January 23, 2013

An Interfaith Gathering of Presidential Proportions: the Inaugural Prayer Service


Adam Hamilton delivered a sermon at the Inaugural Prayer Service Tuesday morning. (Photo credit: National Cathedral)

By Aaron Gaglia

Yesterday morning, many high profile faith and political leaders gathered at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to begin President Obama’s second term with a prayer service.  This service featured a large interfaith group of leaders with a majority Christian presence. There were 3 representatives of Judaism, 2 representatives of Islam, 1 Sikh, 5 Evangelicals, 2 Catholics, and 10 from Mainline Christian denominations. Most of the representatives came from the more liberal side of faith but there were a few more moderate voices.

There were a few big names such as Reverend Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral and Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. But let’s take a look at some others worth noting.

Representing the Islamic Society of North America was President Imam Mohamed Magid. The Islamic Society of North America is the largest Muslim society in North America and is a part of the interfaith community. Some have accused ISNA of having extremist ties yet no connection has been proved.

Reverend Elder Nancy L. Wilson is the Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a predominately gay denomination, and is herself openly gay. She has been married to her wife, Dr. Paula Schoenwether, for 33 years. She gave the first Scripture reading, Isaiah 55:6-11.

Perhaps the most Conservative voice there was Reverend Charles Jenkins II. He is the Senior Pastor at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois.  He earned his degrees from conservative institutions, with a Bachelors from Moody Bible Institute and a Masters from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, both in the Chicago area. He is a Grammy award winner singer and community leader. His church, Fellowship Baptist Church, is very active in helping the poor through various outreach programs. At the service, he prayed for those who serve in our country and abroad.

Reverend Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition was the only Latino represented here. Salguero, along with his wife, pastors the Lamb’s Church in New York City, a church “with a vision of diversity for a cosmopolitan city.” He is the founder of P.O.G International, a ministry focused on empowering and training leaders from diverse backgrounds. He is a prominent voice in the Latino Christian community. His group, NaLEC, focuses on three broad issues, immigration, poverty, and education, calling for increased government involvement in these areas.  At the service, he did a bilingual reading of Matthew 5:13-16.

The President of historic Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Serene Jones was also there. She is an ordained minister in both the UCC and Disciples of Christ. She has written extensively, including works on feminism and theology. Before taking her post at Union, she taught at Yale Divinity school and was the chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Jones prayed for the people of our country.

Kathryn Lohre was also present. She is the President of the National Council of Churches and the Director of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The NCC is an ecumenical organization that is active in the interfaith community.

Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals was also there. He is representative of the direction many evangelicals are heading. He is still pro-life and supports traditional marriage, but as of recently has been more focused on issues such as immigration reform, creation care, and the reduction of poverty. Imam Magid, Anderson and Lohre prayed for those who govern our country.

Reverend Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas, gave the sermon at the service. Hamilton is the author of the book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, and sees issues such as abortion and homosexuality as gray areas rather than black and white issues. His sermon was entitled, “Compassion: Vision, and Perseverance: Lessons from Moses. He began by telling Obama and Biden thank you for their service. “So, thank you for accepting jobs that pay less than you’d make doing something else, for working late night hours and weekends, for living in glass houses and enduring the criticism of nearly half the nation at any given time. We Americans may say it too seldom, but thank you.”

In remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation, he took a look at the original emancipator, Moses. He called Americans to be marked by radically helping those in need. “Humility and courageous compassion for the marginalized and oppressed were central to the heart and character of Moses and must be to us.”

He then stressed the importance of America having a unified vision as we move forward. “God has given you a unique gift, Mr. President, for casting vision in a way that inspires. Forging a common vision that brings Americans together will be the challenge. But if we could find that common vision – our picture of the Promised Land – anything would be possible.”

He then invoked the example of Moses and an inspiring story of Martin Luther King persevering through trial to call Obama and Biden to not give up. Hamilton then goes on to say that faith in God is the key to persevering. “But in this service we come together to acknowledge that in order for America to have a future, we will first need to find a deep and abiding faith in God. It is this faith that calls and compels us to humility and a concern for the poor. It is this faith that helps us discover the kinds of visions that are worthy of our sacrifices. And it is this faith that sustains us when we feel like giving up – a faith that comes from trusting the words of Jesus, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

Though I was disappointed that Hamilton did not articulate the Gospel in this sermon and focused instead on the moral and ethics of Scripture, it was a worthy effort for a mostly liberal interfaith event. The event as a whole was about as orthodox as you can get for an interfaith gathering. This event begs a question for conservative Christians though. Is there a place for interfaith services and events in the life of orthodox Christianity? Please share your thoughts below.

