Monday, December 22, 2008

An Invocation Prayer

Is Rick Warren really to be considered “America’s Pastor?”
by Charlie Leck

Several days ago, when it was announced that Rick Warren was asked to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, my reaction was to utter an expletive.

Why? Why in hell would he do such a thing? That is a worthy question, but I’m not really going to deal with it here. I’m going to just pass over it very superficially.

Is it politics?
In terms of pastors, Obama is most closely associated with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, an obvious liberal of some radical proportion. I’ve made it clear here that I like Pastor Wright and I find easy comparisons of him to the Old Testament prophets who also spoke in ways that made people uncomfortable and edgy. Wright has some depth to him as well as mystery. I like the verbal pictures he paints.

Of course, Obama couldn’t have invited Pastor Wright to do the prayer. That’s pretty politically obvious.

But why, from a political perspective, Pastor Warren? Balance! Another move toward the center where there might be better dialogue and surer compromise.

Wisdom of Rivals?
This is the concept I like most. Obama, I think, is caught up in the philosophy that Abraham Lincoln held during his Presidency. Keep rivals and advisors of differing opinions around you. It makes sense to have people who don’t necessarily agree with you tell you what they think of actions you may take. You’ll get a quick glimpse of how a portion of the electorate is going to react to these actions. It gives you time to reconsider or it allows you a chance to reframe and rephrase what you are going to do.

Rick Warren’s thinking sucks!
As far as I’m concerned, Rick Warren’s thinking (both theologically and sociologically) sucks! I’ve no patience with him. His comments about gays show an utter stupidity and ignorance about our gay brothers and sisters.

How about his comparison of the situation to pizza? He really likes pizza, but he wouldn’t marry pizza. That is like the thinking of my kids when they were about 9 or 10.

“Dad, do you love this car?”

“Sure, I really love this car!”

“Then why don’t you marry it?” And off they’d run, giggling together like a band of hyenas.

“Just because I like pizza it doesn’t mean I should marry it,” said Warren. “Biologically, I am predisposed to enjoy the immaculate melding of mozzarella cheese, red sauce and thick crust baked to tasty perfection. But that doesn’t mean I should enter into a lifelong commitment with Sicilian or plain, nor bed it down, nor bring children into the world and have them have to explain to their classmates why their mom’s crust is not a crisp as it once was. Does any child deserve to have their friends tossing Monday 2 for 1 coupons in his face? Not in my world they don’t. Yet, to say that I am against pizza-eaters or gays is absurd. Our Saddleback Church offer more weight-watchers meetings to overeaters than any other evangelical megachurch on the west coast.”
Go figure!

But, it’s not just on the issue of gays that I think Pastor Warren’s thinking sucks. He is overly simplistic about most of Christian Theology. I call it one glance theology. There’s no wrestling with issues going on in his thinking. There’s no plummeting to any depth. Everything, to him, is superficial and obvious.

In fact, the great story of Christ is complex, deep and multi-faceted. Pastor Warren would disagree. He boils Christianity down to accepting Christ and gaining salvation.

I would ask: “But, who is Christ? And, don’t give me any glib, simplistic answers. I have struggled with this question for a life time and I intend to take the struggle with me to the stars.”

Obama deserves better than Warren,
but I’m sure it was all thought out! Obama’s organization has been too thorough and too careful to this point, to have made this decision without deep thought and analysis. They must know what they’re doing. I’m sure they’ve put some restrictions on Warren because, if not, the prayer could be a disaster.

As for Warren, here is what he said about the invitation:

"Three years ago I took enormous heat for inviting Barack Obama to my church because some of his views don't agree (with mine)," he said. "Now he's invited me."
And Obama laid it out clearly:

“During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that's how it should be, because that's what America's about. That's part of the magic of this country ... we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."
Obama explained that a Methodist pastor, Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights, will deliver the benediction.

My prayer!
Had I been asked to deliver the inaugural prayer, it would be as follows.

Mighty creator and controller of the universe,
Attend us this day and be patient with us
As we struggle to discern Thy will for creation
And what it is Thou wouldst have us do in coming days

Thou hast come to us in many forms and visions
As Father, Spirit, Prophet, Master and King
And we invite Thee into our lives in many divergent ways
Yet Thou dost remain One and Beautiful in all our thoughts

We have but one prayer on this historic day
And Thou knowest it before we utter it aloud
Asking that Thou wouldst guide our new, young President
With Thine own hand and spirit in all he does

Amen! Amen!


  1. A brilliant prayer! You should send it to Warren!

    The other element of the story is that Rick Warren went out on a limb for Obama back in (I think) 2005 when he invited him to Saddleback to address a conference on AIDS.

    The fact that a conference on AIDS was being held in a megachurch was a pretty seismic event in the first place. That - omigosh! - a Democrat was on the podium sent scores of people reaching for their placards to protest on the sidewalks.

    Last year Hillary Clinton addressed the conference and scarcely an eyelid batted. A paradigm shift had taken place in evangelicalism because Rick Warren had taken a risk on a liberal first-term senator.

    I heard an interview with Warren from a Q&A at the National Cathedral and had a fascinating analysis of the tragedy of the liberal/conservative divide. He effectively repented of the decision of past conservatives to draw a false dichotomy between being faithful to creedal doctrine and being faithful to the commands of Jesus to love the poor. In seeking to restore a commitment to social justice he wants to bring orthodoxy back together with orthopraxis.

    The pizza comments sound frankly nuts but there's no denying that Warren has the communicative and entrepreneurial flair of Walt Disney, and if he can inspire millions to care about AIDS, so much the better.

    Have a brilliant Christmas, Charles, and I hope the New York Times comes to its senses soona nd gives you a daily column.

  2. David, I hope you are correct about Pastor Warren. I continue to find his fundamentalism troubling, but he does seem to have an openness that other of the evangelical preachers do not have.

    I am so pleased to have you as a regular reader. I often think about you when I am writing. It keeps me on my toes.