Unaware of the awesome magnitude (to say nothing of the wonder-working power) of religion in inaugural festivities these days, some of us chatterers have misunderestimated the extent of Barack Obama’s commitment to religious pluralism in organizing the members of the praying class for his ascension to the presidency. Yeah, there are the two Protestants at the swearing in, and the Protestant at the special Lincoln Memorial event, and the Protestant giving the sermon at the National Prayer Service (NPR) at that big Protestant pile up there on Mount Saint Alban. But what we overlooked was the fact that, since being invented by Ronald Reagan in 1985, the NPR has become The Quadrennial Occasion for the celebration of American religious diversity. Here, for example, is the clerical array that turned out the last time a newly elected president took office:
The Right Reverend Jane Holmes Dixon, Bishop of Washington, pro tem
The Very Reverend Nathan D. Baxter, Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Reverend Canon Peter Grandell, Precentor, Washington National Cathedral
The Reverend Franklin Graham, Samaritan Ministries, Boone, North Carolina
The Reverend Beulah “Bubba” Dailey, Austin Street Center, Dallas, Texas
Rabbi Samuel Karff, Beth Israel Synagogue, Houston, Texas
The Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick, Archdiocese of Washington, Washington, DC
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The Reverend Suzanne Love Harris, St. Johns Episcopal Church, Jackson Hole, WY
Dr. Jack Hayford, The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California
Father Luis León, St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC
Thus far, it has been revealed that the NPR this year will include rabbis from each of the three major Jewish streams (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), plus Ingrid Mattson, who is not exactly an imam but does head the Islamic Society of North America. And there will, assuredly, be other brands as well.
It has become customary for the Archbishop of Washington to represent the Roman Catholics, but as of this morning there’s been no word on whether the current occupant of that office, the Most Reverend Donald Wuerl, will be on hand. Some Catholics–had he lived a few days longer, John Richard Neuhaus would no doubt be among them–will consider it a scandal if Wuerl turns up to sanctify the presidency of someone they consider irredeemably pro-choice. Many others will consider it a scandal if he doesn’t. I say he does.