Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Invoking <i>What</i> Exactly?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Invoking What Exactly?

For all the sturm und drang surrounding Rick Warren's inauguration invocation, I haven't heard that much about it. I was beginning to think that it was something of an anticlimax, which may have been just as well if it was simply going to fade away and disappear.

Our pal Don Byrd, though, brought up a point about Warren's contribution that hadn't occurred to me. Don blogs for the Baptist Joint Committee, a group that lobbies the government on religious liberty and in support of the separation of church and state (a position that wasn't always as counterintuitive for Baptists as it seems to be today). Don was on the Mall, and he objected to Warren's inclusion of The Lord's Prayer in his presentation.

But something about it bothered me even more than the fact of such Christian content being inserted in a prayer for hearing by a national audience of many religious faiths. I think it was this: It appeared that Warren took the ceremonial opportunity, with the nation's attention on him, to truly and bluntly divide the audience. Recitation of The Lord's Prayer by clergy is a liturgical tradition that typically invites participation. As he began, the audience - in the midst of a hopefully unifying national moment - was instantly split into those who knew and honored that specific prayer and joined in, and those who did not, who had to remain silent. It nearly evoked the public school recitations of the 1950s and 60s in alienating a portion of an audience that is there for something altogether different than a religious experience.

. . .

One reader emailed me that viewing on TV, his impression was that the audience - which largely did not take Warren up on this implicit offer - had "rebuffed" the invitation. Where I was standing, too, some spoke along out loud, but most did not. I suspect that many were in the same position that I found myself, caught between religious convictions that text to be solemn and sacred - and worth reciting as an expression of my faith, and my sense that it was not the occasion for such an expression.

So was Warren up to more than self-promotion? Did he have a more specific agenda?


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