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Praying in Jesus' Name; Rick Warren; Prayer; Inauguration; Praying; Inaugural

Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2009 by Mark D. Roberts

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More Ire to Come?

Part 1 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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A recent AP news story featured this headline: “Warren’s inauguration prayer could draw more ire.” The implied, earlier ire came when President-elect Barack Obama chose Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. In the eyes of many, Warren is downright evil for his support of California’s Proposition 8, which upheld traditional marriage between one man and one woman. Thus Obama was slammed by many of his fellow liberals for choosing Warren to give the invocation. Warren himself was pilloried as a bigot, a hate-monger, a homophobe, and you-name-it. Of course he also caught heat from the right-wingers who were upset that he was blessing the inauguration of the liberal Barack Obama. (Photo: Obama and Warren at Saddleback church)

An aside: Now it’s time for the conservatives to be mad at Obama, who chose none other than the openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, to give an invocation at an opening inauguration event. One can only wonder what Robinson will pray, and to whom he’ll address his prayers. In response to the Warren selection, Robinson had said, “I'm all for Rick Warren being at the table. But we're not talking about a discussion; we're talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he's praying to is not the God that I know.” Once he was invited to share in the inauguration, however, Robinson changed his tune. Now he says, “What it means for the nation is that Barack Obama is who he told us he was and intends to be, which is a person who unites us," Robinson said. "The fact Rick Warren and I are each giving invocations during inauguration festivities just shows that the new president means to include all Americans." Yes, including Christian pastors who pray to different Gods, apparently. But the now included Robinson is okay with that, I guess.

At any rate, the “more ire” predicted in the AP story has to do, not with Rick Warren’s views on homosexuality, but rather with his way of praying. Specifically, there’s a growing brouhaha over the question of whether or not Warren will pray “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his invocation. Many theologically conservative Christians expect Warren to end his prayer by saying something like “in Jesus’ name.” If he doesn’t, they’ll be quite miffed. On the other end of the spectrum, others will be upset if Warren mentions the house-dividing name of Jesus in his prayer, or otherwise points to Jesus in so many words. They see such public prayers as needing to be inclusive. For example, the forementioned Bishop Robinson said about his inaugural prayer: “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”

So far, Rick Warren has not said whether he will use “in the name of Jesus” or some circumlocution, like “in the name of the famous guy from Nazareth.” He has been circumspect, even cagy. When asked about whether he’d pray in the name of Jesus, Warren said, “"I'm a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray. Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God." Well, that’s certainly true, to a point. But when prayers are uttered in front of the world at presidential inaugurations, they are in some sense sermons, speeches, position statements, and political posturing, don’t you think? Even if, in the end, Rick Warren’s prayer is a genuine prayer, his own heart’s communication with God, surely Warren is well aware that his prayer is more than just a “humble, personal appeal to God.”

Of course on the issue saying “in Jesus’ name,” Warren can’t win. No matter what he does, millions of people will be upset. And the press will, no doubt, be sure to interview a majority of those who are upset with Warren for whatever choice he makes. If we’re lucky, they may interview Joseph Lowery, the 87-year-old African American Methodist pastor who will be giving the benediction at Obama’s inauguration. Lowery, who is well known for his leadership in the civil rights movement, said “whatever religion the person represents, I think he has a right to be true to his religion.”

I want to weigh in on this conversation, to offer some thoughts about praying in civic settings like inaugurations, and some theological observations about praying in Jesus’ name. I’ll tell you what I would do if I were in Rick Warren’s position, and why. Then, I want to take a couple of days and focus on some of the past inauguration prayers by none other than Billy Graham. It will be interesting to see what Graham did when he prayed at inaugurations, which he did several times.

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?

Part 2 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Note: This is a revised and expanded version of a previous post.

Yesterday I raised the issue of whether or not Rick Warren should pray “in the name of Jesus” when he gives the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama. I noted that another Christian leader who will be praying at an inaugural event, Bishop Gene Robinson, has made it clear that he will not do this sort of thing because he does not want to be “especially Christian” in his prayer. (For stinging critique of Robinson’s approach to this opportunity for prayer, see Jim Berkley’s blog post: “Speaking Nonsense to No One in Particular.”)

Before I can answer the question of whether I think Rick Warren should say “in the name of Jesus” at the end of his inaugural prayer, we need first to explore what it means to pray in the name of Jesus.

I should note that this is something that matters a great deal to theologically conservative Christians who take the Bible seriously. The idea that we should pray in the name of Jesus comes from Scripture, as we’ll see. Most of those who insist that Warren must say “in the name of Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his prayer base their conviction on the Bible. Though many more theologically liberal Christians often say something like “in the name of Jesus” at the end of their prayers, they tend to assume more freedom in applying the Bible to their actions, and thus would allow an inaugural invocator to deviate from what seems to be the biblical norm. Therefore, my exploration of the biblical meaning of praying in Jesus’ name will be especially relevant for Christians who seek to follow biblical teaching in all they do. Rick Warren would certainly be such a Christian. (Oh, and for the record, so am I. Not saying I succeed, however, just that I try.)

So what does the Bible teach us about praying in the name of Jesus? If we turn to the Gospel of John, we find this statement on the lips of Jesus himself:

"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

Other passages in John’s Gospel make a similar point (15:16; 16:23-24, 26).

So doesn’t this rather conclude the matter? Jesus himself teaches us to pray in his name. This seems to leave no option for any praying Christian, including Rick Warren at Obama’s inauguration.

