Bishop Gene Robinson of the ECUSA is in the news again (which begs the question--exactly when is he NOT in the news?) He led in prayer at the pre-Inaugural ceremonies on Sunday. It seems this prayer, or rather his comments beforehand, have caused a bit of a stir.
I have never jumped on the Bishop Robinson-as-bogey-man bandwagon. In my view, his selection is merely symptomatic of deeper problems. I will let my Episcopalian friends sort out their own crises. But then Bishop Robinson sat for an interview with the NYTimes. This took it out of in-house Anglican politics and placed it firmly in the public square. It seems he is often his own worst enemy (as most of us are.)
The interview with the Times, here, raised a number of questions. My concern came from the following:
Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”
What gave it away, Sherlock? Could it be the 43 Christian (in the general understanding of the word) presidencies we have had to date? Why anyone with even a superficial knowledge of American history would be surprised that inaugural prayers have been "specifically and aggressively Christian," is beyond belief. I think Bishop Robinson should stay indoors, away from television and far from contact with the general public, for he is much too easily "horrified." Taken on its own, his statement here is buffoonish.
“I am very clear,” he said, “that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.”
G. K. Chesterton can usually be marshaled for a quote on most any subject. He does not disappoint here. "There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions," and "These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own."
Chesterton's comments point to the abject silliness on Robinson's part. I recall an anecdote about the late Brooke Astor, doyenne of New York society. She was the younger, later wife of the last of the Astors, and died only recently at age 104. Brooke Astor was one of the city's greatest philanthropists, and insisted on inspecting first-hand the work of her various charities. Invariably, she dressed in hat, pearls and white gloves, even if visiting the poorest projects. Some aides suggested that she might consider dressing-down a bit for these occasions, to which she replied: "the people expect to see Mrs. Astor, and I do not intend to disappoint them." She knew something about herself that Bishop Robinson doesn't know about himself. She knew who she was--she was "Mrs. Astor." It is not clear Bishop Robinson knows he is a Christian pastor. I would think a Christian should never be embarrassed to offer Christian prayer.
Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer to “the God of our many understandings,” language that he said he learned from the 12-step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.
This is just lovely, isn't it--perfectly suited to our age. But in the end, a prayer to "the God of our many understandings" is a prayer to no God at all. I couldn't help but think of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, with Hazel Motes and his "Church of Christ Without Christ":
"...that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way. ...there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn't the first two."
So, my advice to Bishop Robinson is this: be a man, just say your prayer, stop apologizing for it being "Christian," and most importantly, stay away from reporters. The prayer itself, here, actually wasn't that bad, for this sort of thing. Though most of it was standard kumbaya boilerplate, there was one line I found to be exceptional for our times.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.