LeonBy my lights, when you take your oath of office with benefit of clergy, they should be clergy that represents you, not someone else. It’s kind of like members of Congress picking a book to swear on–be it the KJV, the Tanach, the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita, or Tom Paine’s Age of Reason.

And that’s what President Obama has belatedly accomplished in selecting Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square near the White House. St. John’s is where the First Family tends to worship when in town and deciding to go to church. Moreover, the Episcopal Church USA now, like the president, supports same-sex marriage–and will be celebrating same at its National Cathedral within a few months. Plus (and there might be a little politics here), Leon is Hispanic and ECUSA is the only mainline Protestant denomination whose leader declined to call on Congress to consider cutting back aid to Israel.

Leon replaces evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, who withdrew from benediction duties under reasonably obvious pressure from the White House after comments he made condemning homosexuality 15 years ago surfaced. In the subsequent tempestette, various conservative religious voices decried this latest manifestation of liberal McCarthyite political correctness.

And one can be a little sympathetic to them, given what White House spokesperson Addie Whisenant said in exoneration of Giglio’s defenestration.

We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world.

Better to have been able to say something like the following:

We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect the president’s beliefs about homosexuality. We believe that prayer at the president’s inaugural should be given by those who share the president’s own spiritual convictions and values. The time for broad inclusion of the full range of America’s rich and varied religious traditions is at the prayer service the day after the inaugural at the National Cathedral. And we hope to see Pastor Giglio there.

Yes, at that National Cathedral.

Categories: Beliefs

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

8 Comments

  1. Before a person is deemed worthy of praying for our nation and our president do they also need to share the president’s views on unrestricted abortion,and killing unarmed civilians with drones, or is sexual preference the only civil rights issue that matters? Now that you have embraced a litmus test for clergy offering to pray at a presidential inauguration, please provide a list of mandatory beliefs that must be followed.
    So much for tolerance and inclusion, This president could give lessons in hypocrisy to the the pharisees – and you would be ,applauding.
    Shame.

  2. Mark Silk

    Gee, Glenn, all I’m saying is that for his (or her) inaugural, the president is entitled to choose clergy who agree with him (or her) on whatever issues, doctrinal or otherwise, he (or she) chooses. If the president in question feels that a given moral issue is important to agree on, then that’s that. If we had elected Mitt Romney in November, I would expect him–indeed, want him–to choose some LDS official to offer the invocation. Really, what I’m proposing is the opposite of a litmus test, other than the litmus test of personal preference.

    • Hmmm. Well, I am not positive that I would be reading the same headline on your blog if GW Bush had “uninvited” a pastor who had preached against water boarding years ago. But I will take your word that you are just standing tall for the president’s right to determine who gets to pray and who doesn’t. Forgive me if I don’t share this valuable civic’s lesson with my children.

    • It’s like being able to pick a soft drink right? It reminds me of the ancient kings of old who would bring in only those who spoke words they agreed with. Then it doesn’t matter what God says, only what the people want to hear. Would God ever be able to reach His people in this case. What you are proposing is that God doesn’t exist. Or at least what His word says does not matter. Both are what our president believes I am pretty sure, so why bother with the ear-tickling at all. Jesus would not be allowed to present the benediction, likewise Mohammed.

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