Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To Grow or Not to Grow

In the current edition of Evangelicals for Social Action online, a Masters of Theological Studies student at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, PA poses the question: To Pray or Not to Pray, That is the Question. She goes on to compare the worldly concerns that president-elect Obama will face with the tempest in a teapot brewing over megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s invitation to pray at Obama’s inauguration. She rightly notes that Warren has been criticized by religious conservatives for praying for a President who favors abortion and some limited gay rights (though hardly full equality) as well as by LBGT people who rightly object to Warren’s homophobic statements and his support of Proposition 8 in California.

Sadly, the writer concludes her otherwise fairly balanced column by focusing on the conservative concerns: whether prayers must be addressed to G-d in the name of Jesus (or they don’t work) and whether one should pray for people who don’t hold one’s own religio-political agenda. I drafted the following response and sent it to the site’s contact link. I am not holding my breath it will be published online but I do think it deserves to be considered. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Lori Baynard asks “What do you think?” about Rick Warren offering a prayer in president-elect Obama’s inauguration. She focuses on what I sense are non-issues – praying in the name of Jesus, praying for a president who doesn’t share a conservative evangelical agenda. In doing so, I believe she misses the point.

As an openly Christian gay man, I have defended Mr. Obama’s choice of Rick Warren even though I found his behavior in California surrounding Proposition 8 shameful to the Christian faith of which I am an ordained minister and deeply hurtful as an individual. What I sense is that Pastor Warren’s invitation and the resulting controversy has provided him a wonderful opportunity to grow a little more into the divine likeness of the G-d who created – and loves - all living beings. He has been given a chance to see that defaulting to a faith practiced as an abstract legalistic construct has consequences – human consequences. He has been given an opportunity to see that beliefs often impact human beings bearing the image of G-d, sometimes destructively. Finally, he has the been given a means to come to actually understand those he would judge from a distance – to share a tiny fraction of the pain and hardship that beliefs translated into political power can have by becoming the target of those believers himself.

Rick Warren has been given a rare opportunity to recognize his own myopia, a myopia that proves destructive to the lives of many children of G-d and plays out in many ways. The question is not whether he should offer the prayer at the inaugural, it’s whether he will learn from this rare calling by G-d to grow.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.