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By Aaron Gaglia
Yesterday morning, many high profile faith and political leaders gathered at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to begin President Obama’s second term with a prayer service. This service featured a large interfaith group of leaders with a majority Christian presence. There were 3 representatives of Judaism, 2 representatives of Islam, 1 Sikh, 5 Evangelicals, 2 Catholics, and 10 from Mainline Christian denominations. Most of the representatives came from the more liberal side of faith but there were a few more moderate voices.
There were a few big names such as Reverend Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral and Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. But let’s take a look at some others worth noting.Representing the Islamic Society of North America was President Imam Mohamed Magid. The Islamic Society of North America is the largest Muslim society in North America and is a part of the interfaith community. Some have accused ISNA of having extremist ties yet no connection has been proved.
Reverend Elder Nancy L. Wilson is the Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a predominately gay denomination, and is herself openly gay. She has been married to her wife, Dr. Paula Schoenwether, for 33 years. She gave the first Scripture reading, Isaiah 55:6-11.
Perhaps the most Conservative voice there was Reverend Charles Jenkins II. He is the Senior Pastor at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his degrees from conservative institutions, with a Bachelors from Moody Bible Institute and a Masters from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, both in the Chicago area. He is a Grammy award winner singer and community leader. His church, Fellowship Baptist Church, is very active in helping the poor through various outreach programs. At the service, he prayed for those who serve in our country and abroad.
Reverend Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition was the only Latino represented here. Salguero, along with his wife, pastors the Lamb’s Church in New York City, a church “with a vision of diversity for a cosmopolitan city.” He is the founder of P.O.G International, a ministry focused on empowering and training leaders from diverse backgrounds. He is a prominent voice in the Latino Christian community. His group, NaLEC, focuses on three broad issues, immigration, poverty, and education, calling for increased government involvement in these areas. At the service, he did a bilingual reading of Matthew 5:13-16.
The President of historic Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Serene Jones was also there. She is an ordained minister in both the UCC and Disciples of Christ. She has written extensively, including works on feminism and theology. Before taking her post at Union, she taught at Yale Divinity school and was the chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Jones prayed for the people of our country.
Kathryn Lohre was also present. She is the President of the National Council of Churches and the Director of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The NCC is an ecumenical organization that is active in the interfaith community.
Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals was also there. He is representative of the direction many evangelicals are heading. He is still pro-life and supports traditional marriage, but as of recently has been more focused on issues such as immigration reform, creation care, and the reduction of poverty. Imam Magid, Anderson and Lohre prayed for those who govern our country.
Reverend Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas, gave the sermon at the service. Hamilton is the author of the book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, and sees issues such as abortion and homosexuality as gray areas rather than black and white issues. His sermon was entitled, “Compassion: Vision, and Perseverance: Lessons from Moses. He began by telling Obama and Biden thank you for their service. “So, thank you for accepting jobs that pay less than you’d make doing something else, for working late night hours and weekends, for living in glass houses and enduring the criticism of nearly half the nation at any given time. We Americans may say it too seldom, but thank you.”
In remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation, he took a look at the original emancipator, Moses. He called Americans to be marked by radically helping those in need. “Humility and courageous compassion for the marginalized and oppressed were central to the heart and character of Moses and must be to us.”
He then stressed the importance of America having a unified vision as we move forward. “God has given you a unique gift, Mr. President, for casting vision in a way that inspires. Forging a common vision that brings Americans together will be the challenge. But if we could find that common vision – our picture of the Promised Land – anything would be possible.”
He then invoked the example of Moses and an inspiring story of Martin Luther King persevering through trial to call Obama and Biden to not give up. Hamilton then goes on to say that faith in God is the key to persevering. “But in this service we come together to acknowledge that in order for America to have a future, we will first need to find a deep and abiding faith in God. It is this faith that calls and compels us to humility and a concern for the poor. It is this faith that helps us discover the kinds of visions that are worthy of our sacrifices. And it is this faith that sustains us when we feel like giving up – a faith that comes from trusting the words of Jesus, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
Though I was disappointed that Hamilton did not articulate the Gospel in this sermon and focused instead on the moral and ethics of Scripture, it was a worthy effort for a mostly liberal interfaith event. The event as a whole was about as orthodox as you can get for an interfaith gathering. This event begs a question for conservative Christians though. Is there a place for interfaith services and events in the life of orthodox Christianity? Please share your thoughts below.
I just touched on a few highlights from the event. For more information, please see below.
Event Leaflet (A list of all participants is on pages 16 and 17).
A list and description of all the participants in the prayer from Religion News Service.