By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Like every other religion reporter in the country, I've been pushing hard for an interview with the Rev. Rick Warren to get a sense of how he's preparing for the invocation he'll give at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. I resubmitted my request yesterday, in light of news that gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson will be delivering a separate invocation to launch inauguration week.
But it appears that I—and all those other reporters—will just have to wait for Inauguration Day. Just got this note from Warren's publicist, announcing that the Purpose-Driven pastor will decline all interview opportunities till after next Tuesday:
Dr. Warren is honored at the invitation from President-elect Obama to deliver the invocation, and is humbled at the prospect to offer a prayer of unity and hope during this critical time in our nation. Recognizing the stewardship of his role as a Christian leader ministering at the intersection of faith and culture on a national civic platform, his desire is that his prayer and preaching can be pastoral and that he and President-elect Obama can model civility as men of consequence in these difficult times.
Despite recent controversy surrounding Dr. Warren's participation in offering the Invocation for the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony, he has declined virtually all media requests since the invitation was announced. After a meeting with Larry [Ross, Warren's top publicity guy] last night comparing the number of significant media opportunities with his limited availability, Dr. Warren has determined there is no way he could fairly accommodate any interviews at the expense of others, but instead will let his prayer speak for itself.
As such, Dr. Warren has decided that he will not be available for any interviews leading up to or on the day of inauguration. This includes interviews focused on his historic address as the first white preacher (that we know) to speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Day, January 19 (on what would have been Dr. King's 80th birthday).
A few things worth noting here: There's been some speculation about whether Warren will invoke Jesus's name during the invocation prayer. A sentence from this memo, "Recognizing the stewardship of his role as a Christian leader ministering ... his desire is that his prayer and preaching can be pastoral," suggests that Warren will deliver a Christian prayer.
Secondly, Warren is undeterred by yesterday's announcement that Gene Robinson—fundamentally at odds with Warren over gay rights—will kick off inauguration week. Despite all the controversy his scheduled appearance has sparked among gay groups—and Robinson's appearance has sparked in the Christian right—Warren will go forward with the invocation, a testament to his determination to rise above the culture wars swirling around him.
Finally, Warren's decision to decline interview requests till after Inauguration Day is basically a vow to stay off the news for the next week to let Obama have his moment. Warren knows that anything he says about the invocation could be fodder for headlines, so he's keeping his head down. Pretty classy.