The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Thursday, December 18, 2008

About that Invocation

The blogosphere and the mainstream media (MSM) are ablaze with discussions about the specifics regarding President-elect Obama's inauguration. To be sure, Black people have been talking about it and making plans to attend at least since 11 p.m. EST on November 4th. Churches are chartering buses, individuals are buying airline tickets and begging their Congressional representatives for tickets to the staging area. Some witty soul has even created an email to poke fun at all of the busriders who likely will find themselves much closer to Delaware than to DC what with all of the traffic heading to Chocolate City.

All of the above is old news. The hot topic today involves the disclosure that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (Southern Baptist, in case you didn't know) will deliver the invocation. Print, internet, and television media are all descibing the choice of Warren as testimony to his ascension to the rank of presidential pastor that Billy Graham has recently vacated after a half-century. A lot of people are steamed, especially among the California gay rights advocates who are particularly miffed at Obama for honoring a man who used considerable influence to sway voters to back Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in CA. Obama, for his part, reminds detractors that reaching across divides is part and parcel of his philosophy, not to mention a good explanation for why he was even elected. In addition, Warren reached out to Obama two years ago, inviting him to a forum on AIDS at Saddleback, an invitation that drew heat from conservatives because of Obama's positions on abortion and gay rights.

Let me say that I basically understand Obama's reasoning, but Warren remains a poor choice from my perspective, largely because his participation does mark an anointing of a new national pastor and this time I'd like to see someone other than a middle-aged conservative white man in the role. How about a woman to do either the invocation or the benediction? How about a progressive evangelical? How about someone from the religious left? How about somebody Black? How about.... And even if it had to be an evangelical white man, how about Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, or Jim Wallis?

Some, notably Frank Schaeffer on the Huffington Post, have suggested that this is all about Obama's greasing the road for progressive policies by making nice with evangelical right-wingers at the beginning of the presidency. The problem with this logic is that right-wingers are far more likely to cut Warren's throat for doing the inauguration than they are to call a truce with Obama for having invited him. In the meantime, Obama allies himself with an anti-evolution, brazenly anti-choice, virulently anti-gay, and unconscionably anti-equality-for-women religious conservative. This is not the change that those of us who voted for Obama can believe in.

Now I have to say that Aretha Franklin, Elizabeth Alexander (poet), and Joseph Lowery doing the benediction are more along the lines I had in mind. But they are not getting a lot of play in the media because everyone knows that the person who speaks first (i.e., the invocation) sets the tone.

I'll be praying for Pres. Obama's administration.

P.S. Check out Renita Weem's blog entry about the subject for the best thing I've seen yet.


rjweems said...

Yes! You captured the subtext of the matter much better than I. Go back to the blog and don't be shy about supplying Deborah (and others) with a link 2 your blog to help bring them on board as to why the inaugural invocation matters. said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

Hi there Dr. Callahan,

While I understand the outrage that many feel, I am more disappointed that our ministry colleagues spend time complaining instead of positioning themselves to take center stage.

I can think of a few black clergywomen who have been in ministry for as long as Rick Warren has...

For years, he has constructed and implemented a strategy to position himself as the "face of Christianity"...the next Billy Graham.

Name one black clergywoman who has a strategy in place to counter this?

Name one black clergywoman who has crafted the political maze that Rick has and has presidents on the phone?

We need to put up or shut up.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Leslie D. Callahan said...


Your point is well-taken. I don't know how to fix that part. How does one position herself? It's a question I am asking all of my stellar black women preacher friends. said...

Dr. Callahan,

I wrote a post about the Rick Warren issue on Tuesday and the resulting conversation has become a bit complicated in the last two days.

I invite you to weigh in.

Please feel welcome to pick apart all of my arguments, if necessary. I welcome constructive dissent.

My thought processes become sharper when they are being challenged.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Moonbeam said...

Well, as someone who will admittedly acknowledge that I am probably one of the few black people who did not vote for Obama, I just don't see what all the hoopla is about.

While I am a republican, I lean libertarian and am probably very liberal on social issues. I don't agree with Warren's actions regarding Prop 8, but I also am mindful that many many many people have picked up and read and studied his books -- not only in ultra-conservative churches, but in what people may call "mainstream" churches. I think this is how most of America knows of him (not from his position on Prop 8 or abortion).

I don't know if the average church-goer, including myself, would have really known how "conservative" Rick Warren actually was until the liberal press and others began complaining about his views. And, I like to think I keep up with this sort of stuff on a regular basis.

The reality is that people disagree on issues like gay rights, abortion, and evolution (which by the way, speaking as someone with a science degree, is a theory for which there is little evidence. Plus very clearly evolution (or some derivation, including the Big Bang) and creation, I believe, are perfectly consistent.

So, people have different opinions on these issues, many may be based in religion. So, to have a litmus test for participation in the inauguration to me would be sending a message contrary to the inclusive message Obama supposedly ran on...

My two cents...

Anonymous said...

All I can say is "Wow".
I learned something new today.
Because I to read and studied the Purpose Driven Life I am now baffled at what I am reading.

Thank you so much for some enlightenment on this topic.


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