Inauguration Prayer #1: Bishop Gene Robinson January 18, 2009

Inauguration Prayer #1: Bishop Gene Robinson

As I said earlier, I’ll be making a donation to the Secular Coalition for America for every use of the words “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord,” and “God.” I’ll hope you’ll join me in doing that.

Today, we had the first prayer of the four, delivered by Rev. Gene Robinson. The text is below and the Religious Word Count is below that.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears — for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger — at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience — and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance — replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity — remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


And the Religious Word Count thus far?

God 5
Lord 0
Jesus 0
Christ 0

Mentions of God notwithstanding, I’d be shocked if any other pastor delivers as classy a speech as that one. They’ll only get less inclusive from here on out.

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  • amz

    “Bless us with anger — at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

    What about discrimination against people of other faiths, or people who lack faith?

    Oh, right. While it’s an overall good speech, I can sense the hypocrisy in some of the items.

  • weaves

    …That’s…better than I expected.

  • Stephen P

    I like “O God of our many understandings”. I gather it means “Whichever flippin’ god is up there”.

  • Erp

    My local university chaplain usually remembers to include “those with no belief”.

    Robinson has apparently stated that while reading previous inaugural prayers that he was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were”. This prayer is at least a long way from Franklin Graham’s in 2001

    “…Now, O Lord, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to you. May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before you and acknowledge you alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer….”

    BTW for the last event are you just counting Sharon Watkins or also the other speakers at the event:

    *Episcopal Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral – welcome
    *Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop John Chane – invocation
    *Rev. Otis Moss Jr., senior pastor emeritus at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio – opening prayer

    *Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – sermon
    *Rev. Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia – prayer for civil leaders

    Scripture readings by
    *Dr. Cynthia Hale, senior pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Atlanta, Georgia
    *Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, New York City
    *Rev. Francisco Gonzalez, S.F., auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Washington
    *Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C.

    Responsive prayers by
    *Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president, Islamic Society of North America, Hartford, Connecticut
    *Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor, Bronx Christian Fellowship, New York City
    *Rabbi Jerome Epstein, director, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City
    *Rev. Carol Wade, canon precentor of the Washington National Cathedral
    *Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president, Hindu Temple Society of North America, New York City
    *Rev. Jim Wallis, president, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.
    *Rabbi Haskal Lookstein, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurunm, New York City
    *Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas

    *Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Washington – a prayer for the nation
    *Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori – closing prayer
    *Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America – Benediction

  • Bless us with tears…no. Anger is more appropriate. Rage against the ignorance and waste of so many lives, ignorance perpetuated by dogma spread by religion.

    Still, it is something that I’d feel happy about nodding along to most of.

  • GullWatcher

    I figure someone here should know this, so I’m asking before I say the wrong thing and get shot down (elsewhere, not here) – is there any place in the founding documents of this country that specifically mention Jesus? Those people who claim America was founded as a Christian country are extremely irksome, and it occured to me that while god is mentioned in more than a few places, Jesus isn’t (that I know of – am I right or wrong on this?). That seems a good counter to the whole ‘America is a Christian country’ crap. Where there’s no Christ, there’s no Christianity…. And wouldn’t that just be nice?

    As for the speech, it only made me want to stick a fork in my eye just a little, which is actually pretty good on the public prayer scale.

  • Hey this could have been a lot lot worse. No mentions of Jebus????!!!! Only five mentions of Goad? Maybe he’s some sort of ATHEIST Pastor?

  • SarahH

    That was excellent.

  • I thought Gene Robenson said some good things. Of course its my understanding of God that He is a human invention.

    I’ve made my prediction on what Rick Warren will say.

    See here.

    We will see if Rick can rise above his core beliefs and present an inclusive invocation.

  • That didn’t sound that bad…

  • Eliza

    Gullwatcher, there is NO mention of Jesus in the founding documents of the United States.

    The Declaration of Independence refers to “the laws of nature and nature’s God” and to “their Creator” (their referring to “all men”).

    The U.S. Constitution makes NO reference to god, and the very few (2, I think) references to religion are to limit it or guarantee freedom in that realm.

    May be useful to read some on statements about religion, Christianity, etc by the key founding fathers, esp. Jefferson. (…he who edited the New Testament to come up with the “Jefferson Bible”, which includes no miracles, including no mention of virgin birth or resurrection.) But, good luck in getting through to those who insist the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation.

    I particularly like the irony that essentially none of us in the U.S. today would have been tolerated by the Puritans, including Christians who are so proud of “our Christian heritage”.

