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Criticism over gay bishop’s omission from Obama broadcast

World News

The USA’s premium cable channel, HBO, has expressed regret for not broadcasting an invocation by openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson for the televised Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

However it seems that it was the Obama team not TV executives who were responsible for the decision, and HBO says it will be included on all repeats. There were a large number of complaints.

The event, a concert planned by the Presidential Inauguration Committee, was watched by millions and was planned to kick off the festivities for Barack Obama’s inauguration as US president today.

Bishop Robinson delivered a stirringly inclusive opening invocation before the start of the concert but this was not included as part of HBO’s broadcast.

However, it was the presidential inaugural committee not HBO who have taken responsibility for the perceived slight. The channel said it had always intended for the bishop’s invocation to be included in the telecast and that the omission was an oversight.

The inaugural committee scheduled the opening event at the Lincoln Memorial, and HBO purchased the exclusive rights to broadcast it.

“We regret the error in executing this plan ­ but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event,” Josh Earnest, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee declared.

Bishop Robinson was invited to deliver the invocation after Barack Obama endured criticism for choosing Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, to give an inauguration address today (20 January 2009). One of those critics was the bishop.

Obama defended his selection of Warren saying that the inauguration will feature “a wide range of viewpoints”, that one of the trademarks of America is its diversity, and that in spite of deep disagreements people have to learn to bridge the liberal-conservative culture divide in the USA.

Pastor Warren said last week that he welcomed Robinson’s public role and prayer at the concert on Sunday.

"President-elect Obama has again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground,” he declared recently. “I applaud his desire to be the president of every citizen.”

Warren has been barraged with criticism because of his support for the anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8.

Bishop Robinson became the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop in The Episcopal Church in New Hampshire in 2003.

In preparation for the event, the bishop said he has read inaugural prayers throughout history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were”, according to the New York Times.

For his prayer, Robinson said he is “very clear” that it “[should] not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scriptures or anything like that”.

He added: “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 [invocation].”

However, the invocation pulled no punches in denouncing injustice and intolerance as part of its plea for a new era in the USA, highlighting opposition to discrimination and recrimination in many belief traditions.

An atheist campaigner in the USA tried and failed to get all religious references, including one in the oath of allegiance, legally removed from today’s ceremony.

Bishop Robinson said his partner of more than 20 years, Mark Andrew, would accept an invitation from the Obama team to join him in several inaugural events. The two had a civil union ceremony last summer in a New Hampshire church.

The bishop’s invocation was delivered at 14.25 Eastern time, five minutes before the nationally televised portion of Sunday’s event began, reports the New York Times.

Ekklesia www.ekklesia.co.uk  (This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & 2.0 England & Wales License)


O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of colour, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

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.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him colour-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. Amen.

Christianity Today magazine has posted a video of Bishop Robinson’s invocation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWWAnitUCw4.  


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