Openly gay bishop The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire has been invited to give a prayer during the inauguration events of president-elect Barack Obama.
The announcement comes after weeks of outcry from the gay community over Obama’s choice of evangelical, anti-gay pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. Warren likened gay marriage to an incestuous relationship and polygamy, and supported passage of a California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage.
“I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, We are One, to be held at the Lincoln Memorial,” Robinson wrote in an email to friends.
Robinson, an early Obama supporter, has often praised him for this acceptance of gay unions. He was critical, however, of Obama’s choice of Warren at the inauguration.
“It was like a slap in the face,” Bishop Robinson said of the Warren choice last month.
“I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he said, “but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”
Speaking by phone to the Concord Monitor, Robinson said he did not believe the invitation was a response to the Warren flap.
“It’s important for any minority to see themselves represented in some way,” Robinson said. “Whether it be a racial minority, an ethic minority or, in our case, as sexual minority. Just seeing someone like you up front matters.”
Robinson is to give his prayer Sunday at an event attended by Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during an inaugural kick-off event. Obama will also speak at the event.
Warren is the best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life and heads the prominent evangelical Saddleback church in Southern California. A rising leader in the evangelical movement, Warren supports the outlawing of abortion in all cases and is a staunch gay rights opponent. But his moderate tone on AIDS, poverty and climate change have made him controversial among social conservatives.
Warren will give his prayer during the January 20 inauguration ceremony, a prologue to Obama’s historical inaugural address.
An inaugural committee spokesman, Clark Stevens, declined to answer if Robinson was invited to appease the gay and lesbian community. “[Robinson is] an important figure in the religious community,” Stevens said. “We are excited that he will be involved.”
Robinson, 61, who lives in Weare, New Hampshire with his longtime partner, said he has yet to write his prayer, but won’t use a Bible.
“While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”
The acceptance of openly gay clergy remains a divisive issue in the Episcopal Church, and the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop has splintered the worldwide church into several factions. In the United States, four dioceses and dozens of parishes have broken away from the church over the controversy.