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January 21, 2013 12:57 PM We’re Still Around

By Ed Kilgore

This morning Amy Sullivan offered an interesting tweet about the Inaugural benediction:

When Rev Luis Leon gives the benediction at the Inauguration today, he’ll be the first mainline Protestant to pray at the event since 1989.

Without going to the effort of tracking down the prior record of benedictions, I’d hazard the guess that a very high percentage of those given prior to 1989 were mainline Protestants. So perhaps others should have the opportunity to catch up.

But I suspect Amy—like me, and like Barack Obama, a mainline Protestant—is alluding to the fact that “liberal Protestants” have become remarkably invisible in public life of late, derided by conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics alike as a dying breed of spiritually compromised unbelievers and half-believers (if not, as Rick Santorum called us, people who are “gone from= the world of Christianity” entirely). Yeah, there are about 45 million Americans belonging to denominations affiliated with the mainline National Council of Churches, but you wouldn’t much know that from the dismissive contempt (also applied to liberal Catholics) of conservatives and the indifference of secular media, who often buy the idea that only conservatives are “real Christians.”

I understand the feelings of some, perhaps many, readers that inaugurations should be secular events, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they were. But if we have to have a benediction, it’s nice to see one delivered by someone who can listen to Obama’s speech without feeling horror at all the equality-talk.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Quaker in a Basement on January 21, 2013 1:23 PM:

    Id hazard the guess that a very high percentage of those given prior to 1989 were mainline Protestants.

    I'm tempted to ask, "So when do we Quakers get a turn?" but a Quaker "benediction" would just confuse everybody--three minutes of silence and a handshake.

  • c u n d gulag on January 21, 2013 1:32 PM:

    As a non-believer, the best thing I can is is that, at least listening today, I thought the Reverand gave a nice benediction, and I didn't feel my breakfast coming back up my throat like it did 4 years ago, when that @$$hole Rick Warren gave it.

  • Hannah on January 21, 2013 1:32 PM:

    Thank you, Ed. ITA with your comments. I'd also love it if some "no profile" clergy who, across this country, weekly preach tolerance, love, equality, peace, and so on, were given greater voice in the public arena. Press coverage of progressive decisions by national bodies of mainline denominations would be nice. But as we all know, that "stuff" is boring, and scandal and divisiveness is what sells. Thankfully we've got a president with a large megaphone to carry the message.

  • mb on January 21, 2013 1:44 PM:

    I hope I live long enough to see the first benediction-less inauguration. Or at least a benediction that is an appeal to human rationality rather than sky fairies.

  • Ron Boggs on January 21, 2013 1:48 PM:

    "Curse of Christianity" is most of what I see emanating from "real Christians." I find it almost unfathomable that the religion I was raised in could be described as a curse to the society and its citizens. From Thomas Jefferson's manacles of the mind to moral imposition to have others live their version of Christian Hell, I have a hard time to not see what Jesus taught distorted into a force for evil and civic destruction of the most heinous kind. Politics as divine combat: Good becomes evil, evil becomes good. Using that criteria helps me understand what people say and do in the name of Christianity.

  • Ron Boggs on January 21, 2013 1:51 PM:

    "Curse of Christianity" is most of what I see emanating from "real Christians." I find it almost unfathomable that the religion I was raised in could be described as a curse to the society and its citizens. From Thomas Jefferson's manacles of the mind to moral imposition to have others live their version of Christian Hell, I have a hard time to not see what Jesus taught distorted into a force for evil and civic destruction of the most heinous kind. Politics as divine combat: Good becomes evil, evil becomes good. Using that criteria helps me understand what people say and do in the name of Christianity.

  • Hannah on January 21, 2013 2:51 PM:

    Ron: ITA that the good name of Christ, his humility, his humanity, his acceptance of the "least of these" and the outcasts (tax collectors, prostitutes, non-Jews) has been hijacked for far too long. Too many who hide behind the label of "Christians" fail to note that Jesus was not the earthly king that the people of his day wanted (to overthrow the Romans) - that he not only didn't endorse the common practices of those of the temple, but turned them upside down (literally, in the case of the tables of the money changers). But please look to those who are trying to do his work. Our church youth spent Saturday planting potatoes at a farm that donates food to the hungry. Churches are housing the homeless and helping them get on their feet, no matter who they are, no matter where they've been, no matter what they believe. And so on and so on. It's happening... it's just not "in the news".

  • David Martin on January 21, 2013 7:05 PM:

    I realize that "mainline" Protestantism, especially Episcopalian, Presbyterian, sort-of Congregational and Methodist, amounted to America's unofficial establishment of religion until recently, and their disappearance from Inaugurations is perhaps not much of a loss. But the overall shift of American religion away from its liberal traditions is more than a bit creepy.

    Recent news photos showed the National Cathedral in Washington with lots of scaffolding, indicating that they somehow raised funds to repair earthquake damage. I doubt that's much of a sign of viability for the Episcopal denomination, but maybe it shows the building itself is well-enough liked that it won't be demolished and replaced by a lavish condo. Elsewhere, stately old churches are disappearing, fast.

  • revchicoucc on January 22, 2013 5:46 PM:

    I'm a mainline Protestant pastor. On a regular basis, I offer the invocation at our city council meetings. These invocations are open to any spiritual leader in our community, and there's a wide range of people who do it. However, this year, I'm the only mainline Protestant in the rotation. My mainline colleagues have reasons, one of which is not to alienate their members by appearing "too political." So, in the process, they have conceded the Christian presence largely to very conservative clergy. I refuse to make that concession. My members feel it is a honor to them that I offer the invocation from time to time. I have received no tangible benefit from doing this -- no celebrity, no new members, certainly no money.

    I go to every city council meeting now, even when I'm not offering the invocation. Praying for our city council members has made me care more deeply about the city as a whole.

  • jpeckjr on January 22, 2013 5:48 PM:

    @David Martin. I imagine the National Cathedral has some property insurance that is picking up at least part of the repair costs, wouldn't you?

  • Yellow dog on January 22, 2013 8:29 PM:

    @jpeckjr
    The damage to the Cathedral was caused by an earthquake. It is my understanding that the Cathedral's insurance did not have a rider for damage caused by this kind of disaster, so little, if any of it, was covered. The chances of earthquake damage were apparently considered so small that the Cathedral did not add it to the policy.