Obama's Inaugural Prayer Team: Where's the (Religious) Diversity?

The president-elect has chosen a range of religious figures, but where are the Muslims or the Jews?


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

When it comes to President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural prayer team, there's one thing we can all agree on: It's diverse (with one side effect being a propensity for creating controversy). The motley crew includes:

1. Rick Warren. The evangelical megachurch pastor, scourge of the gay rights movement, and frequent George W. Bush sidekick will deliver the invocation on Inauguration Day.

2. Joseph Lowery. The cofounder—with Martin Luther King Jr.—of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, dean of the civil rights movement, and Methodist minister will deliver the benediction at Obama's swearing-in.

3. Eugene Robinson. The first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church will give the invocation at the official inauguration-week kickoff this Sunday.

4. Sharon Watkins. The president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will be the first woman to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service, which takes place the day after the inauguration.

For all its diversity around ideology, race, gender, and sexual preference, however, Beliefnet's Steven Waldman points out that this foursome is all Protestant. No Catholics here, let alone Jews or Muslims. This plays directly into a fear of religious minorities: that religious outreach is code for Christian outreach.

What's surprising about this is that Obama's faith outreach on the campaign trail and throughout his White House transition has been pretty inclusive, with Catholics and Jews especially well represented.

At the same time, it's worth noting that Obama has pledged to remake America's image in the eyes of Muslim world abroad. Doesn't that start at home, by including some prominent Muslims in the White House or at the inauguration? Are there such figures that I'm forgetting about?