But things aren’t quite so clear as they might at first seem. If Jesus wanted his followers to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers, we must wonder why he didn’t think to include this at the end of what we call The Lord’s Prayer. This exemplary prayer is found in two different forms (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) in the New Testament, but neither ends with anything like “in the name of Jesus” or “in my name.” In Luke 11, Jesus follows his model prayer with further instruction about prayer, urging us to be persistent (vv. 5-8) and confident (vv. 9-13) when we pray. But nowhere does he say we should speak his name in order to get our prayers heard.

In fact, when Jesus speaks of praying in his name, he is not referring to adding a catch phrase at the end of a prayer, though there is not necessarily anything wrong with this practice. I do in fact end most of my prayers with some version of “in Jesus’ name.” But I don’t do this because that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about praying “in my name.”

If praying in Jesus's name is not saying "in Jesus's name" at the end of the prayer, what is it? We get help in answering this question from other passages in which Jesus uses the phrase "in my name." For example:

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (Matt 18:5)

"Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matt 18:19-20)

Neither of these passages has to do with saying the words "in Jesus's name." Rather, they're about doing something under his authority, or as his representative. So, in Matthew 18:5, "in my name" means something like "Whoever welcomes one such child under my authority and representing me, welcomes me." Matthew 18:19-20 is especially telling because verse 19 speaks of prayer, and verse 20 speaks of gathering in Jesus's name, but not using his name as some sort of ending to a prayer.

When Christians welcome children, or gather together, or pray, we do these things in the name of Jesus, whether or not we say “in Jesus’ name.” To pray in Jesus’ name is come before God's throne of grace, not in our own merit or authority, but in the merit and authority of Jesus. We have no right to approach God’s throne of grace in our sinfulness, but in the righteousness of Jesus, we can be bold when we come before God in prayer (Heb 4:14-16).

I'm reminded of a time when I visited the U.S. Capitol in Washington as a guest of Rep. John Campbell, who was my congressman when I lived in Irvine. With him as my guide, I walked freely around the Capitol, entering many areas that were reserved only for members of Congress and their guests. I was welcome in that place, not because of who I was or because of anything I had done, but because I was there "in the name" of Rep. Campbell. So it is when we come before God in the name of Jesus. (Photo: The U.S Capitol in the spring.)

The fact that Jesus did not require his disciples to use the phrase “in the name of Jesus” at the end of their prayers is demonstrated by other passages of Scripture. I’ll visit these in my next post.

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? Section 2

Part 3 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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In my last post I showed that Jesus himself taught his followers to pray in his name. But he did not mean that they should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers. Rather, to pray in Jesus’ name meant to pray in his authority or as his representative. Christians pray in the name of Jesus in that we come before God, not in our own righteousness, not because we have any claim upon God, but rather in the righteousness of Jesus, who opened up access for us to God.

When we pray in Jesus’ name as his representative, we pray that which reflects his values and vision. In order to do this well, we need to know Jesus intimately through Scripture and through the Spirit. We need to internalize his concerns and passions. None of us prays perfectly as Jesus’ representative, but the better we know him, the more we are able to pray in his name in this sense.

mark d. roberts howard buttAgain, an example might help. In my position as Senior Director of Laity Lodge, I often represent Laity Lodge and our founder, Howard E. Butt, Jr. For example, Howard had been slated to give a message at a Laity Lodge retreat in November, but he got a cold and couldn’t speak. He asked me to fill in for him. I did speak on the topic that Howard would have addressed, and I spoke in my own voice. But I thought about what Howard would say and how we would say it. I tried hard to represent his graciousness and enthusiasm, his love for God and for people. To use the biblical language, I was speaking “in Howard’s name,” both because I was speaking under his authority and because I was representing him. (Photo: Howard Butt and me at Laity Lodge)

The idea of acting in Jesus’ name is found in the New Testament, not only in the Gospels, but also in the letters of Paul. There we read, for example,

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)

When Paul wants to emphasize the authority of his command to the Thessalonians, he uses speaks in the name of Jesus:

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. (2 Thes 3:6)

Similarly, in the Book of Acts, when Peter seeks to heal a man who was lame from birth, he says,

“I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)

Peter had not authority to heal in his own name. But as he functioned in the name, which is to say, under the authority of Jesus, he could do miracles.

The early Christian writings not only show the true meaning of praying in the name of Jesus, but also contain no prayer that ends with the phrase “in Jesus’ name” or something similar. The first Christians, including many who had known Jesus in the flesh, did not believe that Jesus wanted them to mention his name at the end of their prayers.

What I’m claiming in this blog post is nothing new. One of my commenters, RevK, pointed me to a couple of passages in the Westminster catechisms. The Larger Catechism includes two questions that have to do with praying in the name of Christ:

180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?

To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.

181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?

The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.

The language might be a bit more careful and archaic than mine, but the point is very much like what I’ve been trying to make here.

So, if praying in Jesus’ name is not a matter of mentioning him specifically at the end of our prayers, should we actually say “in Jesus’ name” at the conclusion of our prayers, or does this somehow create confusion. I’ll address this question in my next post, before I move to the related issue of how Rick Warren should pray in the inauguration.

Should Christians Say “In Jesus’ Name” at the End of Our Prayers?

Part 4 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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In this series I intend to answer the question of whether or not Rick Warren should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his invocation in the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. But, as is typical for my blog, I didn’t jump to a quick answer to that question. I began with looking at what the Bible teaches about praying in the name of Jesus. As it turns out, Jesus himself taught his followers to pray in his name. But that does not refer to the words they say at the end of their prayers. Rather, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his authority and according to his mission. Jesus never taught his disciples to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers, and this practice is not seen in the New Testament prayers of the early church.

