For the last month, the nation’s editorial pages and blog sites have been filled with commentary representing every religious and political stripe, offering mostly opposing views on President-elect Barack Obama’s invitation to California pastor Rick Warren to offer a prayer of invocation at his Inauguration.
A visitor to America might assume this issue to be the most pressing matter facing a country currently waging two wars and fighting for its financial life. Since controversy about Inaugural prayers may have begun following a prayer I gave at the 2001 Inauguration of George W. Bush, I thought I would add my voice to the others we’ve been reading and hearing in recent weeks.
In fact, my connection to Inaugurations and prayer dates back not to 2001, but to 1965. For my father, evangelist Billy Graham, has prayed at more Inauguration ceremonies than any person in history – eight Inaugurations from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton. Though he and I believe in and pray to the same God, it was my prayer eight years ago that triggered the modern prayer wars.
Against a backdrop of a freezing drizzle, I offered to God a prayer asking for His blessing upon the incoming and outgoing presidents and their families. I quoted Abraham Lincoln, asked for healing for political wounds and help to rise above partisan politics, and pleaded for wisdom for those who lead us.
But in a 433-word prayer, it was four words in my concluding lines that lit a fuse. I ended my prayer with these words: “We pray this prayer in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The transfer of American power continued seamlessly, as it always seems to do, until days later when we were told by Alan Dershowitz (in a Los Angeles Times op-ed) that my prayer had “excluded tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists.”
Noted atheist Michael Newdow (who once sued to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance) went a step further and filed a lawsuit against the government for allowing the prayer and against George W. Bush for inviting me.
There are several ironies and problems with all of this fuss. First, even Alan Dershowitz could not offer a prayer that would not exclude someone. For a generic ending like “in thy name, Amen” would exclude the atheist.
Imam Yahya Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University told the Associated Press that at interfaith events, he refers to Allah, or God, as “Almighty Creator of us all.” Where does that leave millions of evolutionists?
While much less attention has been given to civil rights icon and pastor Joseph Lowery, who will offer the Inaugural benediction, than to Rick Warren, Mr. Lowery concedes that “whatever religion the person represents, I think he has a right to be true to his religion.” Mr. Warren noted that “prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God.”
More About Politics Than the Prayer
Second, I wonder if complaints about Inaugural prayers really have more to do with the politics of the person praying rather than in whose name he offers his prayer. For example, an eloquent black Methodist pastor from Houston, Kirbyjon Caldwell, prayed at both Inaugurations of George W. Bush. He shared the Inaugural platform with me in 2001 and concluded his prayer “in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ.” In this election, Mr. Caldwell was one of the most prominent clergymen supporting Barack Obama. Would those objecting to Rick Warren’s Inaugural participation be protesting a prayer by Kirbyjon Caldwell?
However, all of the criticism is not coming from the left. Some conservative evangelicals have criticized not Mr. Obama but Rick Warren for accepting the invitation to pray at the Inauguration, suggesting it is tantamount to an endorsement of a president with whom they disagree on various issues.
But imagine if the president-elect had not invited someone to offer a Christian prayer – say a Muslim Imam and a Buddhist monk? These same people would be denouncing him for excluding Christ at his Inauguration.
Let’s calm down, on the religious and political left and right, with regard to prayer at Inaugurations, and agree that we as a people and nation are badly in need of intervention from a power much higher than ourselves, our president, Congress, the Supreme Court or any other institution being led by mortal man – Almighty God. Can we at least say “amen” to that?
Copyright 2009 The Washington Times, LLC
A PRAYER FOR BARACK OBAMA
I join millions of Americans in praying for you, your family and your administration as you begin this new chapter in the life of our nation.
Three thousand years ago, God appeared to another world leader, King Solomon of Israel, and told him to ask for anything and it would be granted him. Rather than asking for wealth or health or high approval ratings, the young king asked for wisdom, that he might be able to “discern between good and evil.”
The Lord gave him what he asked for, and the Bible records that Solomon was both the wisest and the richest man who ever lived. My prayer is that you, like King Solomon, will seek God’s wisdom – that you may be able to discern between good and evil.
–published in The Charlotte Observer