Obama asks Gene Robinson to give Inaugural concert invocation

Updated with numerous links. (Concert performers include Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Beyonce, says the Wall Street Journal.)

We received this email from Bishop Robinson this morning:

I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.


(Editor's note: There will undoubtedly be some controversy over whether Gene was invited as a response to the intense criticism of Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We don't know. We've been sitting on this news since just before Christmas, so it has been in the works for a while. But if Gene had been contacted before the Warren selection was announced, it seems unlikely he would have spoken out so strongly against the choice.)

Updated: Politco's Mike Allen is also on the story, as is Gene's hometown paper, The Concord Monitor. Episcopal Life Online has the most comprehensive story we've read. Washington Monthly has also weighed in, as has Ben Smith of Politco's blog. He writes:

It's a mark of Obama's raw power at the moment as much of his unifying message, that he can bring in fundamentally opposed Christian leaders like those two, without either walking out. (Though, to be fair, they're a safe 48 hours apart.)

Still, it's a mark of just how different, when it comes to mainstreaming gay leaders, it is to have a Democrat in the White House than a Republican, or even than a 1990s Democrat.

The Huffington Post chimes in, as do the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Human Rights Campaign and New York magazine's Daily Intel. The Boston Globe has also filed a story, as have US News and World Report, Religion Dispatches, the American Prospect, the Independent and Reuters. To read Integrity's press release click Read more.

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is predictabily unhappy. In reference to his statement, it should be noted that it isn't at all unusual for a clergy person of one denomination to give a retreat fo clergy of another denomination, and that this is generally done at the invitation of retreatants. Additionally, it is libelous to say Bishop Robinson left his wife and children for a man, as he hadn't met his partner, Mark Andrew, until will after he and his wife divorced.

Ezra Klein has one of the shrewder posts we've read. It concludes:

This is, incidentally, why it's useful for progressives to criticize the president. Politicians respond to incentives. To noise. To anger. Warren, on some level, was a response to the loud protestations of evangelicals who believed the Democratic Party had no place for them. It's hard to see Robinson is anything but a response to progressive activists who sense that Obama was more willing to risk cross those who supported him than those who opposed him. Erase the anger from either side and it's not worth Obama -- or any president -- taking the risk to placate them. But this is a step in the right direction. This is genuinely inclusive. If it was the plan all along, the Obama administration sure did a good job keeping the secret. And if it wasn't, then equality activists have something to be proud of this morning. They changed the incentives.

In the Times of London, Ruth Gledhill writes:

The President-elect's choice is a sign of his willingness to respond to criticism.

It also indicates that the conservatives might still wield immense political influence in the US but that they have lost their hard-fought battle for the soul of Anglicanism and that the gay and lesbian community, denied equal ordination and other rights for centuries, are with the election of Mr Obama on their way to capturing the moral high ground in the US church.

The New York Times' story is now online.

And if you are keeping score at home, the Robinson story became the biggest blog event of the day at about 4:30, with over 135 blogs on the case, according to Google's blogsearch.

In other news, Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee had this to say.

From Integrity:

Integrity is delighted at today’s announcement of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson’s role in the upcoming Inaugural celebrations. Following on the heels of yesterday’s selection of the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins as the first woman preacher for the January 21st National Prayer Service, today’s news is yet another indication that we are entering an historic era of diversity and inclusion.

“Bishop Robinson’s selection by the President-elect to pray God’s blessings on the opening event of the Inaugural week is good news not only for gay and lesbian Americans but for all who share the audacious hope of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal,” said Integrity President Susan Russell.

“It also gives us hope that the age of an ‘America’s Pastor’ is behind us and that we enter a new era where diverse voices of faith speak from the particularity of their own experience of God’s grace, love and power. While there are many miles to go before we are done with racism, sexism and homophobia in this country, we look forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration, to Sharon Watkins’ sermon and to Gene Robinson’s prayers as signs of great progress and profound hope.