The biblical material I’ve surveyed points to a question I’d like to address before finally getting to the issue of Warren’s inaugural prayer. Should we Christians say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers? Given that there is no biblical requirement for this, is it something we should do? Or is it some traditional practice that we should leave behind?

The danger of saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers is thinking that somehow this practice makes our prayers more effective. The phrase “in Jesus’ name” becomes, for us, an incantation, magic words we use to produce a particular effect. I do think this danger exists, because I once believed that I had to say “in Jesus’ name” or something similar at the end of my prayers in order for God to hear them. I don’t remember whether I was taught this by one of my Sunday School teachers at church, or whether I thought it up by myself on the basis of what I observed at church. Nevertheless, for me, praying in Jesus’ name was no more or no less than saying “in Jesus’ name, Amen” before I opened my eyes and went about my business.

Is this really so bad? Well, there certainly are worse things than thinking of “in Jesus’ name” as magic words. But if Christians think they way, they may not realize the deeper and more wonderful meaning of “in Jesus’ name.” They may not understand and celebrate their access to God’s throne of grace through Jesus. And they may not realize that their prayers should reflect Jesus’ agenda, rather than their own selfish interests.

Perhaps a greater problem is that Christians might live under a legalistic interpretation of praying in Jesus’ name, whereby they think that the words “in Jesus’ name” must be used or God will not hear their prayers. Worse still, some Christians might judge other Christians who, for whatever reason, choose not to say “in Jesus’ name” before “Amen.” I have observed this kind of thing and it’s too bad. It misses the true meaning of Jesus’ teaching and it divides the body of Christ. Given what we have seen in Scripture, it’s clear that Christians are certainly free in Christ not to say “in Jesus’ name” when they pray. Judging those who omit this phrase is a mistake.

So, given the potential downside of saying “in Jesus’ name,” is there an upside? Yes, I think so. If I know what it actually means to pray in Jesus’ name, then saying the words “in Jesus’ name” could serve as a reminder to me, and to any who might hear me, of my standing before God as I pray. Moreover, it could also encourage me to pray according to Jesus’ mission. Additionally, if a praying community regularly says “in Jesus’ name” or some equivalent in their prayers, it potentially keeps their focus in the right place. It’s as if they are saying to each other: “We are here because of Jesus. We are able to approach God in prayer because of Jesus. We are seeking to pray that which honors and glorifies him. Let the will of Jesus be done here.”

But what should we do when we’re praying in a more open setting, in which many of those gathered are not Christians? This is the challenge facing Rick Warren next Tuesday. I’ll begin to offer my thoughts on Monday (too late to help our Rick, I’m afraid :)).

Should Rick Warren Say “In the Name of Jesus” at the End of His Inaugural Prayer?

Part 5 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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I began this series with the question: Should Rick Warren say “in the name of Jesus” (or something similar) at the end of his invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama? Since I, like many other Christians, including Rick Warren, want my life to be guided by Scripture, I turned to the Bible to see what we could learn about praying in Jesus’ name. We saw that Jesus himself instructed his followers to pray in his name. But we also saw that this did not mean they were necessarily to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers. In my last post, I explained that Christians are free to do this if they wish. In my opinion, there are potential benefits and potential detriments to saying “in Jesus’ name.” Nevertheless, no Christian should feel compelled by Scripture to use this language, though it’s a common practice in certain strains of Christianity.

Therefore, my answer to the question “Should Rick Warren say ‘in the name of Jesus’ at the end of his inaugural prayer?” might at first sound like a cop out. I believe he is free to follow his own conscience in the matter. There isn’t one right answer to this question. It’s the sort of thing Christians can disagree about.

But what would I say if Rick came to me for advice? First of all, I would say, “Why in heaven’s name are you coming to me for advice?” Rick and I are not close friends, though we’ve had several friendly conversations during the past ten years, and Rick was gracious enough to write the foreword for my book, Dare to Be True. I’m sure he has plenty of wise spiritual advisors (as well as millions of who think they know what he should do). Nevertheless, if Rick asked me to advise him on whether or not to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer, I think I’d lay out for him the arguments on either side, and only then tell him what I would do if I were in shoes. So, here’s my best shot at the reasons for and against saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of an inaugural prayer. (Photo: The cover of my book, Dare to Be True.)

First of all, no matter what Rick Warren says, he will in fact be praying in Jesus’ name because that’s how Christians pray. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his authority and according to his agenda. It doesn’t have to do with saying the name of Jesus in the prayer. Therefore, Warren is under no obligation to say “in Jesus’ name.” (If you haven’t read my earlier posts in this series, what I’ve just said might seem odd to you, or even wrong. I’d encourage you to go back and read this post and the following one as well.)

Any Christian who prays in a public, civic event, especially that includes a wide spectrum of participants, should realize that saying “in Jesus’ name” would exclude some people. If Warren chooses to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, he is effectively saying, “I’m not praying here representing the citizens of this country. I’m praying only on behalf of the Christians.” This would not be an especially friendly gesture, nor one that would draw people closer to Christians and their Lord. (Photo: The cover of my book that I proposed to my publisher when I learned that Rick Warren would do the foreword. They didn't go with my idea, and my book sales were about .02% of The Purpose Driven Life. Oh well, my publisher got a good laugh, anyway.)

