Sikh filmmaker and multifaith activist, Kaur offered a national voice for her community after the fatal shooting of Sikh worshippers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Because before there was Newtown, Connecticut, there was Oak Creek.

Were any of these women to take her place behind the podium, we’d be talking pluralism, interfaith and multifaith organizing, race, religious authority, clerical and lay authority, orthodoxy, gender, race, colonialism, nationalism, Islamophobia, young people, access to education and economic opportunity, gun violence, militarism, and peace.

Can you imagine?

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.