Having annoyed some readers by proposing that presidents not use religious inclusivity as a criterion for picking those who pray at their inaugurations, I will confess that I like it when the prayers themselves are offered in a not-too-exclusive way.
I mean, when someone prays simply “in Jesus’ name” at a big civic occasion, it makes me feel a little on the outs. And yet, shouldn’t people get to pray according to their lights?
In that regard, the four public prayers of the last couple of days in D.C. reached out in different ways–in one instance even to those who say there is no God. Here’s the spectrum.
* The Name. Pinch-hitting for Rev. Louie Giglio at yesterday’s benediction duties on the Capital steps, Rev. Luis Leon of St. John’s Episcopal Church went with: “All this we pray in Your most Holy Name, Amen.” The distinctive Judeo-Christian habit of praying in God’s Name ultimately derives from the fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob actually has a name, represented by the four-letter Hebrew word pictured above.
* Just God. At Vice President Joe Biden’s official swearing-in Sunday, Rev. Kevin O’Brien wrapped up his prayer (“to work together for the common good…to meet on the common ground to which You call us”) with the all-purpose theistic identifier: “You generous God have given us so much and we humbly offer these gifts for the good of others and for your greater glory. Amen.”
* Many Gods. Giving the prayer at the post-inaugural luncheon in the Capitol, Philadelphia evangelical leader Rev. Luis Cortes (also stressing the common good) recognized that others in the room–presumably including the new Hindu and Buddhist and “spiritual but not religious” members of Congress, pray to deities other than his: “We have all joined in this prayer in our particular god’s name, and I in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen and Amen.”
* Of Gods and Men. And then there was Myrlie Evers-Williams’ invocation, which went beyond the theistic in drawing the circle: “In Jesus’ name and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.”
Works for me.