The first openly gay Episcopal bishop will offer a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural event for President-elect Barack Obama.
The selection of New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson for Sunday’s event follows weeks of criticism from gay-rights groups over Obama’s decision to have the Rev. Rick Warren give the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Warren backed the ban on same-sex marriage that passed in his home state of California on the November ballot.
Robinson said last month the choice of Warren was like a slap in the face. In an interview with the Concord Monitor, he said he doesn’t believe Obama invited him in response to the Warren criticism but said his inclusion won’t go unnoticed by the gay and lesbian community.
“It’s important for any minority to see themselves represented in some way,” Robinson told the newspaper for a story in Monday’s editions. “Whether it be a racial minority, an ethnic minority, or in our case, a sexual minority. Just seeing someone like you up front matters.”
Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the inaugural committee, said Robinson was invited because he had offered his advice to Obama during the campaign and because of his church work. When asked whether Robinson was included to calm the Warren complaints, he said Robinson is “an important figure in the religious community. We are excited that he will be involved.”
Robinson, 61, said both Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will attend the event, and Obama is expected to speak. As for himself, Robinson said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll say, but he knows he won’t use a Bible.
“While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”
Robinson said his prayer will be reflective of the times.
“I think these are sober and difficult times that we are facing,” he said. “It won’t be a happy, clappy prayer.”
Robinson’s 2003 consecration has divided the church in the United States and abroad. Last month, theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province.
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