Comments (15)

what a great way to do the right thing. thanks be to God!
Br. Christopher JC Lewis

So, we've seen now a variety of pray-ers asked to participate in inaugural activities. It will be very interesting to see the breadth of reactions.

Marshall Scott

I am proud, humble, and grateful for Father Gene's invitation to pray for the new president and the opportunity for Episcopalians to be represented among the new workers for peace and freedom in our country and around the world.

This invitation seems appropriate, not contrived, and helps express the depth of acceptance and accountability necessary to realize the fullest potential for justice, freedom of choice and enlightenment in America 2009...let the abusers bow their heads (as the victims have already done with the Rick Warren inclusion).

I'm not sure I understand what partisan affiliation has to do with it -- the Rev'd Peter Gomes, an openly gay American Baptist minister, gave the benediction at the inaugurals of Ronald Reagan (1984) and George HW Bush (1988), much higher profile appearances than this one. That was more than 20 years ago.

So it's a mark of Politico's lack of a sense of history, not of anything about Obama and gay rights.

Chris Tessone

oh, Mr. Editor,

What news were you sitting on from before Christmas? That Robinson had been selected, and you folks already knew?

A little clarity, please!


Roger Brown

editor's note: Right. We knew an invitation had been made, but learned it on the condition we not publish the news until given a go ahead.

Bravo to the President-Elect, who is building a tent much larger than many of us thought possible - would be nice to have all these pastors and bishops and such all together praying, wouldn't it!


one other thing...Chris,

Just as a point of information...

Rev'd Dr. Peter Gomes actually came out publicly in 2002, I'm not sure if Reagan would have chosen him had this fact been known back in 1984 or Bush in 1988...


I wonder if our president to be has not taken a page from the presiding bishop's stance. The last page in the service booklet for her installation reads as follows (and I think one could easily substitute the word president for bishop and not loose any meaning):

The bishop belongs to all.
Let no one be scandalized if I frequent
Those who are considered unworthy
Or sinful. Who is not a sinner?
Let no one be alarmed if I am seen
With compromised and dangerous people,
On the left or the right.
Let no one bind me to a group.
My door, my heart, must be open
To everyone, absolutely everyone.
Th e Most Reverend Hélder Pessoa Câmara
Archbishop (retired) of
Th e Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Olinda and Recif

I'm sorry but I don't see a lot of joy in Mudville. +Robinson will pray at an event most Americans don't even know takes place. The Homophobic Warren will pray and the whole world will watch.

James Holloway

I am so pleased to see that Obama has so little fear of pissing off various politically correct factions. I'm sure as many people will be pissed off about this selection as were pissed off about Rick Warren.

Inclusion comes at a price, in this case stirring up whomever doesn't like this one or that one ... but I think the benefit of true breadth of thought and opinion outweighs fussing and irritation and protest.

Certainly +Gene won't have as big an audience as Warren, James. But the annoucement is receiving a lot of coverage, and if I am not mistaken this event is going to be on HBO, so it's got a nice little profile of its own.

I'm confused... +Gene was upset that the God that Warren was praying to wasn't "the same God I know", yet according to Yahoo news, "Robinson said he doesn't yet know what he'll say, but he knows he won't use a Bible.
"While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans," Robinson said. "I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation."

I can see how you can pray, and not necessarily 'use' the Bible, but being careful not to be 'especially Christian'?

I don't get it.

Robinson's invitation was a well kept secret, but isn't the timing of the announcement interesting coming on the heels of Warren's declaration about the California property decision,

Relative to Ezra Klein,


FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." He understood that a President does not rule by fiat and unilateral commands to a nation. He must build the political support that makes his decisions acceptable to our countrymen. He read the public opinion polls not to define who he was but to determine where the country was – and then to strategize how he could move the country to the objectives he thought had to be carried out.

In case you guys did not see it, The Cafe got a reference on the Faithy & Reason Blog at USA Today regarding this story.

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