The Religious Company of Barak Obama

Mixed feelings met the announcement that Barack Obama had chosen Pastor Rick Warren to lead the prayer at his inauguration (see here at The Catholic Thing for example). People said then that it was to keep favour with the Evangelicals.

Now, from the other side of the fence, Obama has chosen Bishop Gene Robinson to give the invocation at a welcoming concert at the Lincoln Memorial (see the report here in today’s edition of The Age). This time we are told that

The choice of Bishop Robinson to preside at Monday’s Lincoln Memorial event is a clear effort to reassure the gay community, which strongly backed both the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

Well, from one point of view, that could be seen as a vote both ways. It does, however, clearly leave orthodox Christianity of all stripes out in the cold.

Pastor Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Church” and founder of the Saddleback Church (see Wiki here for details), may be representative of the new evangelical “Church Growth” movement in the States, but his Christianity is harly orthodox. In fact, indirectly he may be seen as one of the reasons I am Catholic today. His kind of theology was making real inroads into the LCA in the 1990s – and continues to do so from what I can see. It is a theology that is big on the Great Commission but thin on ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Even traditional orthodox evangelicals have their reservations.

Nevertheless, if there was one area in which most traditional, orthodox Christians could go along with Pastor Warren, it was in the area of morality, as evidenced by his staunch opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

But now the choice of Gene Robinson to pray the invocation at the concert shows (as we all knew) that Warren was chosen for the Inauguration despite these views, not because of them. Can it truly be, however, that the evangelical lobby in the States is smaller than the gay lobby? Or is it a case of the gay lobby being more influential? Can Obama keep company with both sides of the equation?

This is how Bishop Robinson interprets Obama’s choice:

“It is an indication of the new president’s commitment to being president of all the people,” Bishop Robinson said. “It will be my great honour to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.”

But it is not just Robinson’s moral theology which is questionable – his orthodoxy on all other points of Christian dogma is just as (if not more) wobbly. Here is how he plans to form his invocation:

“I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting scripture or anything like that,” he said. “The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.” Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer to “the God of our many understandings”, language that he said he learned from the 12-step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.

I have absolutely no idea what texts Bishop Robinson might imagine are “sacred for all Americans”. One expects simply that if a Christian clergyman is invited to pray a prayer in a public setting this is because he is a Christian clergyman. Surely the Episcopal Church has “set piece” prayers for such occasions that would hardly be offensive to anyone, but are still within the bounds of what one might legitimately call “Christian”? One presumes that if the president-elect wanted something else, he could have invited a rabbi and an imam and a buddhist monk to join the nominated Christian cleric?

From one point of view, there could perhaps not have been two figures in American Christianity more divisive than Rick Warren and Gene Robinson. Neither can be seen as figures who draw American society together as one. Warren’s evangelicalism creates as many enemies as friends, and Gene Robinson is responsible (at least as a token figure-head) for much of the disunity in the world wide Anglican Church at this time. Surely he could have found less controversial individuals to do the job for him? Even Katharine Jefferts Schori would have been less controversial – at least she is the head of a national church body. Her moral stance is perhaps no different to Gene Robinson’s, but she is hardly the “lightning rod” that Robinson is. And if he had chosen her to do the job, he would have been making a statement about at least 50% of the American population – women. (Has a female cleric ever offered the inaugural invocation?).

So if we judge a person by the company he keeps, what are we to make of Obama’s choice of these two clergymen to lead the prayers at these significant public events?

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “The Religious Company of Barak Obama

  1. Louise

    So if we judge a person by the company he keeps, what are we to make of Obama’s choice of these two clergymen to lead the prayers at these significant public events?

    He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy (= politician).

    I can’t wait for his inauguration. The mass disillusionment which will dog his devoted supporters for the next four years, at least, will be one long case of schadenfreud for me.

    Repeat after me (to a well known children’s TV show title song):

    B’rack Obama, can he fix it?
    B’rack Obama, no he can’t!

  2. Louise

    PS this is a common refrain heard in our house.

