Inauguration: An Evangelical And A Gay Bishop—What’s Missing?

At a recent holiday party, one of our guests, congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, asked me what I thought about Barack Obama’s decision to ask Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation.

I answered, “Jan, I think it’s the wrong call.” She broke in, “to tell you the truth this decision breaks my heart. And many people have also told me the same thing.”

Congresswoman Schakowsky’s words sum it up. To choose Rick Warren is a denial of the pain of many LGBT people who helped Barack Obama to get elected.

The angst around the selection of Rick Warren is not about political correctness; it’s not about excluding homophobic people; it’s not about being inclusive of different points of view—It is about lancing unhealed wounds.

It’s all about inaugural symbols.

The theologian Paul Tillich said that symbols are powerful because they are concrete (Rick Warren praying at the inauguration) while also pointing to a larger truth (Rick Warren’s statements on lesbians and gays).

The choice of Rick Warren fails to address the unhealed wounds of the LGBT community. Who he is and where his message points does not get the deeper pain of our LGBT sisters and brothers.

Suddenly, the news broke that President-elect Obama has asked the openly gay Episcopal Bishop from New Hamphsire, Eugene Robinson to say the opening prayer at an inaugural event on Sunday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

This is not only a brilliant political move but I believe a reflection of Barack Obama’s deepest conviction that we are all interdependent and interrelated.

Some argue that it was only after feeling the heat from the left that Obama’s team decided to offer the invitation. But in a recent New York Times article Bishop Robinson said he believed the invitation had been under consideration for some time.

Added to the selection of Sharon E. Watkins of the Disciples of Christ denomination to preach at the inaugural breakfast and civil rights leader, Rev. Joseph Lowery who will offer the inaugural benediction, Bishop Robinson’s inclusion represents the last piece in the puzzle of diversity.

Or does it?

Here is the problem. They are all Christians.

Is this a Christian nation? Is this a Christian world?

The power of a symbol is the power to create a new version of reality. It’s not only the LBGT community, or women, or African Americans who need healing.

At this very moment the carnage in the Middle East continues. How about an inaugural symbol that points to healing in the Middle East? Is this a missed opportunity?

What if the Obama transition team decided to use the invocation in inauguration as an opportunity for a shared prayer? What if the invocation to this inauguration was shared by a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam. Imagine how powerful it would have been had the very first prayer of this administration to be jointly offered by a rabbi and an imam—saying prayers each out of their different traditions while standing before the world in unity.

The “yes we can” spirit affirms a deeper unity amidst our diversity. The “yes we can” spirit includes women, African Americans and evangelicals. It includes the LBGT community, all parties in the Middle East, includes Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, employed and unemployed—the list is endless.

What if the opening prayer at the inauguration were a call to recognize that we are all a part of each other in the deepest and most profound way? What if the invocation to the inauguration served as a profound reminder that unless we learn to live together, everything will fall apart.

It is true that the majority of religious devotees in America identify themselves as Christians. But in the global community religious pluralism is the rule rather than the exception.

Symbols in public observances are powerful. Isn’t it time we acknowledged in our own country what is true in our world?

I agree with our new president—Yes we can.

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