When openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal
Bishop Gene Robinson heard that Rev. Rick Warren would deliver the
invocation prayer at President-elect Obama's inauguration ceremony he
called it a “slap in the face.” That was Obama's slap; now comes
“I'm all for Rick Warren being at the
table,” Robinson told the New York Times, “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.”
Robinson's fury stems from Warren's
anti-gay remarks. Warren likened gay marriage to an incestuous
relationship and polygamy, and supported passage of a controversial
California gay marriage ban.
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.
On Monday, it was announced that
Robinson will give an opening prayer at a Sunday inaugural event
attended by Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden on the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial. Obama is scheduled to speak at the event which
will be broadcast on HBO.
Warren applauded the decision to
include Robinson. According to a note published online at
Christianity Today Warren said: “President-elect Obama has
again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans
of goodwill together in search of common ground. I applaud his
desire to be the president of every citizen.”
Gay rights groups, accordingly, also
praised the decision to include Robinson.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human
Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, said the
decision to include Robinson shows that “ultimately, Barack Obama
is a friend to the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender]
community. I believe his administration is going to inspire us and
advance our agenda more often than not.”
Despite Warren's lukewarm endorsement,
the Robinson pick has resurrected the controversy surrounding the
choice of Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation prayer at the
January 20 inaugural ceremony, a prologue to Obama's historic
Adding to the fodder is another Warren
remark certain to flame the fire of the controversy.
Warren has extended an open invitation
to Episcopal churches wishing to break away from the Anglican Church
over Robinson's 2003 consecration.
In a letter posted on Christianity
Today, Warren writes: “We stand in solidarity with them, and
with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of
Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who needs a place to
meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange
The elevation of Bishop Robinson, who
lives an openly gay life with his partner of 20 years, has splintered
the Anglican Church. In July, Robinson was excluded from the
Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference of church leaders after a group
of anti-gay leaders pressured the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan
Williams to act.
Robinson called the decision a mistake,
but was not derailed. He flew to the United Kingdom and held his own
events. Appearing on the BBC1 program the Andrew Marr Show,
Robinson discussed why he was in the UK when he was not invited to
“I want the light of Christ to shine
forth from me... God loves me as a gay man. And I want to share that
joy with whomever wants to sit and talk with me.”
“I think miracles happen when people
who are divided by something sit and talk with each other, get to
know one another as human beings, and as brothers and sisters in
Christ. And that's why I'm going, to offer myself in that way.”
“...I think a mistake was made in not
including me in those conversations. I was the only openly gay voice
that might have been at the table. But I will do what I can from the
fringe,” Robinson said on the program.
But at a Sunday church service Bishop
Robinson was forced to halt a sermon he was delivering at a London
church when a heckler called him a “heretic” and said he should
“repent” from a pew.
It now appears that during that
conference, perhaps due to the events surrounding it, many parishes,
mostly in Africa, decided they could not abide by the decision of the
New Hampshire diocese to elevate an openly gay man to Bishop.
In the United States, four diocese and
dozens of parishes broke away. And this week, a New York Supreme
Court told a breakaway church that they cannot keep its church
building. Courts in California have come to the same conclusion.
Rick Warren's invitation offers refuge
to Episcopal churches who have walked away from the Anglican Church
over the inclusion of gay clergy. For the gay bishop at the center of that controversy, Bishop
Robinson, that must feel like a slap.