Bishop Robinson & The Inauguration

What’s good for the goose is good for the gays. Anyone who supported the selection of controversial evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the prayer at the Inaugural ceremony must now support the selection of controversial Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson to give the opening prayer at the Lincoln Memorial concert that opens the weekend’s festivities. And those who opposed Warren should have the decency to oppose Robinson.

In both instances, Obama was either correct to choose a religious leader who is controversial but also both a symbolic and an actual leader for a defined segment of the population or he wasn’t. In both instances, the fact of controversy was either appealing or it wasn’t. If Obama wants to give a conservative evangelical a seat at the Democratic Party’s table he has every right to give a seat to the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire as well.


But, there was Joe Solomonese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, applauding the one having denounced the other. "Bishop Robinson models what prayer should be – spiritual reflection put into action for justice," said the gay rights official. "It is encouraging that the president-elect has chosen this spiritual hero for all Americans to lead the nation in prayer at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert."

I did not know that Solomonese had such distinct thoughts about what prayer should, and presumably should not, be. I am still guessing he doesn’t know Tertullian from tortellini. But, in addition to being a hero for some, not all, Americans, Bishop Robinson is at the center of a controversy that has split his church in two. He has not been, in the parlance of Washington, "a uniter not a divider." In the interviews I have seen, Robinson has shown a marked lack of respect and charity for those who disagree with his theological views and even an intolerance for those with more traditional views.

Sometimes, division is called for, sometimes not. But, why does Robinson get credit for dividing his church on the issue of homosexuality while Rick Warren gets no credit for dividing the evangelical movement by trying to broaden its political agenda beyond the standard issues of pelvic theology to include environmental concerns among other progressive issues?

The Rt. Rev. from New Hampshire displayed a similar myopia and, what is worse, a lack of Christian charity, in an interview on CNN. He repeated the claim that Warren had made highly offensive statements comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and polygamy. He failed to note that Warren apologized for the remarks. Nor did the Bishop acknowledge that the original remarks bore a more charitable interpretation as well. Warren was trying to hold up the uniqueness of traditional marriage and it was clear to this viewer that he was not intending to denigrate anyone.

I confess that one thing that changed: We can now see the Warren selection in the light of the Robinson selection. This has not caused me to abandon my defense of the Warren choice, but it does raise questions about the President-elect’s motives. Were these men chosen precisely because they are controversial? Is controversy the standard of effective Christian leadership? Is there a danger that having the government choose religious leaders who are engaged in controversies within their flocks will appear like the government is choosing sides in the religious controversies?

Let’s hope that Obama entertained a different point of view. Let’s hope he said to himself that religion in the public square will cause some controversy but that’s okay. Better to have religion engaged in the cultural discussions of our day, which should be controversial at times, than to have religion standing on the sidelines. I am quite sure the Deistic Founders would not agree, nor Roger Williams, the man who more than anyone else invented the separation of Church and State. But, better a controversial set of selections and the attendant discussion about the role of religion in society than for religion to be so boring it blends into the woodwork. And, I am still waiting to see a Catholic on the roster!


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9 years 4 months ago
"Gay" is not a person, "gay" refers to relationship. Homosexual sexual acts do not respect the Sacredness and the Dignity of the Human Person from the start. Love is unitive, not possessive.
9 years 4 months ago
Perhaps the message is that Obama has no convictions of his own and is trying to please everyone?
9 years 4 months ago
I, for one, wish that religion would be fully removed from out otherwise secular square. To paraphrase what religionists all too often say about gays, ''what you do behind closed doors is your business. But don't push it into our faces.''
9 years 4 months ago
President-elect Obama's motivations for selecting Pastor Warren and Bishop Robinson are mainly political, not theological. Obama owes Warren much for sponsoring the debate on theological values. That debate was Obama's greatest victory in any forum during the campaign. It showed many skeptical Christians that Obama's faith was both deep and ''sacramentally valid'' in the Evangelical sense. Obama also owes gays and lesbians much for their steadfast support of him and the Democrats for many years. Robinson was the perfect choice to assuage their anger at Obama's selection of someone they perceive to be ''antigay.'' This is all as it should be. The most important qualification of a President is that he or she be an astute politician. Without superb political skills, even the most pious president would get nothing accomplished. It is also fully consistent with Obama's philosophy of bringing together intelligent people with opposing views.
9 years 4 months ago
I suspect that John is right. We are seeing a lack of conviction from Obama. We saw this when he said that the Blago/Burris situation was the Senate's business, not his. Yet he made a call to Sen Reed the next day. We also see this in his response to the economic crisis. He is for both tax cuts and spending. He also is pessimistic but optimistic?? His recent pessimism speech seemed to set the stage for trying to not take any blame for the economy until, at least, his second term. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. A great leader does not straddle the fence or try to protect his own image for re-election. A great leader persuades people to the rightness of their convictions. A great leader conveys confidence and optimism even when the economy is sick. ''The only thing we have to fear is fear itself''. This is a statement from a leader.
9 years 4 months ago
You equate Warren and Robinson because they are both controversial, but they are very different and are considered controversial for different reasons - Warren is controversial because of his remarks, mean-spirited and untrue characterizations of homosexuality, and weird remarks about the religious ok-ness of assassinating the president of Iran, to name a couple. Robinson is controversial not because of what he has done or said, but because of others feeling about him .... the head of his Church approves of him as Bishop and he was populraly elected by those he preaches to. It's isn't his fault his Church is schisming and the problems in Anglicanism go beyond him - read what's going on with women bishops in England now.
9 years 4 months ago
Michael Sean Winters, how about some suggestions of people Obama should have chosen. Apparently everyone is offensive to someone in some respect and thus unsuitable for inclusion. Perhaps it would be better not to have prayer at inaugurations...
9 years 4 months ago
Well, if we want to be truly inclusive, why not carve out a spot for Joe the Plumber? It gets ridiculous after awhile that we feel that everyone and everything must be included or nothing at all.
9 years 4 months ago
In the interviews I have seen & heard with Bishop Robinson, he has shown charity toward those who hate him. I do not believe that the two selections should receive the same response. Warren clearly believes that some people created by God are not worthy of inclusion in his church family. While that is his choice and his belief, the inauguration prayer should come from some one who can fully support the blessing of all Americans - regardless of their identity or faith - one nation under God. The Robinson prayer seems a mere afterthought in response to a poor decision on the inaugural prayer request. Pitting one pole against the other through prayer requests does nothing to bring us into communion with one another nor help us to live the Gospel.
9 years 4 months ago
Rick Warren compares committed same-sex relationships to incest and pedophilia and has publicly advocated to change the law specifically to deny those couples the protections of civil marriage. Gene Robinson has said that all people are welcome at God's table. Any equation of the two is pure rubbish. (And for the record, I'm a gay man who knows exactly who Tertullian is, so please stop the cheap shots at gay leaders. That kind of nastiness is beneath you.)
9 years 4 months ago
All are invited to God's Table, but in order to get there, we must follow God's Word of Love. "Follow Me"- Christ
9 years 4 months ago
Mr. Winter's article is silly, homophobic, and, with respect to Bishop Robinson, unnecessarily ad hominem. Just for the record: it is the anti-gay conservatives who have voted to split the Episcopal Church, not Bishop Robinson.
9 years 4 months ago
Jim, one can not be in communion with the Church if one is not in communion with the Word of God.


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