Inaugural Irritant: Why Rick Warren's Prayer Left Me Cold

The prayer I had just heard didn't sound very inclusive to me.

I hadn't planned to attend the Inauguration of Barack Obama on the National Mall, since I'm not a huge fan of big crowds and cold weather. But yesterday morning at 9 I found myself on the Mall, surrounded by 1.5 million others, staring at a jumbo screen.

How did this happen? Blame it on my 14-year-old daughter. Claire was determined to be on the Mall for the Inauguration, and when I balked at taking her, she played a trump card: She pointed out that all of her life I've lectured her about the importance of getting a good education and paying attention to current events. In light of that, how could I deny her the opportunity to witness history in person?

I couldn't. So we got up early, bundled up, tossed some snacks in a bag, grabbed our digital cameras and hit the Washington Metro. (My wife and 11-year-old son opted to stick with viewing the Inaugural at home on television.)

As we joined the throng trudging down 18th Street toward the Mall, I couldn't help but be thankful that Claire had talked me into this. The spirit was festive; you could feel a current of energy running through the crowd. Telling my grandchildren 30 years from now that I had watched it on television just wouldn't cut it.

On the Mall, I surveyed the crowd – men and women, young and old, black, white and other races. I knew that some were straight and some were gay. Some were Christian; others were Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, atheist and so on.

That's why, despite my generally positive feelings about the day, I could not help but be disappointed when Pastor Rick Warren ended his opening prayer by intoning, "I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life – Yeshua, Isa, Jesύs, Jesus – who taught us to pray." He then went on to recite the Lord's Prayer. (Which, I should point out, is not something even all Christians accept – Roman Catholics say a slightly different prayer called the "Our Father.")

We were all gathered there standing on the cold in the Mall waiting to watch the swearing in of a man who had made inclusion and diversity such a prominent part of his campaign. Yet, the prayer I had just heard didn't sound very inclusive to me. For a few moments, it didn't feel like everyone's inaugural any more.

To me, this incident just underscored once again why Warren, whose social views mimic the Religious Right's, was the wrong man for this job. Seeing Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network fawn all over the prayer did not help.

During his inaugural address, Obama made sure he was inclusive. He remarked, "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth...."

In my section of the Mall, people cheered when they heard the words "non-believers" uttered. They appreciated the effort at genuine inclusion.

Let's hope that is the tone that marks the Obama administration and that Warren's exclusionary vision is quickly forgotten.