I’ve heard people say that not to say “in Jesus’ name” would be to dishonor him. That may be true. But I wonder if it’s possible to leave off Jesus’ name in imitation of his own teaching and example. Jesus talked, for example, about loving our neighbors (and even our enemies). It seems to me it would be more loving of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christian folk not to say “in Jesus’ name.” Could this be rather like walking the second mile? Could this be an example of sacrificial servanthood? Don’t we Christians follow a Lord who gave up his rights in order to be our Savior? Mightn’t we do the same in our public prayers?

I’m also impressed by the fact that Jesus seemed to hang out with lots of unsavory kinds of people, you know, tax collectors and sinners. Surely they didn’t enjoy being with Jesus because he continually emphasized the ways in which they disagreed. I don’t mean to suggest that non-Christian folk are unsavory, or any more sinful than I am. My point is that Jesus had a way of welcoming those who were not, at least at first, with him theologically. I wonder if choosing not to mention the name of Jesus in a civic prayer is a Jesus-like gesture of welcome.

If Rick Warren sees his role as representing evangelical Christians in the mix of religious people who are offering inaugural prayers, then he may well want to say “in Jesus’ name.” But if he sees his role as trying to include as many people as possible in prayer, speaking that which is in the hearts of Christians and non-Christian theists, then he would be well-advised not to mention the name of Jesus.

If Warren plans not to say “in Jesus’ name” in his inaugural prayer, I hope he explains his rationale in advance. Otherwise, he’ll have a whole lot of Christians upset. He can explain later, of course. But I think it would be better if he did so in advance. If he plans to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, it might also be best to tell people in advance and explain why. That would, at least, take the focus off of his closing words and, perhaps, allow people to pay more attention to what he is really praying. But it appears, so far, that Warren is not making a widespread statement of his intentions.

I do want to note that one of my faithful blog commentors, Bill Goff, who attends Saddleback Church, where Warren is the senior pastor, said this in a recent comment: “I am confident that Rick Warren will use the name Jesus in his prayer. Why? Because I was present in the congregation last Sunday when I heard him assure us that that is what he intends to do.”

So, I think a strong case can be made for Rick Warren’s not saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer. But I think a strong case can be made for the other side as well. Tomorrow I’ll lay out the argument on the other side, and then explain what I would do if I were in Warren’s shoes.

Should Rick Warren Say “In the Name of Jesus” at the End of His Inaugural Prayer? Section 2

Part 6 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Yesterday I laid out the strongest case I could make against having Rick Warren say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer. Today I’m arguing the other side.

If you read this before 11:30 a.m. Easter time, then you won’t know what Warren actually did. If you read it afterwards, you may very well know how he prayed. The suspense will be over. Nevertheless, I want to reflect upon this issue because it’s important. The question of how Christians pray in civic gatherings – or whether they should or not – is part of the much larger conversation about the role of religion in America’s public square. If you’ve been following the furor surrounding Warren’s involvement in the Obama inauguration, you know this conversation is lively, sometimes even downright nasty. For Christians, we need to answer two crucial questions:

1. As American citizens, how should we properly speak of and live out our faith in our pluralistic society?

2. As citizens of God’s kingdom, how should we properly speak of and live out our faith in this pluralistic society?

Though both of these are the same question, the answers may be quite different. One will be based on issues of law and culture. The other will depend on biblical and theological interpretation. In the end, of course, each American Christian needs to answer both questions satisfactorily. At any rate, let’s get back to the issue at hand.

The Case for Saying “In Jesus’ Name” at the End of Rick Warren’s Inaugural Prayer

First of all, let me address this question as a Christian. One of our highest callings and greatest privileges is to glorify Jesus. Christians want people to know about him and to be drawn to him. Of course many people are not especially pleased by this desire. It’s popular these days to be not just non-Christian, but anti-Christian. Nevertheless, Christians are committed to letting folks know about Jesus. If a Christian had the opportunity to use the name of Jesus in a prayer that would be heard by millions, perhaps even billions of people, one might consider this a valuable opportunity to fulfill our Christian calling. (It would be rather like painting “John 3:16” under your eyes when you lead your college football team to the national championship, as did Florida quarterback Tim Tebow a couple of weeks ago.)

But if we think about this issue, not from a Christian perspective, but in light of American culture. Given the diversity of our society today, and given the wide range of religious beliefs, how could it be a positive thing for a Christian to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer? Wouldn’t something more generic be helpful in the public square? Might one want to pray, as did the Episcopal bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, in an inaugural event, to “O God of our many understandings”? (No joke.)

One of the things I value most about this country is our heritage of religious freedom. One of the greatest things about the United States of America is that people are free to practice the religion of their choice, within generous boundaries. One could not sacrifice another human being to the gods. But one could certainly say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a public prayer. To do this, even when not everyone in America could say “Amen,”  would be a celebration of our freedom as well as our diversity as a nation. I’m quite sure the multitude of other prayer givers during the long Obama inauguration, including a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, and a wide variety of Christians, will pray according to their convictions and traditions. Though I might not pray to Allah myself, I’m blessed to be in a country where a Muslim can do this in freedom and without fear. Equally, I’m blessed to live in a country where an evangelical Christian can say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his public prayer.

Some folks seem to prefer a lowest common denominator approach to public expressions of faith. That’s what I’d call praying to the “God of our many understandings.” But I think our civic life is enriched by the genuine diversity of our convictions and traditions. I don’t mine if a Muslim prays to Allah, or a Hindu to Krishna, because that’s what they really do, and I want to be exposed to their genuine religious faith and practice.

