1/15/09

Prayer for a new president - in the name of Jesus?

Note: For texts of prayers for a new president, see this post and this post above.

There's a fair amount of buzz about whom Mr. Obama has chosen to lead prayer at his presidential inauguration. Over at On Faith, Tom Reese, S.J. addresses a question particular to Christians invited to offer a prayer in situations where people of many faith traditions will be present.

Here's a portion of his commentary:

I favor having a prayer at the presidential inauguration ceremony, but such prayers should be as inclusive as possible. The minister leading the prayer should not deny any aspect of his faith to please others, but he need not have every aspect of his faith expressed in his prayer.

Thus, a Christian minister does not have to acknowledge the divinity of Christ in his prayer, and probably should not. He can address his prayer to God in a way that would be acceptable to the vast majority of American believers. The goal is to say a prayer to which most of the country can respond "Amen."

Billy Graham did not mention Jesus in his inaugural prayers in 1989, 1993 or 1997. On the other hand, his son Franklin in 2001 ended his prayer with "We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Likewise, Kirbyjon Caldwell (Methodist) in 2001 ended his prayer with "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all who agree say 'amen.'". Four years later, Pastor Caldwell softened it a bit but still kept Jesus: "respective of all faiths, I submit this prayer in the Name of Jesus."

I was once asked to lead a prayer at a Catholic institution at an event where there were a number of non-Catholics and non-Christians present. In this case, I wanted to be inclusive but I did not want to ignore Jesus at a Catholic institution. Traditionally, Catholics end their prayers with the phrase "through Christ our Lord, Amen." I compromised by ending the prayer with "we make this prayer with Jesus our brother, Amen." My thinking was that non-Christians could acknowledge Jesus as a brother even though I confess him as something more.

But in a public prayer outside a Christian institution, I think Christian ministers can and should pray to God without bringing in Jesus. This does not deny Jesus. It simply invites everyone in our pluralistic society to join our prayer to the fullest extent that they can. Would Jesus mind? I don't think so.

(For the rest of Reese's
commentary)
I often find myself in this situation when I'm asked to offer a prayer at civic and patriotic events, assemblies, parades and ceremonies. Around here, the familiar "Catholic/Jewish/Protestant triad" is seldom observed and I suspect that's because sensitivity to a broader range of faith representatives would need to include more prayer than such events are seeking.

In such instances I begin the prayer with these words,

In the quiet sanctuaries of our own hearts
let each of us name the One we call Holy...
(pause for a moment)

And I close the prayer/invocation/benediction with these words,
We pray in the name of all that is Holy.
Amen.

More often than not, I'll receive several comments from those in attendance thanking me for the inclusiveness of the prayer I offered. What's your experience? preference? comment? wuerlwuerl inauguration
-ConcordPastor
wuerl inauguration

7 comments:

Concord Carpenter said...

I like your closing of the prayer, works for all

Anonymous said...

I think inclusive is my preference. We need to try and include and acknowledge all peoples and their faiths.

Fran said...

This is really thought provoking, especially given a conversation that I was recently in.

I think inclusiveness is the way to go, although I suspect that others would disagree.

I was speaking with someone today about this very topic and all the swirl of discussion about who prays what prayer during the inaugural events.

In any case your choice of words seems very wise and more inviting.

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that if the prayer can't be inclusive at the inauguration, there should be no prayer at all. There has been and will be many opportunities for prayer, for President-Elect Obama personally and for the nation. We should all be praying, privately and together at our places of worship.
Anne

Anonymous said...

I like your inclusive prayer. I read that Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer will be an inclusive one. We are such a diverse nation and at the inauguration of a president of all our citizens I think it only fitting that any prayer offered publicly should be an inclusive one.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to "go and proclaim the Good News to all nations"? Those who are ashamed of Jesus -- even to the point of not naming Him so as to not "embarrass" others -- are denying Him just as Peter did during Our Lord's passion. Concord Pastor, I am sorry (but not surprised) to learn there are circumstances in which you are unwilling to pray in the name of Jesus.

ConcordPastor said...

"Anonymous" above: The wisdom that leads me to pray as I do at civic events keeps me from wasting any more time than this in responding to your comment.