Obama asks Gene Robinson to give Inaugural concert invocation

Updated with numerous links. (Concert performers include Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Beyonce, says the Wall Street Journal.)

We received this email from Bishop Robinson this morning:

I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.


(Editor’s note: There will undoubtedly be some controversy over whether Gene was invited as a response to the intense criticism of Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We don’t know. We’ve been sitting on this news since just before Christmas, so it has been in the works for a while. But if Gene had been contacted before the Warren selection was announced, it seems unlikely he would have spoken out so strongly against the choice.)

Updated: Politco’s Mike Allen is also on the story, as is Gene’s hometown paper, The Concord Monitor. Episcopal Life Online has the most comprehensive story we’ve read. Washington Monthly has also weighed in, as has Ben Smith of Politco’s blog. He writes:

It’s a mark of Obama’s raw power at the moment as much of his unifying message, that he can bring in fundamentally opposed Christian leaders like those two, without either walking out. (Though, to be fair, they’re a safe 48 hours apart.)

Still, it’s a mark of just how different, when it comes to mainstreaming gay leaders, it is to have a Democrat in the White House than a Republican, or even than a 1990s Democrat.

The Huffington Post chimes in, as do the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Human Rights Campaign and New York magazine’s Daily Intel. The Boston Globe has also filed a story, as have US News and World Report, Religion Dispatches, the American Prospect, the Independent and Reuters. To read Integrity’s press release click Read more.

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is predictabily unhappy. In reference to his statement, it should be noted that it isn’t at all unusual for a clergy person of one denomination to give a retreat fo clergy of another denomination, and that this is generally done at the invitation of retreatants. Additionally, it is libelous to say Bishop Robinson left his wife and children for a man, as he hadn’t met his partner, Mark Andrew, until will after he and his wife divorced.

Ezra Klein has one of the shrewder posts we’ve read. It concludes:

This is, incidentally, why it’s useful for progressives to criticize the president. Politicians respond to incentives. To noise. To anger. Warren, on some level, was a response to the loud protestations of evangelicals who believed the Democratic Party had no place for them. It’s hard to see Robinson is anything but a response to progressive activists who sense that Obama was more willing to risk cross those who supported him than those who opposed him. Erase the anger from either side and it’s not worth Obama — or any president — taking the risk to placate them. But this is a step in the right direction. This is genuinely inclusive. If it was the plan all along, the Obama administration sure did a good job keeping the secret. And if it wasn’t, then equality activists have something to be proud of this morning. They changed the incentives.

In the Times of London, Ruth Gledhill writes:

The President-elect’s choice is a sign of his willingness to respond to criticism.

It also indicates that the conservatives might still wield immense political influence in the US but that they have lost their hard-fought battle for the soul of Anglicanism and that the gay and lesbian community, denied equal ordination and other rights for centuries, are with the election of Mr Obama on their way to capturing the moral high ground in the US church.

The New York Times‘ story is now online.

And if you are keeping score at home, the Robinson story became the biggest blog event of the day at about 4:30, with over 135 blogs on the case, according to Google’s blogsearch.

In other news, Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee had this to say.

From Integrity:

Integrity is delighted at today’s announcement of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson’s role in the upcoming Inaugural celebrations. Following on the heels of yesterday’s selection of the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins as the first woman preacher for the January 21st National Prayer Service, today’s news is yet another indication that we are entering an historic era of diversity and inclusion.

“Bishop Robinson’s selection by the President-elect to pray God’s blessings on the opening event of the Inaugural week is good news not only for gay and lesbian Americans but for all who share the audacious hope of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal,” said Integrity President Susan Russell.

“It also gives us hope that the age of an ‘America’s Pastor’ is behind us and that we enter a new era where diverse voices of faith speak from the particularity of their own experience of God’s grace, love and power. While there are many miles to go before we are done with racism, sexism and homophobia in this country, we look forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration, to Sharon Watkins’ sermon and to Gene Robinson’s prayers as signs of great progress and profound hope.

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