Kick-off Prayer


New Hampshire’s Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson kicked off the inaugural festivities, religion-wise, with a nice liberal prayer to the “God of our many understandings,” and why not? “In God We Trust,” the national motto, allows all theists to repose their trust just that way–and if you include all other Gods, including the God of Science and the God of Self, well, just about everybody else too. Anyway Robinson is an Episcopal bishop, which is to say he represents the most establishmentarian–we preside, we include–of all American denominations.
My favorite line was: “Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.” This harks back to George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Nice to have the sentiment expressed by an, ah, Anglican hierarch looking out at the Washington Monument.
On the other hand, was it quite appropriate for a white man, and a Southerner (Kentucky-born) to boot, to pray:

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

It seemed pretty smart to have Robinson–who made his support for Obama public before the New Hampshire primary–do his stuff at this opening convocation of, one might say, Obama’s base. He would be prominent, but in such a way that conservative religious folks–from the dais to the screen–wouldn’t feel that a gay bishop was being inflicted on them at the National Prayer Service. Yet in line with Obama’s apparent gift for religious controversy, Robinson’s appearance did not go smoothly: It neither was entirely heard by those on the mall nor was it included in the HBO broadcast of the Barackstock concert that followed. Coincidence? Some people don’t think so. Most won’t care.