Christianity,  Politics

More on the Rick Warren Controversy

Albert Mohler has a short article on Rick Warren’s decision to pray at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. At the end, Mohler explains why he would not accept such an invitation:

“Would I deliver the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States? Well, I have not been asked, but I can imagine that it would be difficult to turn down this invitation. After all, the inaugural ceremony is a national event, not a personal ceremony. Yet, in the end, the context of this inaugural ceremony would not allow me to accept. President-elect Obama has pledged to sign legislation including the Freedom of Choice Act, which would affect a pro-abortion revolution in this nation. He has also pledged to sign executive orders within hours of taking office that will lead directly to a vast increase in the destruction of human life. In particular, he has promised to reverse the Bush administration’s policy limiting federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. Sources inside the transition office have advised activists to expect a flurry of executive orders in the new administration’s first hours and days.

“Knowing the intentions of this President-elect, I could not in good conscience offer a formal prayer at his inauguration. Even in the short term, I could not live in good conscience with what will come within hours. I could not accept a public role in the event of his inauguration nor offer there a public prayer, but I will certainly be praying for this new President and for the nation under his leadership.”

The issue is not whether one should pray for the president. We all agree that we should be praying for our president no matter who he is or what his views are (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Nor is the issue a question of Warren’s views on life and the family. The issue is whether or not a public prayer might have symbolic ramifications that undermine a biblical view of life and the family. I’m not saying this is an easy question to answer, but I am saying that it is a necessary one to consider before participating in such an event.

The only way I could in good conscience participate is to make clear that I do not endorse the president-elect’s views on life and the family. But the only opportunity to make that known would be within the prayer itself. But if one were to make that point within the prayer itself, the prayer would then have the ring of hypocrisy–that is, praying to be seen by men and not by God. King Jesus told us not to do this (Matthew 6:5-6). So absent an opportunity to clarify my non-endorsement of Obama’s policies on the family and life, I think I would have to decline this invitation as well.

I do not think that Rick Warren intends to endorse Obama’s views on these matters. I am just saying that there may be some unintended consequences that may not be all the helpful.

“Choice of Pastor Aims to Bridge Divide” by Laura Meckler and Suzanne Sataline (Wall Street Journal)


  • Don Johnson

    This is one of those intersections between church and state that can have faithful believers come to varying conclusions. We do not have examples in the NT that I know. I think each person needs to make up their own mind and be gracious when others decide differently than them.

  • Brandon

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. But as I think about the need to issue a disclaimer within the prayer itself, I actually think that the current uproar is evidence that Warren’s views are already public. Any disclaimer would be stating the obvious. I do agree that it’s a tough issue. If it were me, I’d pray, but I wouldn’t pass judgment on anybody that chose not to do so based on their convictions.

  • Nathan

    Another aspect of this situation is that we do not know what Dr. Warren speaks with President-elect Obama about behind closed doors. We do know Warren’s position of Prop 8 and we know that Obama was opposite.

    It may be that Warren might be the only evangelical voice that Obama even gives an ear to. We should, at the least, pray that Warren would have further opportunity to speak truths to the President-elect all through his presidency. We can also pray that Obama would see the evil of his positions on certain issues and repent.

    Warren may be the only solid voice Obama ever hears, simply because he is befriending this man.

    Pray that Warren speaks biblical truths plainly.

  • J. Swanson

    My question is would there be all this hoopla if Billy Graham was asked to pray, as he has in the past for Presidents of both parties and various events/ceremonies?

    And where I stand, is while I don’t agree with all of Obamas ‘politics,’ I am thankful that he is engaging in discussions with Warren, who cares if it is for the wrong reasons. At least someone who, obviously, loves Christ and is serving him is having the opportunity to share that with the Obama.

    I mean, God’s ways are higher than our ways. And I don’t doubt for a second that Rick Warren sought God on this matter. I say “Go in peace and make a difference with every opportunity that God gives.”

  • Darius T

    J Swanson, the danger is that Warren becomes so enamored with his proximity to power that he lose sight of his first calling (like Campolo did with Clinton). So we should pray for both Obama AND Warren.

  • Paul

    Nathan and Ms. Swanson are right. Warren is a man of God with his heart in the right place. Maybe his conversations with Obama will have a GOOD effect on Obama. That’s something that remains to be seen.

    What Denny, Darius and Mohler are forgetting is this:

    Obama could have easily reached out to Bill Hybels or Joel Osteen and had two people out there giving that prayer that everyone would love and want to hug. There would have been no hubris, 80-90% of America would have thought, “oh, he’s having a nice Christian minister give the invocation prayer, how nice” and the same 10-20% that are going to complain about him no matter what he does will still complain about him no matter what he does.

    But, Obama didn’t do that. Instead, he grabbed the second most visible Southern Baptist in the entire country (right behind Denny, natch). He knew who he was asking, and he knew just how conservative this guy is. He had to have known that picking Warren was going to ruffle feathers.