  3. matthias

    I am with louise on this .In fact i call Barack the Obamagod/messiah because many believe he will fix the problems.Just look at Hilary clinton’s comments today re world problems and America’s ability to fix it. How nice of Gene Robinson to exercise his tolerant,”God is reached by all paths approach”. God is not mocked Gene!!
    I walked out of one church because they were promoting warren’s work “Purpose driven church”. I was going to write one called “Purpose Built Dunny” and then realised that there is a blog called “Confessional outhouse” that beat me to it.
    Watch for the impact of a younger man called Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible church in ?Michigan.Already aspects of his theology are being challenged. A young Aussie preacher-Cameron Buettel-has highlighted the same problems with Bell’s orthodoxy as Schutz defined with Warren’s. I made it clear to my minister my intolerance of warren’s theology-he was a bit sheepish when he admitted that the church ahd used the book a year before i started attending

  4. Joshua

    He might as well get that dreadful Sr Chichister (what’s her name again) to read some foul blasphemy addressed to Ishtar or whoever radfem nuns pray to these days.

  5. matthias

    Joshua i think the radfem nuns as well as radfem/gay priests pray to the god who is , tolerant,non judgemental and who they find encourages them in their daily life. yep he/she does have a name,which is the pits,or actually from the Pit- Satan

  6. Son of Trypho

    Can we blessed by a special guest appearance by Rev. J. Wright? That would make for good tv. 🙂

  7. Schütz

    I missed that – who is “Rev J. Wright”?

  8. Arnold Reeves

    Son of Trypho is referring to Jeremiah Wright, surely?

  9. matthias

    I think so Arnold. The very (self) righteous Jeremiah Wright,prince of preachers (of hate)

  10. Schütz

    I still have no idea who you are talking about. Do I need to be enlightened?

  11. Dixie

    I still have no idea who you are talking about. Do I need to be enlightened?

    No, you need to be American. 😉 The Rev. Wright was Obama’s pastor until his sermon’s denouncing the white man hit national news and caused political embarrassment for the then presidential candidate.

  12. Past Elder

    Well, for that matter Sarah distanced herself from her AofG church too.

    This didn’t start with Barak. Look at our offical chuch service that isn’t a “church” service after 9/11. Right in the National Cathedral, which is an Episcopal cathedral, a vestige from our origin as colonies of Mother England, but which is not supported by money from the state.

    The female Episcopal pastor, rector, or whatever the hell, came out and said this would be a house of prayer for all people as God intended with all faiths welcome — I think God had a particular faith in mind for all people, but hey. And so it was, serial prayer by serial clergy of various faiths.

    Not to be outdone, there was another one, hosted by the high priestess of American spirituality, Oprah Winfrey, where all kinds of guys in their respective funny clothes that they think makes them look all close to God and everything did their respective things. Hell, an LCMS guy even showed up, and while most of my confessional Lutheran brethren promptly tossed their lunch or went into apoplectic fits, my initial reaction was being glad at least he didn’t wear any clown suits to the event.

    Hey, Rick Warren is damn near the ninth doctor of the universal church to a lot of people, but he ticks the homosexuals off because he retains a traditional Christian position on that, so there’ll be a homosexual Episcopal bishop too.

    Yes, those aspects of orthodox Christianity that preconciliar Catholics, postconciliar Catholic, confessional Lutherans, and for that matter pretty much all Christian bodies at one time anyway, hold or held in common are left out of this.

    But it doesn’t bother me a bit as a governmental function. You want a church service, go to church, the state doesn’t hold them here or designate any church to do it for them. What does bother me is the erosion of what once were things held in common in the churches.

  13. Christine

    He might as well get that dreadful Sr Chichister (what’s her name again) to read some foul blasphemy addressed to Ishtar or whoever radfem nuns pray to these days.

    Joshua, the redoubtable Joan Chittister, OSB. Yikes, don’t let me mention anything Benedictine or PE will be flying in here with the monks and their monkery in the monkatorium. Really, how can we not love him?

    Poor Sister Joan is under the illusion that if only women ran the world we could fix everything. Well, I will happily affirm the many gifts that our gracious God has given to women, but infallibility is not one of them!

  14. Paul

    Maybe the orthodox are more reluctant to talk publicly than fringe (if I may be so bold as to call them) religious speakers.