Of course we can exercise our personal faith in public in a way that’s offensive. But I think this isn’t necessary. In his 2001 prayer at the Bush inaugural, Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell (who is African American, and now an Obama supporter), ended this way: “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say, 'Amen.'" Understandably, he caught some heat for praying this way. More recently, in a civic gathering, Rev. Caldwell closed, “Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Surely anyone who would be offended by that closing would be offended by just about any prayer in a public gathering.

So, I think our country is richer and better if people of faith can exercise their faith in public as well as private. If Rick Warren usually prays in Jesus’ name, then America is better off if he says this in the inauguration.

So What Would I Do?

Now that I’ve put forward my best arguments against and for using the phrase “in Jesus’ name” in the inaugural prayer, I should explain what I would do. At least that was my intent. But, after thinking about this for several days, I must admit that I’m less clear than I was before. I’ll tell you why.

Given the fact that praying in Jesus’ name, from a biblical point of view, does not require one to say “in Jesus’ name,” and given the fact that an inaugural prayer is meant to include a wide range of people, not just Christians of a certain stripe, and given the sensitivity many people feel over the name of Jesus, owing, in part, to terrible things Christians have done using his name, I was planning to admit that I would not use the name of Jesus if I were in Rick Warren’s shoes. In an effort to imitate Jesus’ own outreach to those who were on the edges, and who were surely not especially religious, I would not say “in Jesus’ name” to close my prayer. At least that’s what I thought I would do.

But the more I’ve reflected upon my last point about what makes America wonderful, I’m reconsidering my position. I’m not doing this for Christian reasons so much as more American ones, if you will. I would rather live in a nation where people were free to be honest about their beliefs, and even to express them openly in a public forum, than in a nation where we all had to pretend that we all worshiped the “God of our many understandings.”

So, as of this moment, if I were in Rick Warren’s shoes (which, by the way, I hope I never will be; I couldn’t take the heat), I would say something like “in Jesus’ name” at the end of my prayer. But I wouldn’t just do this. Rather, in advance of the inauguration, I would take the time to explain what it means to pray in the name of Jesus (as I have done in this blog series) and why I think America is better if people live out their faith with authenticity. I would acknowledge that not everyone in America could echo the “in Jesus’ name” part of my prayer. So I would not say, “we pray in the name of Jesus” but “I pray in the name of Jesus.” Among other things, that would simply be a statement of fact. I might very well be inclined to borrow the recent line of Kirbyjon Cladwell, “Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.”

I do reserve the right, however, to change my mind again.

Warren Prays, Not in Jesus’ Name, but in Jesus’ Names

Part 7 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Ya gotta hand it to Rick Warren. He always seems to have a surprise or two up his sleeve. I’ve been following his ministry for almost twenty years, most of which I served as a pastor in a church fourteen miles away from Warren’s Saddleback Church, and I’ve always been impressed with Warren’s ability to be unpredictable. Sure, in some ways he is utterly predictable. Chances are pretty good that you’ll hear him use the phrase “purpose-driven” for example (though not in his prayer!). But Warren is a creative and innovative leader, who can’t be put neatly into a box.

I’ll bet almost nobody in the whole world predicted that Warren would pray not only in the name of Jesus, but “in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus (hay-SOOS), Jesus.” (You can find the AP text of the prayer here. But they got the placement of (hay-SOOS) wrong. For a video of the prayer, check this link, or click the image to the right.)

Warren did not say “we pray in the name of Jesus,” but "I pray." This was right on target. Many who prayed along with him did not actually pray in the name (authority) of Jesus, and would not have been able to join Warren in saying so. It was interesting to me that Warren made his use of Jesus even more personal, saying, “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus . . . .” I like this, because it makes clear why Warren used the name(s) of Jesus. For him, it’s a matter of deep personal faith.

Of course the biggest surprise was the way Warren referred to Jesus, not just as “Jesus” in English, but as “Yeshua” (Aramaic, what Jesus was actually called), Isa (what Muslims and Hindus call Jesus), Jesus (hay-SOOS) in Spanish, and Jesus. I’d love to know exactly what Warren was intending here. Was he wanting to say: “Jesus changed my life, but he’s not just for me, but for everybody”? Or was he trying hard to include the major religious traditions? If so, why did he use Spanish? Was this an effort to be inclusive, even as Warren was praying in an exclusively Christian manner? Or . . . ?

What I like about Warren’s four-fold reference to Jesus is its boldness. If you’re going to pray using Jesus’ name, might as well just say it. I’ve heard preachers in civic settings say things that try to get around the problem, like, “I pray in the name of the teacher from Nazareth,” but this always impressed me as rather wimpy. Besides, do you actually think those who would be put off by a prayer that mentions Jesus would somehow be fine with a clever circumlocution? Not!

I thought the rest of Warren’s prayer was solid. His use of biblical themes and theology was excellent. His language was reconciling rather than divisive. Contrast what Warren said with the invocation given a couple of days earlier by the Episcopal Bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, and you’ll see what I mean. I found Warren’s specific prayers for President Obama and his family to be touching, though I don’t understand his peculiar way of saying the names of the President’s daughters. Perhaps this is a personal matter.

I’ve heard several commentators criticize Warren for being too casual, or for looking awkward in such a setting as a presidential inauguration. I, on the contrary, appreciate his willingness to be himself. Praying in front of a nation, Warren didn’t sound any different from when he prays in front of his own church family.

