Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, has been asked to give the invocation at the first official inaugural activity, a welcome event with the president-elect on Sunday afternoon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Robinson had been critical of president-elect Barack Obama for asking Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who encouraged voters to overturn same-sex marriage in California, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.
Episcopal Cafe has an e-mail from Robinson:
"I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization, praised the choice:
“Bishop Robinson models what prayer should be—spiritual reflection put into action for justice,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “It is encouraging that the president-elect has chosen this spiritual hero for all Americans to lead the nation in prayer at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert.”
Although there has been some debate about whether Warren should use the name of Jesus in his inauguration day prayer, Robinson made it clear, in an interview with the Concord Monitor, that he will offer a non-sectarian prayer at the Sunday event. He said he will not use the Bible as his text, saying:
"While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans," Robinson said. "I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation."
For those looking for more clues as to what Robinson might say, the bishop has just posted on his diocesan web site a prayer for the inauguration that he wrote for GQ magazine (this is not the prayer he will deliver Sunday):
"As we enter a new and exciting chapter in the story of this nation, people of faith are praying to the God of their own understanding – for the nation and for our new president. We are blessed as a nation – not because we are favored by God over any other nation, but because the God of every tradition wants the best for ALL of God’s children. And we ask God’s blessing on Barack Obama, who faces a nearly impossible task at an excruciatingly difficult time, bringing to that challenge his skills, his vision and his humanity. Even if you don’t believe in God, pray with me these prayers.
A Prayer for the Nation
O God of all creation, we pray that you will…
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, Afghan girls are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, easily-cured waterborne diseases, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world, and the courage to take our rightful (not always primary) place in the community of nations.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing our begrudging tolerance with a genuine respect and (dare I say it?) warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
Bless us with a sense of thanksgiving and appreciation – for those who give themselves for public service over private gain, and give us the strength to make the sacrifices that will be needed in playing our part in facing the challenges of these days. AMEN.
A Prayer for Barack Obama
O God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership, FDR’s courageous boldness and vision, and JFK’s ability to enlist the best efforts of our people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain for these times, not a fierce warrior who knee-jerk reacts to every real or perceived threat.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, remembering 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 his experience of the pain and rejection of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him patience and perseverance – not to give in to our whining (we love to do it when we don’t get our way), but rather to keep calling us to our better selves.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he’s president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking WAY too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. AMEN."
Also this weekend, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), will give the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday, January 21st, the day after the inauguration.
The selections of Robinson and Watkins, effectively diversifying a slate of inaugural preachers that already included Warren and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader who is giving the benediction at the inauguration, drew praise from Integrity USA, an organization that advocates for gay rights within the Episcopal Church:
"Bishop Robinson’s selection by the President-elect to pray God’s blessings on the opening event of the Inaugural week is good news not only for gay and lesbian Americans but for all who share the audacious hope of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal," said Integrity President Susan Russell. "It also gives us hope that the age of an ‘America’s Pastor’ is behind us and that we enter a new era where diverse voices of faith speak from the particularity of their own experience of God’s grace, love and power. While there are many miles to go before we are done with racism, sexism and homophobia in this country, we look forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration, to Sharon Watkins’ sermon and to Gene Robinson’s prayers as signs of great progress and profound hope."
(Photo by Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe.)