    To take another (remotely) related example, another deadline is approaching for the St Mary’s parish in South Brisbane, so it was featured in an item on the 7.30 report (a TV news programme) a couple of days ago. I thought the reporter was balanced and factual, but he said none of the people who had complained about the practices in the parish, including Bishop Bathersby, was prepared to be identified and interviewed. We had a ridiculous, shadowy profile of someone talking, but nothing else. If this reluctance to speak is true, I find it puzzling and disappointing. Why is it a good idea to not explain your point of view to the public, and perhaps more importantly, to the parishioners of St Mary’s? Is it some legal requirement or are the critics of St Mary’s just very shy?

    To get back to Barack Obama, maybe he just picked the two most well known clergymen in the US. Is there a better known but orthodox person who could get the gig, or are the others not naughty boys, but quiet and shy boys?

  15. Past Elder

    Hey — if it wasn’t for us Benedictines single handedly saving civilisation you guys wouldn’t have pen and paper to write on. Sister Joan works pretty hard, you know, probably just a little too much Lake Effect is all.

  16. Schütz

    Archbishop Coleridge is a public figure who has complained about St Mary’s publically. They could have interviewed him if Arch. Bathersby didn’t want to speak.

  17. Christine

    Hey — if it wasn’t for us Benedictines single handedly saving civilisation you guys wouldn’t have pen and paper to write on. Sister Joan works pretty hard, you know, probably just a little too much Lake Effect is all.

    Spot on, my friend! We owe a great deal to our Holy Father Benedict and the monkatorium! And I do have a soft spot for Sister Joan in one aspect — she likes Golden Retrievers!

  18. Past Elder

    How about Schnauzers?

  19. matthias

    “where all kinds of guys in their respective funny clothes that they think makes them look all close to God and everything did their respective things.”
    PE this line reminds me of a up load on You Tube showing Lutheran bishops -i think in Norway- lining up to march into a cathedral.All done up to the nines and right up the back the Bishop for Outer Space Parish ,sorry a guy dressed up as Darth Vader,who marched in procession behind them all.
    He’d probably be the closest to God

  20. William Tighe

    Actually (re: the last posting), it was Iceland, not Norway.

  21. Past Elder

    Well hell, might as well be Norwegian, that’s who settled the place after kicking out some Irish monks and coming back with some Irish women, if you know what I mean. Stayed that way too, under the Norwegian crown, until in the wake of Napoleon the Danish part got broken off and Iceland went with that.

    They’ve got bishops due to the way they became Lutheran. which was, Christian III, King of Denmark and Norway, and thus of Iceland too, amid appalling civil war between Lutherans and Catholics, established state churches, in the case of Iceland beheading the Catholic bishop (and his sons, yes sons, too) and putting in his own man, resulting in s Lutheran state church as much a political plaything as the Catholic one it replaced, a disgrace to both sides, but what happens when this whole “bishop” thing gets way beyond the institution of Christ due to being mixed up with state religion.

    Nor does it work. Iceland to-day is one of the most liberal countries in the world, and, STILL has a state religion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lceland, one of the most liberal churches in the world, and predictably part of the Lutheran World Federation, which doesn’t have a damn thing Lutheran about it but the word in its title.

    So, once again, “bishops” and funny clothes don’t insure crap, except more crap.

  22. Christine

    How about Schnauzers?

    I’m not sure Sister Joan has had the privilege of making the Schnauzer acquaintance, but if she the opportunity presents I have no doubt she would be utterly charmed!

  23. eulogos

    Its so odd that Mr. Schultz has not heard of Jeremiah Wright. That aspect of the Obama campaign was so prominent here in the US. Rev. Wright is pastor of a prominent black church in the Chicago area. He has that ranting preacher style. Apparently some of his sermons are reasonably Christian, but when he approaches anything related to race relations or politics, radical American hating emerged. Obama was married by him and attended his church for 20 years, even said Wright had brought him to Christ. But Obama had little choice but to dissociate himself from Wright when one of his sermons began playing on national TV, in which he said, “I say, not God Bless America but God Damn America.” They never played any parts in which he might have said why so one is left to presume it is because of the historic treatment of blacks. The sermons, by the way, were on tapes or CD’s of his sermons being sold by the church.

    So that is who the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is. I am sure if you Google him you will find a lot including some video clips from his sermons.

    Susan Peterson

  24. Adamgv

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