More About Rick Warren’s Inaugural Prayer
I’ve never been a fan of Rick Warren. I haven’t read his books, I’ve never heard him preach, and I strongly disliked his recent comments against gay marriage. But I found myself deeply moved by his prayer as I watched it on TV on Tuesday. I thought it was very beautiful and very inspiring. It moved me to the point of tears, and those tears kept flowing through Aretha Franklin’s song and into the swearing-in itself.
My friend Candace Chellew-Hodge (whose new book Bulletproof Faith I highly recommend) found Rick Warren’s prayer too “aggressively Christian.” I respectfully disagree. To me, being “aggressively Christian” means imposing one’s beliefs on others. Praying a Christian prayer at the invitation of a Christian president-elect is not, in my mind, an aggressive act. If Rick Warren had prayed in the name of Jesus “our only Savior” or “the only name whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), then yes, that would have been exclusionary and offensive to some non-Christians. But he didn’t. Rick Warren prayed in the name of Jesus, but only after emphasizing that Jesus is, in his words, “the one who changed my life” – making it personal, not imposing his belief in Jesus on others.
And when Rick Warren prayed the name of Jesus in four different languages, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and English, I saw that as being inclusive – emphasizing that many others have also had life-changing experiences with Jesus, in differing languages and cultures. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Rick Warren “gave his words a multi-faith hue by invoking the Christian figure as he is referred to in other faiths.” Doing so shows that Warren “is appreciative of, or at least courteous to, people who don’t share his particular faith,” said William Martin, senior fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University. “He is trying to be as inclusive as he can be.”
I’ve read more than a few comments on the internet this week from Jews, Buddhists, Neo-Pagans, and other non-Christians who have written positive reactions to Rick Warren’s prayer. The majority of comments I’ve seen against Warren’s prayer have been from Christians: liberal Christians who thought the prayer was offensive to non-Christians, and evangelical Christians upset that Warren used the Arabic name of Jesus, Isa. This week I’ve seen a lot of evangelical bloggers identify Isa as “the false god of Islam.” When conservatives talk about “false gods” it makes me wonder how many gods they think exist. Who knew evangelical Christianity could be so polytheistic?
And when liberal Christians get upset when a Christian minister prays a Christian prayer, it makes me wonder if they’re truly comfortable with their faith. Within the gay community there is a phenomenon called “internalized homophobia” – when a GLBT person has not fully reached a point of self-acceptance and continues to internalize our culture’s homophobia. Maybe there’s a similar phenomenon among liberal Christians who feel some sense of embarrassment or discomfort about their faith: “internalized Christophobia,” perhaps? I do NOT think this is the case with my friend Candace, but I’ve read others in the blogosphere this week that make me wonder.
As my friend Jon Zuck so wonderfully put it, “It’s time for ‘liberals’ to actually be liberal in the fullness of that word, open-handed, open-minded, tolerant, generous, forgiving.” To that, and to Rick Warren’s beautiful and inspiring inaugural prayer, I say Amen.