Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer was passed over by HBO and MSNBC and even though one speaker tower broke down, the prayer was clearly heard as this YouTube video shows. Several papers carried his prayer in full or in part. A transcript is here. A note on the controversy over the bishop's exclusion from the HBO broadcast is here.
It is hard to know what is more surprising: that HBO passed over the invocation in both the live and rebroadcast versions or that it was posted on YouTube by Sarah Pulliam of Christianity Today. She also described her experience at the Lincoln Memorial event, and described the speaker tower breakdown near the Washington Monument area.
Gene Robinson, the divisive figure who was the first openly Episcopal gay bishop, led the invocation at today's inaugural kickoff.
Robinson prayed for God to "bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people." He also prayed that God would bless us with "the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah."
Overall, his prayer was not especially surprising, since Robinson had told the Concord Monitor that it wouldn't be "especially Christian" and wouldn't use a Bible. Below is the video I took on my camera of Robinson's prayer....
The event was mostly focused on the celebrities, including Bono, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, and Bruce Springsteen. Several journalists clearly need a brush-up on People, In Style, and US magazines because people had to call out each celebrity for those of us who were clueless. My favorite moment was when it looked like Samuel L. Jackson peeked around the corner to take a picture on his phone. Even Malia Obama pulled out a small digital camera....
During the event, I stood close to the front and heard the prayer just fine, but my friend who stood closer to the Washington Monument said the sound of the prayer didn't reach the crowd until halfway finished.
USA Today's Faith and Reason blog:
Did you miss the invocation by the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson at today's star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial? The HBO broadcast started after Robinson's prayer but Episcopal Cafe fills us in with the full text here.
He began, "O God of our many understandings," and asked God to grant this nation seven distinct blessings including:Bless us with tears -- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger -- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Robinson asked God to give Obama wisdom, a "quiet heart" and "stirring words" to inspire the nation in a time of challenge and sacrifice. He concluded by imploring a "good and great God" to keep Obama safe to do his work and "find joy in this impossible calling..."
Jeffrey Weiss at the Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News:
If you're keeping score, and we know you are, you know that Barack Obama has raised some eyebrows in his choices of preachers to pray at some of the inauguration ceremonies. First up: Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. He offered an opening prayer before Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The Episcopal Cafe blog (hosted by the diocese of Washington DC) has the text. Any hot-buttons pressed? None that you'd be surprised at. There was this:Bless us with anger - at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
But it was mostly the kind of broadly spiritual civic prayer that usually (but not always) happens at such events. And no, it did not end "in Jesus name." Read it yourself here. (I'll betcha that Rick Warren ends on a different note in his invocation...)
Leah McElrath Renna writes for The Huffington Post about anti-gay protesters whose small presence were a startling contrast to the feeling of unity and hope that pervaded the crowd. The protesters were also a painful reminder of why it was important to have Bishop Robinson's prayer and presence covered responsibly and fully.
Appearing at the primary public entrance to the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, representatives from a group calling itself "Brother Ruben and the Official Street Preachers" protested openly-gay Episcopal Gene Robinson's participation in the event.
With a diverse and otherwise joyous crowd of adults and children of all ages streaming by, the three protest participants shouted about hate, hell and "homo-sex" - using a megaphone to assert that "homosexuals are eternally damned" and "Jesus doesn't love homosexuals."
On its website, the group claims to "preach a loving message to sodomites. We tell them the truth, that unless they repent they shall likewise perish in Hell Fire!"
Although widely denounced by the passing concert attendees, the protesters' message and ahistorical Biblical justifications for their bigotry differ in tone only from the beliefs espoused by the Saddleback Baptist Church and its Pastor Rick Warren. Rick Warren will be delivering the official Invocation at the Inauguration on Tuesday.
Updated Monday 9:30 am EST: HBO says they are not to blame.
Michael Jenson on the blog AfterElton contacted HBO about the omission of the invocation:
Sunday afternoon, HBO televised the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial — a concert planned by the Presidential Inauguration Committee — to kick off the festivities surrounding Obama's inauguration on Tuesday.
Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson delivered the opening prayer before the start of the concert, but the prayer was not included as part of HBO's broadcast.
