Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, has been asked by President-elect Barack Obama to deliver an invocation at the Lincoln Memorial during a presidential inaugural event on Sunday. The NY Times has details on his planning for the prayer:
Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”
“I am very clear,” he said, “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.”
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.
“The God of our many understandings.” That’s understandable as an AA matter, but when an Episcopal bishop finds previous inaugural prayers “aggressively Christian” and plans instead to address his public prayer to any and every god that anyone might have in mind on the day, I guess it’s pretty clear where we are. And it doesn’t appear to be Kansas.
I noticed this story in particular because it reflected off of things I wrote in yesterday’s post on the late RJN, about the “many different ideas of God,” and the importance of being willing and able to address God with the specificity that Judeo-Christian Scripture provides. And, as referenced, it can be done in a way that includes as many believers as possible while stopping short of compromising truth. Certainly, people have many understandings of God. There is the god of mammon — that one’s not being too kind to folks these days — there are gods of power and of lust, there is the god of creation (that is, the creation in lieu of the creator). There is even, dare I say it, the Devil himself. Many of us give these gods and more their illicit due too often, but at least we don’t generally put aside time to pray to them. A prayer expressed to the God of our many understandings is one, I would fear, which risks finding too many willing listeners while simultaneously failing to be heard at all.
(There’s also the little matter of “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and whatnot, but I guess no one can expect Bishop Robinson to be investing his time in the research of such ancient manuscripts.)