Rick Warren may or may not be “the next Billy Graham,” whatever that means. But I believe he offered a sincere, thoughtful, truthful prayer today, one that reflected well on the evangelical Christian community, even as it articulated the prayers of the nation. In the days ahead, I’m going to analyze some similar prayers, including the one by Bishop Robinson, as well as several inaugural prayers by Billy Graham. I find the contrasts to be fascinating.

But before I get to this analysis, I want to talk about another kind of prayer related to President Obama. Stay tuned . . . .

Praying for Barack

Part 8 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Before I examine some inaugural prayers besides that of Rick Warren, I want to say something about praying for the President.

Surely all Christians, especially but not only American Christians, should now be praying regular for President Obama. When you think of the authority that has been given to him, and then the challenges he faces, surely he deserves our prayers.

Moreover, Scripture calls us to pray for our leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

So common sense and God’s Word unite to urge us to pray for President Obama.

In my experience, we often have a hard time praying faithfully for a president whose policies we do not support. I think this is because praying for a president can feel like agreeing with him, or something like that. Our difficulty praying for a president of whom don’t approve is ironic, of course, because reason would lead us to pray even more for such a president than for one we like. If the president is leading our country in ways we don’t affirm, surely we would believe that he needs God’s help even more than if he were doing all things well. But, in fact, we should pray for our president no matter whether we agree with him or not.

When I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I usually led the congregation in prayer during weekend worship services. In that context, I almost always prayed for the president (Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2). I’d say something like, “We pray for our president and the administration, for the Congress and the courts.” About half of the time I’d pray also for state and local leaders as well.

Sometimes during times of open prayer, people in the congregation would pray for the president. Most of the times these prayers were thoughtful, and not too partisan. Nothing can kill a time of corporate prayer more quickly than an overly partisan prayer, unless, of course, your church is highly identified with a partisan agenda. On one occasion, a man prayed in a stentorian voice concerning President Clinton: “Dear God, please bring Bill Clinton to repentance concerning the senseless slaughter of the innocents in Waco, Texas.” He was referring to the 1993 killing of people in the Branch Davidian. This was an awkward moment, to say the least.

Last weekend I was facilitating a retreat at Laity Lodge. Participants came from two Episcopal churches: Holy Trinity in Midland, Texas, and St. Martin’s in Houston. Our closing worship service used the printed order from St. Martin’s. In this liturgy, there was a time for intercession, in which we prayed for “George, our President, and Barack, our President elect.” I was struck once again, as I often am in Episcopal services, by the use of the President’s first name. The prayer we used also included the first names of various Episcopal bishops.

I don’t know the source of this tradition. Perhaps it reflects Anglican roots in England, where leaders are identified by their first names (King George, Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, etc.). But, whatever the source, I find this way of praying to be quite moving. It reminds me that our president is not just a leader. He’s a human being, a person with a first name. When I pray for President Bush or President Obama, I envision somebody standing up in front of a large crowd. But when I pray for George or Barack, I picture a husband, a father, a very human being with all sorts of human frailties. Even when I’m not very happy with my president’s policies, I can feel genuine compassion for somebody named George or Barack. (Photo: A young Barack enjoys his tricycle.)

I was reminded last weekend to be faithful in praying for our new president. He sure needs all the prayer he can get. So I will pray for President Obama, both in private and in settings where I’m leading corporate prayer. But I will also pray for Barack, my brother in Christ, that he might find strength, comfort, and wisdom in Christ. I pray that God will gift him with what he needs to lead our nation and to be a good husband and father. I pray that he will find time for quiet prayer, time to read the Bible, time to be renewed in the Spirit of God.

Examining Bishop Gene Robinson’s Invocation

Part 9 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Two days prior to the official inauguration of President Barack Obama, there was an opening event at the Lincoln Memorial. The invocation for this gathering was offered by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. As you probably know, Bishop Robinson is best known as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. His inclusion in the Obama inaugural surely demonstrated, for better or for worse, the new President’s commitment to reach out to all segments of American society.

Not unexpectedly, Bishop Robinson’s prayer was controversial. But the main reason for the controversy was not expected. Apparently, technical difficulties made it hard for most of those gathered to hear his prayer. Moreover, HBO didn’t include the prayer in their broadcast, which has led to cries of discrimination from gay and lesbian advocates. It seems likely, however, that HBO simply made a mistake. A reporter for Christianity Today magazine who was present when Bishop Robinson prayed took a surprisingly clear video, from which the picture to the right was taken. You can see the whole video on YouTube by clicking on the photo. The text of Robinson’s prayer can be found at the Episcopal Café website.

Bishop Robinson’s prayer included 525 words, and took just over four minutes to deliver. It was, as he described it, a prayer “to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.” With this basic structure, the prayer began with seven requests for God to “bless us.” It ended with ten specific requests for the President elect: “Give him wisdom; inspire him; Give him a quiet heart; Give him stirring words; Make him color-blind; Help him remember; Give him the strength; help him remember; keep him safe; Hold him in the palm of your hand.”

From the point of view of structure and language, Robinson’s prayer is exemplary. Unlike Rick Warren’s prayer, which seemed to wander from topic to topic and which included little poetic repetition, Robinson’s prayer reflected the artistry found in the liturgy that would be so familiar to an Episcopal bishop. One of the things Episcopalians, like all Anglicans, do so well is to use words sparingly, artfully, and profoundly in their written liturgies. One of the things Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do well is to pray spontaneously, eagerly, and enthusiastically. So neither Robinson’s nor Warren’s prayers were especially surprising in their form or manner of delivery.

