Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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?


At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 10:42:00 pm , Anonymous Louise said...

PS this is a common refrain heard in our house.

At Wednesday, January 14, 2009 11:45:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

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

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 12:06:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

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.

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 12:13:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

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

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 2:17:00 am , Anonymous Son of Trypho said...

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

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:54:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

I missed that - who is "Rev J. Wright"?

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 4:15:00 am , Anonymous Arnold Reeves said...

Son of Trypho is referring to Jeremiah Wright, surely?

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 6:04:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

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

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 9:16:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

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

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 6:59:00 pm , Anonymous Past Elder said...

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.

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:02:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

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.

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:22:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

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!

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 11:31:00 pm , Anonymous Past Elder said...

How about Schnauzers?

At Friday, January 16, 2009 6:38:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

"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

At Friday, January 16, 2009 12:18:00 pm , Anonymous William Tighe said...

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

At Friday, January 16, 2009 2:53:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

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!

At Sunday, January 18, 2009 4:49:00 am , Anonymous eulogos said...

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


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