Focus on the Family: Invocation Trepidation Part II

I have played and replayed the inaugural prayers of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, conservative evangelical Reverend Rick Warren, and Civil Rights icon Reverend Joseph Lawery.

I appreciated parts of each man’s words. Robinson spoke beautifully of inclusion and brought to mind those otherwise marginalized in societies across the world and in our own. Warren’s was uplifting and seemed sincere (though he spoke so loudly I wondered if he didn’t realize he had a microphone on). Lowery's mere presence was stirring, and his rhyming conclusion was hilarious for those of us "mellow" enough to take it as a joke.

Though I think the words of each were earnest, I did not feel that any prayer was, in it’s strictest sense, much of a prayer at all, but more of a speech to the crowd sometimes redirected at God.

Furthermore, in parsing through the prayers, it was difficult for me to untangle each man’s words from his religious/political platform.

Evangelist Tony Campolo once warned that mixing the church and the state is dangerous, not because it ruins the state, but rather because it compromises the church. Perhaps this was Jesus’ thinking when he taught his disciples to pray in private, going into their rooms and closing the door (Matthew 6).

History shows that the church is its strongest and most vibrant not when it is the dominant way of life but rather the underground movement. It thrives and spreads in singular acts, done by one person for another. It is represented best when one person’s actions speak Jesus’ all-encompassing love, not when one makes grand political gestures or when trite phrases are printed on bills en masse.

This gets a little touchy-feely, even for me. But frankly, I think we need to reconsider: how (or maybe more importantly: if) we want to be represented on such a stage. Are our beliefs about projection? being right? strong-arming? grand gestures?

Or are they about loving people well, individually, for no other reason than to mimic the love of their Creator?


  1. Rachel, I thought the same thing during the prayers, namely that they were speeches made with eyes closed. I even feel that way when we pray for one another in group settings - that really we want people to know how much we value them but we begin with "Dear Father" and end with "Amen" and somehow that makes a prayer?

    I think Tony's right - when the church is involved with the State then the Church itself is compromised.

  2. I honestly have to wonder how many times in a variety of places - school, church, bible studies, dinners, etc, that our prayers are really prayers - they often feel far more manipulative, and sometimes - rant-like. Mini-sermons to prove that we care, love, or have something to communicate and, wham, you can't stop me while I say it.

    as such, it confuses me why we do it so often in public settings - we in the church seem so insecure about how others view us that we refuse to ask this question of church and state. Thanks for the reminder that we really sometimes are a bit foolish in our motivations.

  3. Yeah, i don't even like it much when pastors pray to close/open a sermon. Always feels like a continuation of the sermon. This is one area where i think the more liturgical churches have a better handle on things. Liturgy, because of it's rigid structure, keeps the prayers from being sermons and better invites the people to join in.

  4. I was once at a healing conference where people were laughing and roaring in the spirit (later people claimed their silver fillings turned to gold) I went up to the guy in charge and said I was worried it didn't see authentic. So he jumped into praying for me ... "Lord, please convict my sister of her sin of pride and unbelief."

    I don't know the role of prayer at an inauguration. Maybe it is more a speech than a prayer. With all the firestorm of Warren being asked, maybe he felt the need to get something off his chest.

    But if we didn't go into this new administration without prayer, without asking God for help, I'd feel like we were trying to do it on our own. Our first three presidents weren't 'evangelical' by today's standards. Washington's faith was iffy; Adams was a unitarian universalist; Jefferson was a deist. So, there it is. But they all had invocations.

  5. Rachel, good thoughts. I want to disagree just for the fun of it and for good dialogue.

    First, where can I replay the inaugural prayers? Is there a web link?

    I don't remember Robinson's prayer (maybe a good sign). I wasn't surprised when Warren was to pray as I remembered he had visited the mega church on the west coast. I think I was a bit leary, but don't remember being opposed to anything he said, although it was long and seemed to miss nothing. I do remember thinking what an incredible opportunity that was on such a huge stage. I guess he made the very most of it. I remember wondering if they prayed with notes. The last guy obviously read from notes. I liked how he charged right in and didn't say "let us pray". I also found him cute.

    How do I disagree?

    They each had two opportunities: 1) to address God with a hugely big matter and point in history, and 2) to speak to the nation and world. How is a pastor to respond to such an opportunity?

    Probably best to respond by being a humble example.

    I wish Warren had said, "pray with me", but maybe that is what he meant by "let us pray." Moreso, I wish I had prayed with him, echoing my agreement. I hope many added their voice to Warren's so God heard a chorus appeal. (I want to think that God listens and responds better the more voices there are... only because of disappointment when my little voice has seemed to have gone unheard.)

    So what do I disagree with? Not sure. I wanted to point out more context around Jesus' instruction to seek a prayer closet. He contrasted that to the arrogant fools praying on the sidewalks posturing themselves. Yes, I would have welcomed more humility when Warren was asked to pray on the sidewalk before the world.

    I'll have to think about the underground proposition. I think it is more a mindset then a requirement of the circumstances.

    Lastly, I would prefer that the stage not be sought, but if it is offered... Then again, we may have to look at the prophets and their stages. And the other God-followers in high position. That would be an interesting study. Jesus sought the stage. hmmm...

    Thanks Rachel. Hope you don't mind my rambling 2 dolars.

  6. The book of Psalms is a collection of scripted prayers aInd we don't judge their sincerity.

    I'm impressed how the blogging platform changes how we view these prayers. Instead of choosing to participate in these prayers with an "amen" (or by withholding one), we dissect.

    I'm not saying this is bad, or that to critique is to be critical.But our first response has changed, maybe.