I want to begin my examination of Bishop Robinson’s content by focusing first upon his intercession for President-elect Obama. I find this section of the prayer to be wise, moving, and pastoral, as well as poetic. For example, “Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.” The thought here is right on, and wonderfully phrased as well.

Given Robinson’s own liberalism, both theologically and politically, I was struck by the balance of one of his requests: “Make [Obama] color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.”

But I was most deeply impressed by the last two of Robinson’s intercessions:

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

The prayer for Obama’s private life is full of pathos. I wonder if Robinson’s prayer concerning Obama’s time with his daughters reflects Robinson’s own experience as a father with two daughters. In my opinion, Robinson’s urgent request for Obama’s safety was outstanding and badly needed.

All in all, I would give Bishop Robinson’s prayer for Obama high marks. I can’t say the same for his intercession for the nation, though there are some fine thoughts there too, such as:

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

A couple of paragraphs were problematic, however, such as:

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I actually agree that we should not discriminate in the public sphere against the people on this list, though I doubt Bishop Robinson and I would always agree about what counts as discrimination. Nevertheless, I find his predictable litany of “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people” to be unhelpful. It makes him sound like much less of a spiritual leader praying for the nation, and more of an activist pressing his own particular agenda. Of course one might counter in saying that Robinson is, indeed, more of an activist than a spiritual leader. He certainly doesn’t seem to mind splitting the Anglican communion in order to pursue his own aims. So, one might say that Robinson was being truthful in this part of his prayer. My point is that it was divisive. Contrast Rick Warren’s prayer, which did not bring up divisive issues. Warren was bringing people together. Robinson was, once again, rending them asunder.

Perhaps the most notable and obviously controversial element of Bishop Robinson’s prayer was his opening line: “O God of our many understandings.” From my point of view, this was a major mistake. It sounds almost like a Saturday Night Live parody. Of course Robinson’s point–that people understand God in many different ways–is correct. He could well have acknowledge this in a sentence, something like: “O God, though we understand you in many different ways, we come together at this time to pray that you will . . . .” But to address a prayer to “God of our many understandings” in this way seems to suggest that there is no real God out there to hear our prayers, but rather some figment of our corporate imagination. It’s almost as if Bishop Robinson has given God a new name: not Yahweh, not God Almighty, not Prince of Peace, but “God of our many understandings.” Yikes!

Aside from the inelegance of this title for God, it epitomizes what I find most lacking in Robinson’s prayer: Christianity. There is nothing specifically Christian here. There is nothing that reflects Robinson’s apparent role as a Christian priest. Now I’m not talking about any specific mention of Jesus. But I am talking about praying in a way that reflects the reality of Jesus and his ministry. There is no hint in Bishop Robinson’s prayer of such Christian essentials as grace, mercy, justice, or forgiveness. There's not one mention of faith, hope, or love. Robinson points to God’s judgment, but never God’s salvation. He wants us to be tearful over the pain of the world, but doesn’t ask that we participate in God’s work of ending that pain. What a typically American response to the world’s suffering! Let’s feel bad, but otherwise do nothing. If I feel your pain, that's enough. No need to heal it. Doesn’t sound much like Jesus, does it? Similarly, we’re to be angry about discrimination. But Robinson never asks God to help us end it. From this prayer, you’d never know that the founder of Robinson's religion began to inaugurate the kingdom of God, and called his followers to participate in his mission.

I do realize that Robinson told the New York Times in advance that he wasn’t going “to pray a Christian prayer.” In fact, he said he was “horrified” at “how specifically and aggressively Christian” previous inaugural prayers had been. Robinson followed through quite nicely on his promise to pray in a non-Christian manner. But, in the end, what’s left is milquetoast religiosity. He leads us to ask God to give us tears, anger, discomfort, patience, humility, freedom, and compassion, all of which are quite fine. But there’s nothing about doing justice, loving mercy, or walking humbly with our God. Under Robinson’s leadership, we don’t ask God to help us love, forgive, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. Something is woefully lacking here . . . genuine Christianity.

I can understand why a Christian clergyman would choose not to use the name of Jesus in a civic prayer. But I cannot understand for the life of me why he would pray in a way that shows so little of Jesus’ influence.

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 1

Part 10 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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Before I wrap up this series on inaugural prayers, I’d like to examine several prayers offered by the Rev. Billy Graham. No religious leader in our nation’s history has been more involved in presidential inaugurations than Graham. He has offered several prayers, as well as sermons at worship services associated with inaugurations.

Several of the texts of Graham’s inaugural prayers have been collected in the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, and have been made available online. This collection includes:

January 20, 1969 - Inaugural prayer for Richard Nixon

January 20, 1989 - Inaugural invocation for George H.W. Bush

January 20, 1993 - Inaugural invocation for William J. Clinton

January 20, 1997 - Inaugural prayer for William J. Clinton

I don’t have the resources to know if these texts are exactly what Graham said. Curiously enough, the archive text of the 1989 prayer for George H.W. Bush contains no closing, no “in Jesus’ name,” no “Amen,” no “Play ball!” It also appears to omit some words from the center of the prayer, because it now reads, “May we never forget that . . . .” I seriously doubt that Graham actually said, “dot dot dot” or “yada yada yada.” But, at any rate, we do have four of Graham’s inaugural prayers, more or less. I think it will be interesting to examine them. If you do too, keep reading. If not, come back to visit in a couple of days.

