Dr. Rick Warren seems to live in the eye of the storm these days. I think this actually is where all faithful ministers must live if they are to make a real impact upon people. On the right Rick Warren is now being attacked for tolerance and civility toward the wrong people, especially toward President Obama. I read one criticism after another the night before the inauguration. I found it disheartening and disappointing. Then after he prayed yesterday at the inauguration I visited the Web again and found the left had gone to work on his prayer with ferocity. Web sites have comments of all sorts of course. Those who post the responses of all continue to savage Warren as an intolerant bigot and a vile intolerant homophobe. For such people the one thing they will not tolerate is a Christian who still believe homosexual practice is a sin. So what we have here is a very public Christian minister, one who clearly loves Jesus Christ and cares about his nation deeply, who accepts the invitation of the president-elect to offer prayer at his inauguration. He then prays as a Christian and what he says comes under fire from the far left and the far right. This seems about right to me but then I admit I like Rick Warren and find his blend of faith and public service a wonderfully balanced.
I thought back to the prayers offered by evangelicals at previous inaugurations yesterday, most offered by Dr. Billy Graham, who prayed at seven such events over the years. (Public prayers were apparently not prayed at such events until the 20th century.)
Dr. Graham was always gracious, appropriately measured and always seemed to fit the occasion well. But I never heard him offer a prayer so powerful as that offered by Rick Warren yesterday. If you have not read or seen the prayer you can now do so online. Listen for yourself. I would love to know if you think he spoke both wisely and biblically.
People of a more liberal bent preferred the prayer of Dr. Joseph Lowery to that of Dr. Warren. I liked them both, but for very different reasons. Lowery spoke for the African-Americans who lived through the Civil Rights movement and thus took us back to the historical events that made this event possible. I do know this: Rick Warren confessed the Lordship of Christ powerfully and prayed a truly Christian prayer that spoke to my heart. I was deeply moved by it, having anticipated it for some days.
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I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about the type of prayer Pastor Warren might offer. However, I was very pleased with the heart and content of the prayer, especially when Pastor Warren reference his own conversion to Christ.
I am glad I was not in his place. This had to be a hard prayer to offer. He had to express the glory of God and the lordship of Christ – this he did well. He alse needed to show genuine love and sensitivitiy in the face of great opposition – again well done.
The only part I didn’t like was the use of multiple names for Jesus. I understand the purpose, I just think it was confusing.
Overall, I was moved by his words and I prayed right along with him.
I missed his prayer the day of the inauguration (just a few minutes too late), but I watched it on YouTube. I too was moved by it. My wife mentioned that some people at her job (who are unbelievers) said that they didn’t like that he prayed the Lord’s Prayer because it wasn’t inclusive of other religions. I’ve often wondered why people who don’t believe are so upset by those who do. Then I remembered 1 Peter 2:7-8 where it says, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and, ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’” I very much enjoyed Rick Warren’s prayer and his faithful testimony to the Lordship of Christ.
For what they were, I think both Warren’s and Lowery’s prayers were good. However, I do question the appropriateness of including prayers at all in a civil ceremony like this. As Americans, I don’t see how we can justify such a blatant violation of the separation of church and state (a historic Baptist principle which I still strongly support). And as Christians, I think we should be wary of these sorts of displays of civil religion which seem, by definition, to be an idolatrous form of syncretism.
Not to mention that as a Christ-follower, I grieve over the lack of love and message of exclusion it sends to our non-Christian brothers and sisters. If we follow Christ’s command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, then shouldn’t we be aware of how marginalized we would feel if the inaugural prayers were all to Allah for instance, and then seek to avoid doing to those people of other faiths what we wouldn’t want done to us?