Will Rick Warren Invoke Jesus in Obama Inauguration Prayer?

President-elect Obama selected Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

By SHARE

The AP has a story asking if Rick Warren will invoke Jesus's name at the invocation he delivers at Barack Obama's inauguration next month, and the story speculates on the fallout regardless of Warren's decision.

The long and short of it: If Warren leaves Jesus out, evangelicals will be let down. If Warren mentions Jesus, Jews, and Muslims, secular Americans will be put off.

My guess is that Obama has more to gain politically should Warren invoke Jesus' name than he has to lose should Warren decline to.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Warren seems to telegraph his intention to invoke Jesus: "I'm a Christian pastor, so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray."

Importantly though, Warren added: "Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements, or political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God."

A key angle here is that the AP overlooks is that Warren, more than many prominent evangelical leaders, sees himself, at least partly, as a PR man trying to improve Christianity's image, which he feels has been tarnished by the religious right. Here's an exchange I had with him in an interview last summer, the day after Warren's Saddleback Summit with Barack Obama and John McCain:

Has the Christian r ight tarnished the image of the evangelical movement?

Without a doubt. In some ways it got co-opted. Part of it was the press's misunderstanding between the term religious right, fundamentalist, and evangelical. They are not the same, and they are not synonymous. I'm not and never have been religious right, and I'm not and never have been a fundamentalist. I'm an evangelical. A vast majority of the evangelicals never were religious right, never were fundamentalists. They were just simply evangelicals.

 One way to improve Christianity's image among non-Christians would be for Warren to mention other faith traditions in his invocation and to be sensitive to those traditions in invoking Jesus's name. That's what I'll be watching for.