It looks like Dan Gilgoff has more or less come around to my position on Warren’s inauguration invocation. I think he’s quite right to suggest that Warren wanted to have it both ways–gesturing at inclusivity while sacrificing nothing to exclusivity. I do not presume to see into Warren’s true intentions–his heart, so to say–but it does seem to me that 1) Warren has demonstrated a pattern of wanting to appeal to larger audiences without doing anything to give his evangelical homeboys any theological basis for criticizing him; and 2) in this case, the evangelical folks who concern themselves with missions to Jews and Muslims would have gotten the message exactly. From what I can tell, there have been no objections from the right to Warren’s prayer, and that should tell you something.

Full Service

You’ve got to give the Episcopalians credit. When they want to put on a major display of establishmentarian power and glory, they sure can do it. With all the stops out for an anthem like Holy Holy Holy, you really felt that the National Prayer Service was, well, a national prayer service–conducted by a self-appointed First Among Equals but done up with all due respect for all those other equals. “Welcome to your Cathedral,” said the Dean of the place, the Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III. Well, kinda.

Not so simple

I liked John Williams’ version of “Simple Gifts” that Yo-Yo Ma and company performed at the Inauguration–lighter and subtler than Aaron Copeland’s famous Appalachian Spring version, where the old Shaker hymn reaches a level of fortissimo bombast that has always seemed to me at odds with that religious tradition. Even so, you wonder what the Shakers themselves would have thought about having the musical expression of their modest if ecstatic dancing ways incorporated into the inaugural extravaganza.

Inauguration Day #3

When Rick Warren was introduced to give the invocation today, I heard a couple of discernible uh-ohs. Pretty soon, though, the African-Americans around me were responding as in church, and when he got around to saying the Lord’s Prayer, there was no shortage of people saying it with him. So, cool with them. For me, not so much. Praying in Jesus’ name is pretty much what you’re going to get when you invite a white evangelical these days–it would have been considered a great scandal to his folks if Warren hadn’t.

Inauguration Day #1

Making my way to the mall this morning I happened to come across a small clutch of protesters, cordoned off on the north side of Constitution. They proved to be 14 members of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, the congregation that has managed to irritate just about everybody they come in contact with, most of all by seeking to picket the funerals of military personnel who die in action. They display the flag upside-down and believe God hates America because of the country permits abortions and homosexual behavior. They’ve picketed the last couple of inaugurations, but Barack Obama has sent them onto a new level of apocalyptic denunciation. There were signs proclaiming Obama as the Antichrist–or more precisely, as one of their signs put it, “Anti-Christ-in-Chief.”


Once upon a time, New England ministers turned their attention to public affairs with election day sermons. Michael Paulson has compiled an archive of Massachusetts sermons given to mark the inauguration of the nation’s first black president. Story here. And here’s an excerpt from one given by Rev. Vicki Kemper of Amherst UCC:Do you feel it? Can you sense a shifting in the tides of time, a long-overdue opening of hearts to what is possible?

Clean Sweep

I arrived in Washington but unfortunately not in time for the “Animating the Spirit of Democracy With a Ritual of Unity and Blessing” by the D.C. community of magical and spiritual progressives. They were on hand at 2 pm at the Jefferson Memorial Plaza “to sweep the town clean” with a Witches’ Broom Dance “intended to cleanse Washington of the malfeasance, deceit and partisanship of the last eight years.” A quartz crystal resembling the Washington Monument was charged with blessing and “sacrificed into the Tidal Basin”–thereby “broadcasting energies of ritual into the Potomac.” Not since Fanne Fox (aka the Argentine Firecracker) jumped into the Tidal Basin to avoid being picked up with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills in 1974 has as much energy been so discharged. And in truth, wandering around Dupont Circle in the evening, with hundreds of cheery young people, some wearing Obama ski hats, happily milling about, the place did seem kind of cleansed.

Obama and religion

Best piece of reporting I’ve seen, from Eli Saslow in today’s WaPo. I like this, from his days as an organizer, based at Chicago’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church:In his free moments, he sat in his office and wrote short stories about worship and church life. Other times, he smoked cigarettes with Bill Stenzel, the priest at Holy Rosary, and talked to him about faith.

The Falsani Interview

Waldman’s got the entire transcript of the Cathleen Falsani’s 2004 interview with Barack Obama on his faith. I can’t think of another future American president who spoke to a reporter at such length about his religious views. Perhaps the closest would be Robert Scheer’s September 1976 interview of Jimmy Carter in Playboy. Here’s the notorious excerpt from that one:Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. The Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

The Torch Is Passed

From Kevin Sack’s fine report from Albany, GA: Many, like the Rev. Horace C. Boyd, who was then and is now pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, viewed the moment through the prism of biblical prophecy. If Dr. King was the movement’s Moses, doomed to die without crossing the Jordan, it would fall to Mr. Obama to be its Joshua, they said.Which makes Jesse Jackson…chopped liver.

At least they have Lieberman

There’s been plenty of anti-Obama sludge sluiced at the Jewish community over the past few weeks, including by the Republican Jewish Coalition. It doesn’t seem to be having any effect, however. Quinnipiac’s latest Florida poll has the Jews breaking 75-20 for Obama. Looks like another teeth-grinding year for those conservative gedoylim and their neocon cupbearers.

Trick or Treat

It’s been a while since all the Jeremiah Wright commotion. This is a last minute release by The National Republican Trust PAC. Apparently it will cost the PAC somewhere between 1-3 million dollars to air it. Brody suggests the moment’s too far gone now for the video to have much impact and that if McCain loses on Tuesday, the Republicans will lament that they didn’t display Wright, Ayers, and Rezko in one big tripartite character-smearing package sooner.

PA too

Obama’s all but erased the God Gap in Pennsylvania too. But remember, this is only with respect to regular worship attenders. For the less than regular–call it the Godless Gap–the Democratic (i.e. Obama) margin is huge: nearly 30 points. So if by religion gap (a term I prefer, despite the lack of poetry) we mean the tendency of the American electorate to bifurcate between the two parties based on worship attendance, that’s very much intact in the Keystone State, and everywhere else you look. Update: Wisconsin too.