I just touched on a few highlights from the event. For more information, please see below.

Event Leaflet (A list of all participants is on pages 16 and 17).

A list and description of all the participants in the prayer from Religion News Service.

13 Responses to An Interfaith Gathering of Presidential Proportions: the Inaugural Prayer Service

  1. Rob says:

    Is there a place for interfaith services and events in the life of orthodox Christianity?

    It depends on what you mean by “Interfaith Services.” If we have a fundamentally different idea of what a “Service” means, then no. I have a pretty sharply focused definition of a “Worship Service” and therefore, most (if not all) of those in attendance would not be people I would stand alongside of in any formal gathering of believers to worship God.

    The “god” of some of those is not the God of the Bible. So it would be an affront to a holy God to stand before Him and say “we” are here to worship You when I know that most of the “we” don’t truly have any interest in worshiping Him.

    The word “worship” is essentially “worth-ship.” If I ascribe ultimate worth to God, as He has revealed Himself in the BIble, then I must follow that, so I could not stand alongside them.

    However – if by “service” you mean that we can work toward some common goals, then the answer might possibly be yes, depending on what the goals are. Ending the slaughter of millions of unborn children is something we can work together on. Of course, from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem that the purpose of this “service” was to worship God.

    If you bottom line question is – “Can the Orthodox, liberal, and other non-Christian religious leader stand together?” the answer is complicated. Theologically, the answer is “no.” And while there are issues we would likely agree on (such as abortion), there are issues where we would take radically different positions on (such as homosexuality).

    Of course, with events like this, there’s obviously an agenda, and I would never be on the “invited” list for many reasons, nor would I participate.

    Our country is deeply divided in many ways, and we should most definitely pray for our leadership as we are instructed in the Bible and that is something I can do.

    • irdinterns says:

      Thanks for the insights Rob.
      I like what you said about “worth-ship.” Just as we do not decide who God is we cannot just worship him whatever way we want. We cannot compromise on who we believe God is and how we should worship Him for the sake of inclusivity. Yes, we shouldn’t demonize those who have rejected orthodox Christianity or who are of other faiths, and we should seek to build relationships with those who we disagree with. But if one does not believe in Jesus Christ and the God of the Bible then we are not praying or worshiping the same God and should not participate in a worship service with them.

      • Mark says:

        Part of the problem with modern liberal pastors (and I don’t think Adam Hamilton is really a subset of that group, though he certainly seems to be bowing to pressure and stepping away from orthodoxy in recent years, especially on the issue of sexuality) is one of simple honesty. This is simply a matter of character, regardless of belief. If you disagree with Scripture and historic Christian understandings involving sexuality, or Christ’s divinity, or the virgin birth, etc., then why not just say so? Why feel the need to be cryptic or indirect about it? There is something very disturbing about this.

        On the other hand, even more orthodox pastors seem to be intimidated by contemporary cultural forces to the point of upholding Christian tenets rather sheepishly, almost apologetically.

  2. Mark says:

    I have to wonder if Adam Hamilton would have been tempted to alter his sermon if he had already heard Mr. Obama’s hyper-ideological inaugural address.

  3. I’m not even a Hamilton fan necessarily but this is a loaded and unfair assessment.

    • irdinterns says:

      Could you expound on that?
      How is it loaded and unfair?
      There is a forthcoming update to this blog in which I change the language “weak and watered down” because it is vague and evoking of emotion rather than constructive. If that is what you are referring to, I change that language.

      As the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith, I think it should be the center of our preaching. The Bible has plenty to say about social action and morality, but I believe preachers should articulate ethics and morality as flowing from Christ’s work on the Cross. As I believe Christianity is not merely a moral code, I believe our preaching should reflect that. If you want an example of a preacher who does this excellently, I would recommend Tim Keller. He articulates the Gospel very clearly while not neglecting the Bible’s teaching on Justice.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


      Aaron Gaglia

      • John R Schuh says:

        Amos and Isaiah both denounced social injustice but both in terms of the infidelity of the rich to Israel/ Judah to their covenant with God. As I see both Obama and Biden, and as a Catholic, especially Biden as having violated his baptismal promises. Neither man has much respect for tradition, and this includes sacred tradition.