    He’s either the most cynical guy alive, or he REALLY wants to see a particular viewpoint expressed. Until you KNOW without a shadow of a doubt, you have no business accusing him of the latter.

    That Mohler would turn down an opportunity on such a grand stage to be able to use a prayer to show people the real face of God says far more about Mohler than it does about Obama. And it says nothing good about Mohler.

  • Rose

    I concur with J Swanson….I’m certain many of the Presidents Billy Graham lifted up prayer for at their inaugural did not share his same beliefs, yet he used that opportunity to speak the truth of the Gospel.

    We should continue to pray for Warren and Obama….that Warren stands firm in speaking biblical truths given this audience with the most powerful leader in the free world. And we pray that his request from Obama isn’t a mere pandering to us evangelicals, but that maybe, just maybe, all the prayers that are being lifted up are possibly penetrating his heart.

    It’s amazing what a country is dissarray will cause a president-elect to do…

  • Hewson

    I hardly think an opening prayer means you endorse a candidate’s policies or that somehow the prayer is a “blessing” on all the president’s political intentions. I just don’t think this argument makes sense.

  • J. Swanson

    Darius, I agree. Definitely, pray for both men. Being a Christian is dangerous, maybe not so much in our American life, but just look around the world. We are so blessed, so sheltered from persecution.

    God didn’t call us to a life of passivity, but of action. Yes, we are all called to different functions, responsibilities and such within the body of Christ. Some of us may not be comfortable with taking this opportunity, but Warren does. As the familiy of Christ, rather than shaming him, we do need to be praying for him to remain faithful to his call, as a follwer of Christ, who is a minister of the gospel.

    And I pray that God will be glorified through this. We have no idea what God’s plan is for this. If one heart and life is changed, to God be the glory.

  • Stephen

    I totally agree with Nathan. I believe that Rick Warren has a tremendous opportunity to gain an audience with the new president through accepting this invitation.

    I believe that Warren has made clear he does not agree with Obama on the issues of life and family. I am not sure that praying for our country and the new president at this event indicates agreement with what Obama will do in the hours and days that follow.

    I would guess that Obama is aware that Warren will take heat for praying at the event which will hopefully earn Warren greater favor with the president-elect. We should not only pray for the new president but also for Rick Warren who will likely do more than pray at the event but have conversations with others there and may receive phone calls in the future from the new president.

  • Dustin

    I agree with the first comment.

    This does, however, prompt another question in my mind. If one takes the position that this is not right for the reasons that Mohler gave, then if I’m asked to pray in public at work (think hospital or health care industry), where I disagree with some of the things that the institution would affirm, would that be just as wrong?

  • Matt Svoboda

    It seems everyone is in general agreement here… This may be a first, but I am happy to be in agreement as well. I think Paul makes a great point that Obama could of easily chosen a pastor everyone likes, but he didn’t. I really appreciate Rick Warren and I think, for him, he made the right decision. I do pray Warren can have at least a small influence on Obama!

  • Darius T

    Don, that article IS a commentary, obviously she’s going to give her position. If it were supposed to be a neutral news piece, then it would be much more concerning. As such, lefties almost always assume their position is right and won’t bother to give reasons or debate the issue. That’s why they have routinely run away from debates, especially those on global warming. Logic is not the basis for their views, emotion is. And deep down, they know it.

  • Rick

    Well your right, you weren’t asked. The same kind of criticism was leveled at Billy Graham, you know the guy with his name on the evangelism school at SBTS.

  • Matt Svoboda


    One some issues, you are right, he is pretty moderate. The issues of abortion and gay marriage I do not think he has a moderate stance. He seems to be as conservative as anyone on those 2 issues.


  • Don

    December 19, 2008

    Dear President-elect Obama,

    Your decision to invite Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration alienates American atheists, humanists, agnostics and other nontheists.
    In an interview with Larry King in August, Warren expressed an unwillingness to ever vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Would you allow a speaker who expressed similar views about, for example, Jews or Muslims to participate in your inaugural? He has said the only reason nontheists are ethical is because his god makes them so, and that not believing in a god is intellectually dishonest.

    Your spokesperson has said that yours will be “the most inclusive, open, accessible inauguration in American history.” How is opening the program with one Protestant Christian and closing it with another inclusive? You yourself said it would include a wide range of viewpoints. Who on your inaugural dais will express the viewpoints of not only the tens of millions of nontheistic Americans, but that majority of citizens who believe there is now too much religious influence in our politics and government?

    By choosing an intolerant religious leader to open your presidency, you are not creating change, but rather following the dismal tradition of your predecessor.

    Lori Lipman Brown

    Secular Coalition

    Inclusive is supposed to exclude?

  • Prentice Park

    If we have to pick and choose who we are pray, that seems to be contrary to Jesus’ teachings. Now, I understand the question here is NOT about whether we should pray for somebody or not but rather, is it appropriate for a Christian who has a different theological paradigm pray for somebody in a large public setting? I believe, we can always find a way to pray for somebody else, no matter how differing the perspectives are. Just a quick thought.

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