  • Miko

    GullWatcher: It depends on how you define “founding documents.” In any legal document, as Eliza mentioned the answer is no. Those who try to claim we’re a Christian nation will sometimes try to subtly and disingenuously twist the phrase into “founding era documents” and then point out that the text of sermons from Christian churches that survive from that period did, in fact, mention Jesus. Since this claim is neither surprising nor interesting, they’ll simultaneously do this while trying to stop you from realizing that they are.

  • Eliza

    Here’s a nice summary of the views of the US’s founding fathers and those in government documents of the founder, including the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams, which reads (in part):

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…

    BTW, forgot to comment, Robinson’s prayer is about as good as a nontheist could hope for. ‘Course, he’s one of those liberal Episcopalians, like John Shelby Spong, who are so damned inclusive that other Christians bring out the “no true Scotsman” claim against them.

  • Gabriel

    That is a pretty good speech. I think that it will make most christians very angry but some of them will accept it. I am interested in how the very bigoted Rick “I think all gays should stay in the closet. Heck I’m still in the closet. It isn’t that hard.” Warren’s speech will be diferent.

  • Hold on. Wait a minute.

    Bless us with tears — for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

    Let’s rephrase that.

    “God, who has given us a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS… bless us with the ability to cry about it.”

    With all due respect… WTF?

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t get past this. WTF kind of god is this? Is he a cruel joker, giving us a world full of brutality and horror and watching us struggle with it like lab rats in a maze? Or is he an impotent mid-level bureaucrat, with the ability to bless us with nice warm feelings but no power to actually do anything practical?

    Of course I agree with the political sentiments. But I find the actual theology of liberal Christianity every bit as baffling and funked-up as the hard-core fundie variety.

  • Eliza said:

    The Declaration of Independence refers to “the laws of nature and nature’s God” and to “their Creator” (their referring to “all men”).


    I read on some website, and I am sure many fundies will agree with this, that the Founders use of the word “Creator” literally meant the Christian god, because the word “Creator” and others, at the time of the writing, were used to describe their “god”.

    I of course do not agree, but when reading this persons explanation, I can see how he could get many fundies to agree with him.

    Not every eye opening, I find most fundies, not “religious” folk (I support the Interfaith Alliance and many Secular organizations, even though I am a rabid atheist 🙂 ) would rather follow than lead, which leaves me with my conclusion, which I always find myself at, that fundies are mentally ill, and use religion to teach them how to think, feel, behave, dress etc.

    That being said, I am NOT putting down mental illness, I have suffered from depression and addiction (both “in check at this time) for many years, and attended AA and NA (and a few other A’s) for many years, and understand the stepping stone a belief in a “higher power” or “power greater than myself” is and how important and successful it can be in helping millions of people with all ailments.

    However, as in one sect of Hinduism I studied, it was explained that, the image you once pray to, is there to help you focus, and eventually you do not need that image, hence the lingam or other non-human character “images” of a god, or the universe.

    That being said, as a “rabid” atheist, I believe if people do not keep growing and settle on, say the bible, and because of fear, they need to hold on to, for dear life, what is written, so afraid of the darkness of the unknown, (which is basically one’s life) that they stop growing, retarding their emotional and spiritual self. Much like when alcoholics first start drinking, it is said that they stop growing emotionally, and that can be said for almost all “ailments” eating, sex, gamble, and the other not so publically studied deterrence of emotional and spiritual growth; day dreaming too much, watching TV. too much, shopping too much, or any of the number of actions we can delve into to stay away from “ourselves”; our feelings; reality.
    So, it is mental illness, disease, retarding of emotional and spiritual growth, ( and yes, I say spiritual growth because we have a brain that is not fully functional, at least that what is said, and I believe the Universe and energy are “living” so I call them spiritual to incorporate our consciousness of reality and our connection on a scientific level, that cannot be explained…yet, this has nothing to do with religious belief, and if there ever is a word that can incorporate my consciousness and the energy of life and the universe, I will gladly use it, I think Wholism/Holistic is used too much by “New Agers” and the religious folks, so I do not use that world.)


  • Beth B.

    Well, I was pretty impressed by Warren’s prayer up until the last ~30 seconds of it. A few “God”s and “Lord”s, exhortations that we weren’t a nation “united by … religion … but by freedom and justice for all.”

    Then came the blatantly Christian parts, including a full recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“our god which art in heaven,” etc.). Oh well. It was overall rather nice I thought.

  • So Hemant, what was the final tally of mentions? How much do we have to send to the Secular Coalition?

  • Rachel

    I noticed that Warren addressed Jesus in about four different languages in one breath (starting with Arabic). Does that count as four mentions or one?

  • I’d say that counts as four, definitely.

  • Daniel

    I found all the comments here to be a bit odd. This IS a prayer. Those that pray, pray to god/goddess/high power, so what did you expect? The logic escapes me.

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