  4. The inclusion of Jesus in invocations is quite common as it was in the invocation for president Obama . When I was a young Rabbi, I would complain. I have come to the conclusion that this is a CHRISTIAN COUNTRY and those offering the prayers which include Christ or Jesus , just do not care what the rest of us think.

    . I have bowed out of the local interfaith Holocaust service, because it was a custom to include Hatikvah at the end, but now some Christian groups object as they support the Palestinians and the Muslim Imams would either sit or leave during the Hatikvah. Perhaps interfaith Holocaust programs no longer make sense, at least to me. I do not need the stress of seeing disrespect being afforded to Israel and nor do I wish to compromise by leaving Hatikvah out. This is a personal choice and I DO NOT ADVOCATE ANYONE NOT PARTICIPATING IN ANY INTERFAITH HOLOCAUST SERVICE. I INTRODUCED INTERFAITH HOLOCAUST SERVICES IN 1974 AND WAS ONE OF THE FIRST IF NOT THE FIRST TO DO SO. This was a difficult decision for me based on personal principle. The interfaith Holocaust memorials started as well intentioned way for the Jewish people and other groups to pause and reflect on man’s capacity to perpetuate unbelievable cruelty against his fellow and to commiserate as a group and others, with the Jews and hopefully prevent this nightmare from reoccurring. Over the years it was understandably modified to include other victims of genocidal mass killings, though these mass killings were not really analogous, as the Nazis were obsessed at not just killing Jews as a competing group, but Hitler desired to eliminate our creed and it’s pervasive influence on humanity, particularly Christian doxy. As a result of Muslim participation and twisted liberalism, this is morphing into a twisted canard where Israel is being blamed for perpetuating ethnic killings against the Palestinians as the Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. One can understand the Islamo-Nazis belief system with a quote from the Talmud. We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG, CHILD OF Holocaust survivors and a refugee born in a D.P. camp.

    • irdinterns says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response Rabbi Rosenberg. That is a piercing quote from the Talmud which sadly is representative of most politics in this day and age.

      No matter what one’s views are about Israel and Palestine, I think that it is a totally unfair and mitigating to compare the Holocaust to what is going on in Palestine. On a side note, I spent a semester in Jerusalem and one of the heaviest and most memorable places I visited was Yad vaShem.
      The Holocaust is a horrifying evil and injustice we must never forget.

      I can imagine that must have been really hard to leave those gatherings behind but I respect that you did not compromise your beliefs and are standing up for what you believe in.

      Since this blog is read by mostly Christians, what is one thing about Judaism, the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, etc. that you want Christians to know?


  5. irdinterns says:

    I totally agree with you Mark.
    No matter where we stand on the spectrum of Christianity, openness, honesty, and boldness about our beliefs is very important.

  6. Ignacio Castuera says:

    Thanks for pointing out that Nancy Wilson has been in a Lesbian marriage for 33 years!! I do not know too many Christian heterosexuals who can claim to have been in a loving relationship that long. Thanks IRD for spreading the good news of LGBT marriage.

    Ignacio Castuera

  7. John R Schuh says:

    Given the rejection of temple prostitution by both Moses and the prophets, it seems strange to me that the gay-rightds movement has gained support in the Church by claiming that they are “born” gay. The religion of Israel broke with the Canaanites on the issue of human freedom. Are we prisoners of the forces of nature, locked into that circle of life, as the priests of the Baals asserted, or entered into a covenant with a god who offers us the power to break the chains of nature?

  8. Salvatore says:

    Regarding the question: “Is there a place for interfaith services and events in the life of orthodox Christianity?”

    In light of the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal recorded in I Kings 18, can anyone imagine Elijah participating in an interfaith service?

    In light of the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God, can anyone imagine Him participating in an interfaith service?

    In light of the ministries of the Apostles of Jesus, such as Paul, in which they sacrificed their lives to promote faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus as the sole ground of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal salvation, can anyone imagine any of them participating in an interfaith service?

    I myself cannot. To do so would cause confusion about their beliefs about God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Furthermore, I think the following passages of the Scriptures provide more than enough reason for a Christian to refrain from all interfaith services: Romans 16:17; I Corinthians 10:7, 14, 21 (Isaiah 52:11); II Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:7-11; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14; II Timothy 3:5; Titus 3:10-11; II John 10-11.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *