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Official prayers for Obama- a political hot potato

10:25 PM, Jan 17, 2013   |    comments
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(USA Today)-- Monday, President Obama is center stage. Tuesday, it's God.

Obama will be in the pews at the Washington National Cathedral as a parade of clergy and religious leaders offer prayers and blessings for the president and the nation.

But naming the speakers for the Inaugural National Prayer Service has become a political and religious hot potato.

Now, a potential speaker's views on gay rights and same sex marriage gets critical attention. So does the diversity -- or lack of diversity -- among the denominations represented on the program.

So far, the Presidential Inaugural committee has locked down the names for Tuesday's service. The official press release says only that the service will "represent America's diversity of faith and belief."

The committee turned press-shy after bungling its initial choice for the benediction prayer at Monday's swearing in ceremony by naming a pastor opposed to same-sex marriage. Rev. Louie Giglio. He was quickly withdrawn and replaced by Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of the church across from the White House where presidents have worshiped for generations.

Tuesday's event is likely to be a parade of religiously liberal clergy. The nation's leaders, their families and the global television audience will be welcomed to the cathedral by the Episcopal Bishop of Washington Mariann Budde and Dean of the Cathedral, The Very Rev. Gary Hall -- who announced earlier this week that the cathedral will now host same-sex marriage blessing ceremonies. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the U.S. denomination's first female presiding bishop who backed the acceptance of gay clergy in the denomination, will also have a role.

Conservative evangelicals and traditionalist denominational leaders may be scarce

In 2009, The sermon was given by Rev. Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the tiny Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Washington Times logged four Episcopalians, three Jews, and other liberal mainline Protestants such as United Methodists, but no Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Buddhists, Assemblies of God (or other Pentecostal churches) clergy with a role in the program. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington had a representative.

Conservative evangelicals, angered by the withdrawal of Giglio from Monday's program, say this is poor sign for the future. Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, blogged that any preacher who stands for "historic, biblical Christianity" is now unwelcome in the public square.

Nonsense, says constitutional historian R.B. Bernstein, who teaches law at New York Law School.

"There's a lot of yelling and screaming about Obama and religion but a lot of it is hypocritical with religious voices saying their liberty is under attack while they criticize others for not being sufficiently devout," says Bernstein.

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