Contacted Sunday night by AfterElton.com concerning the exclusion of Robinson's prayer, HBO said via email, "The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show."
Uncertain as to whether or not that meant that HBO was contractually prevented from airing the pre-show, we followed up, but none of the spokespeople available Sunday night could answer that question with absolute certainty.
However, it does seem that the network's position is that they had nothing to do with the decision.
We have also contacted a spokesperson from the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) for their explanation and will post what we learn either from PIC or HBO .
Wherever the fault lies, this is yet another unfortunate turn involving GLBT concerns over Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at Obama's inauguration. Many in the gay community saw Robinson's selection to deliver Sunday's prayer as an olive branch.
But given that most Americans could not attend the concert, instead having to watch it on television, the decision to not broadcast the prayer is being seen by many in the GLBT community as a slight.
The exclusion of Robinson, even if unintentional, does not reflect well on the Obama administration's ability thus far to think through these sorts of nuances.
Another update (11:45 am est):
The Kansas City Star has on it's tvbarn site the following by Aaron Barnhart:
As I see it, the Obama campaign has three options when the outcry (which has already started) comes to a boil later today:
1. Claim it was a technical glitch, jumping on the Times blog item. This would not only be a cowardly route, but it would be quickly disproven by one of several gay executives at HBO or a viewer who could point out that the show began precisely and glitch-free at 2:30 p.m. ET.
2. Come clean and admit that they never intended for Robinson to be seen on national TV. Which would mean admitting that Obama cooked up an extremely cynical ploy to pacify gays -- and straights like me who support gay marriage -- with a press release. Well, it failed. Perhaps Team Obama will claim it had no idea Robinson would not be seen giving the invocation. But then what does that say of Team Obama's vaunted preparation, planning, and chesslike working of all the angles?
3. Admit they screwed up and should've included Robinson on camera. If HBO had -- for some reason -- objected to having a gay bishop welcome all of America to "We Are One," then the invocation could have been pushed until after the entry of the presidential entourage. Well, it would not be the first time Team Obama had underestimated a controversial clergyman ... or the second. (How many presidents have gotten into hot water over their ministers three times before they even took the oath of office??)
Washington Monthly says:
I'm going to guess that this was the first invocation at an inaugural event to cover this specific ground. Good for Robinson.
As for his prayer to a "God of our many understandings," Robinson said that was entirely deliberate. He told the Union Leader that he'd researched previous inaugural invocations and prayers and found them to be "aggressively Christian." He preferred a more inclusive route: "All I could think about when I read them was, 'My goodness, what does a Jew think hearing this? What does a Muslim think? What does a Sikh or a Hindu think?' Having been not included, as a gay man, in so many instances, the last thing I want to do is exclude any American from this."
I didn't see it, but Digby added, "I just saw Obama hug Bishop Robinson at the Lincoln Memorial and it did my heart good." Indeed.
Integrity's press release is below the fold.
Integrity celebrates Bishop Gene Robinson’s historic presence in the Inaugural celebrations for our nation’s 44th President as a giant step forward taken for LGBT equality.
“There are miles to go before we rest in this journey toward being truly a nation of liberty and justice for ‘all,’” said Integrity President Susan Russell, “but when Bishop Gene Robinson took his place at the podium at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday we all moved closer toward realizing that goal. In addition to offering the invocation at Sunday’s Inaugural Concert, we are thrilled that Bishop Robinson will be among the invited guests at the prayer service on the Tuesday morning, will attend the swearing in ceremony, will view the Inaugural Parade from the Presidential viewing stand, and will attend the National Prayer Service at National Cathedral on Wednesday.
“Any disappointment that Bishop Robinson’s powerful opening prayer was not part of the HBO broadcast pales in comparison to the power of his iconic presence at the Lincoln Memorial on this historic occasion. Bishop Robinson’s invocation included prayers for patience, safety and compassion – and to 'Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.' It will echo through the ages as words of hope, vision and promise."
"We look forward to both the opportunities and challenges ahead as we enter a new era of partnership in our common commitment to overcome bias, bigotry and discrimination for all Americans.”