Some General Observations on Graham’s Inaugural Prayers

First, there’s an interesting variation in prayer length:

1969 - 654 words
1989 - 298 words (edited)
1993 - 298 words
1997 - 525 words

Did Graham sense that Richard Nixon needed a lot more prayer than the others? And that Bill Clinton came in a close second? Both Presidents got in a heap of trouble in the terms following Graham’s long prayers. Nixon resigned. Clinton was impeached. Is a long inaugural prayer a jinx? (Rick Warren’s prayer for Obama was 482 words. Without the Lord’s Prayer, it was 415 words. That seems to bode well for President Obama.)

Among the 1775 total words that Billy Graham uttered in these four inaugural prayers, you’ll find words we associate with Christianity, such as “love,” “faith,” “hope,” “justice,” and “forgive.” But what I find most curious is that in all four of Graham’s prayers you will not find the words “Jesus” or “Christ.” You’ll find references to Jesus, even blunt requests for people to come to faith in Christ, such as “Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, ‘Ye must be born again.’” (1969 prayer). But for some reason, Graham never named Jesus by name, using his English given name, “Jesus,” or his title that has become synonymous with his name, “Christ.” In four prayers, no name of Jesus appears. (Rick Warren made up for this by using four names of Jesus in his one prayer!).

I would love to ask Billy Graham why he chose not to say the words “Jesus” or “Christ” in his inaugural prayers. One could surely not accuse him of being ashamed of Jesus in public. In fact, he has probably said the name “Jesus” to more people than any other person in history. I wonder of Graham if somehow sensed that using the literal name of Jesus would be unhelpful in some way.

Tomorrow I’ll get more into the substance of Graham’s prayers. For now, I want to note one other bit of fascinating inaugural history. According to the Billy Graham Archives website, in January, 1969, Graham spent the last night of the Lyndon Johnson presidency with the Johnson family in the White House. Then, the next day he prayed at Nixon’s inauguration. Twenty four years later, he spent the last night of George H.W. Bush’s presidency with the Bush family in the White House, before praying at the inauguration of William J. Clinton. This speaks volumes about the unique ministry of Billy Graham, who wasn’t just a preacher who prayed in public, but a pastor to presidents from both parties. (Photo: Billy Graham [left] and three former presidents at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in May 2007.)

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 2

Part 11 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus' Name
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In my last post, I began examining four prayers offered by the Rev. Billy Graham at presidential inaugurations (1969, 1989, 1993, 1997). I note considerable variation in length (though I don’t have the full text of the 1989 prayer). I also note something I 2find most curious, namely, that none of the Graham’s inaugural prayers contains the words “Jesus” or “Christ,” though he figures prominently in them by other names. (If you want to read these prayers, please go to my last post for the links.)

Today I want to comment on several other features of the inaugural prayers that I find interesting:

1. Every prayer is offered to “Our Father and our God,” though the 1993 prayer reverses the order.

2. Within the first few words of the prayer, Graham mentions “this historic occasion,” though in 1997 he refers to is as “this historic and solemn occasion.”

3. Every prayer refers, near the beginning, to the spiritual “foundations” of the United States. The 1969 and 1989 prayers quote a passage of Scripture that reads: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" This is Psalm 11:3 in the KJV.

4. Every prayer also mentions the nation's “forefathers,” except the 1989 prayer doesn’t use the word “forefathers,” but mentions George Washington by name instead.

5. Every prayer contains some confession of national sin. Two prayers include a request for foregiveness (1989, 1997).

6. Every prayer includes quotation of Scripture, though in varying degrees. Here’s my count:

1969 - 7 quotations
1989 - 2 quotations
1993 - 2 quotations
1997 - 2 quotations

7. Not only did the 1969 prayer contain more Scripture quotations, but also it was the one prayer that was openly evangelistic. It included such lines as:

Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, "Ye must be born again."

We pray this humbly in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life.

Can you imagine the furor if Rick Warren had prayed like this? Whew! It is interesting to me how much has chanced in our culture in the last 40 years.

8. The similarities between the opening lines of the 1969 and 1989 prayers are striking. It seems almost as if Rev. Graham pulled out the 1969 prayer when he was writing the 1989 prayer. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. Good prayer language deserves repetition. Just ask any faithful Catholic or Episcopalian. At any rate, here are excerpts from the 1969 and 1989 prayers (italics added):

1969: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, "Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord." We recognize on this historic occasion that we are "a nation under God." We thank Thee for this torch of faith handed to us by our forefathers. May we never let it be extinguished. Thou alone hast given us our prosperity, our freedom and our power. This faith in God is our heritage and our foundation! Thou hast warned us in the Scriptures, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.

1989: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.' We recognize on this historic occasion that we are a nation under God. This faith in God is our foundation and our heritage. Thou hast warned us in the Holy Scriptures, 'If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?' We confess that we are in danger of destroying some of those foundations, for at times our faith in Thee has faltered and we chosen to go our own way rather than the way that Thou wouldst have us go, both as individuals and as a nation. Forgive us, we pray, as we turn to Thee in repentance and faith. Restore us to Thyself and create within us a desire to follow Thy will for all our lives. As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.

9. You’ll notice that in both of these prayers, Rev. Graham refers to God with “Thee” and “Thou.” This was common prayer language for people who used the King James version of the Bible. I expect it was how Graham prayed in private, as well as in public. Strikingly, in the 1993 and 1997 prayers, he addressed God with “You,” having retired the more antique language of the earlier prayers.

More next time . . . .

Note: For the continuation of this series, please click through to:

The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham