President-elect Barack Obama has selected a minister to give the sermon at the prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration, and she is decidedly different than Rev. Rick Warren:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration.
Ms. Watkins, the first woman ever selected to lead the service, is the president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a small, liberal-leaning Protestant denomination with 3,754 congregations and about 690,000 members in the United States and Canada. Ms. Watkins was elected to the post in 2005, the first woman ever chosen to lead a mainline Protestant denomination.
But Ms. Watkins is not well known nationally. She came to the attention of Mr. Obama at a meeting he held during the campaign last summer to introduce himself to a politically and theologically diverse group of ministers. At that closed-door meeting, some of the conservative ministers bluntly questioned Mr. Obama on certain issues. Ms. Watkins was asked to give the closing prayer.
“Sharon was able to conclude in a way that tied everyone together,” said the Rev. Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who was at the meeting. “It left folks on a buoyant note, with a degree of hope and optimism that we could find some common ground.”
The prayer service will be held on Jan. 21 at the Washington National Cathedral.
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Ms. Watkins has spoken out against torture and the war in Iraq, but as church president she has not taken a position on same-sex marriage. Like many mainline Protestant churches, the Disciples is not unified on the issue. As a congregational church, each church in the denomination is free to set its own policies.
Ms. Watkins said in a telephone interview that the church in Bartlesville, Okla., where she served as minister before becoming president, could not reach a consensus on whether to allow gay union ceremonies and decided to hold off on a decision.
“We really emphasize the responsibility as well as the freedom of individuals within the church to study Scripture to prayerfully pursue their own spiritual journey,” Ms. Watkins said. “That means we end up being incredibly diverse politically, theologically and socially.
“Coming out of that context, the kind of message I want to reflect on is the deeper unity we have as a human family,” she said of the sermon she planned to deliver at the National Cathedral.
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