Invocations are a touchy subject these days.
Here’s Bishop Gene Robinson in the NY Times on the subject of prayer at inaugural events:
Bishop Robinson said he had been rereading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”
Bishop Robinson said, “I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. 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.”
I share Robinson’s sympathy about Christian hegemony in America, but I don’t share his conclusions. I’ve been asked to do some invoking at public assemblies, and work for an interfaith organization that sometimes prays together, and I’ve thought a little about this.
My problem with Robinson’s approach is that he thinks it’s possible for ‘all people to feel that this is their prayer.’ It assumes objectivity is obtainable. It’s not, especially in something as personal and intimate as prayer. We kid ourselves if we think we can write without our experiences oozing out through the words we type.
If Bishop Robinson acknowledged that his prayer on Sunday was coming from his experience as an openly gay bishop in a country that denies same-sex couples equal rights, it would have been much more honest and meaningful, and the kind of balance that Obama might have been looking for when he invited him to kick off inauguration week. Instead Robinson assumed he was crafting a one-size-fits-all message that anyone could apply to his/her own tradition?
I realize saying this will shock a few people but I actually like a Fox News article’s take on this. Please don’t delete this rss feed from Google Reader. Hear me out.
Even though, true to Fox News form, Lauren Green displays just enough homophobia to let the reader know where she’s really coming from, she makes some decent points in this commentary.
She points out that one can boldly display one’s faith and respect diversity, quoting Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell’s benediction at Bush’s second inauguration.
“Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen”.
I like this point Green makes too:
‘Is Islam the Truth? Is Judaism the Truth? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ the Truth? Is Secular Humanism the Truth? Decide for yourself. Then represent that Truth honorably.’
I would add humbly.
I have to say that I think the invocation was very good. ‘Bless this nation with anger against discrimination at home and abroad.’
But ‘God of our many understandings’? Does he really think he’s written a prayer that encompasses all faiths? Quit pulling everyone’s leg and just say ‘God of my understanding.’ I like your understanding just fine. That’s why you were asked to do this.
Interreligious dialogue is entirely more beneficial when the parties involved don’t hold back any of the partiularities of their religous traditions. Prayer is different because it’s an actual sacred leitourgia. But I still think it’s important to use particular expressions of faith in prayer for no other reason than authenticity.
Dr. King had a certain way of using explicitly Christian ideas and concepts that anyone could get on board with (except for people hell-bent on spreading violence and hate). It’s not easy to do effectively, but you can feel it when someone hits that chord. I think people heard that chord being struck when Obama channelled Dr. King in his speeches.
If you have been asked to pray at a public event with mixed faith representation, what have you done? Or if you ever get asked, what would you do? Would you respectfully decline the invitation, go the Robinson route, or not hold back your tradition’s particularities?