Let Us Pray!


After the Trump regime released a roster of the religious figures who were invited to speak at the 2017 Inauguration, people of faith felt their fears grow that the next four years will draw Americans further and further away from the promises and purposes of God.

Admittedly, there were few if any obvious options from whom the organizers of the regime change could choose. Billy Graham, who has personally known one-fourth of the men ever to occupy the presidency and who has participated in inauguration-related ceremonies eight times, is now confined to his home. There is no heir to his mantle of respected religious leader on the horizon--certainly not his biological heir and offspring, Franklin Graham, who has in fact been invited to speak. The younger Graham has said hateful and hurtful things about people who differ with him theologically and politically. So his selection does not bode well for those of us who believe an inaugural prayer is an occasion to invoke all the promises of God for all the people of God.

It was nice of the organizers to invite Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who will read one passage from scripture. This might offer an occasion for reconciliation between Cardinal Dolan and Mr. Trump, since the last public occasion on which they were together was at the Al Smith dinner on the eve of the election, when the Republican candidate was booed by the dinner attendees who found his efforts at humor to be crude, coarse, and corrosive.

The organizers have covered several demographic bases with the list of invited participants. They have included Hispanic, African-American, and Jewish men (besides Franklin Graham), and a woman. Beyond the demographic diversity, however, they are all from the same thin slice of America's spiritual spectrum. Their connections with the incoming President are personal and political. But among the missing religious voices at the ceremonies will be mainstream Protestants, liberal Jews, or Muslims of any sort. For God to hear prayers from a full range of America's religious voices, the hosts of heaven will have to listen to voices from places other than the steps of the Capitol.

Whom could the organizers of the regime change have invited? If they wanted to demonstrate that all religions are covered by the First Amendment to the Constitution and will be respected by this White House, whom could they have asked to offer prayers on the Capitol steps?

They could have invited Imam Omar Suleiman of Texas. Imam Omar spoke at the Dallas gathering in Thanksgiving Square on the day after the shootings that took the lives of five police officers. The Imam, on that occasion, asked God to "hold back the hands that kill" as he prayed "for an end to fear" and asked God to "let justice prevail." Imam Omar embraced all Americans as he prayed to the Holy One on that day in July. Every American would see the significance of having a Muslim cleric pray for the country and its President. And the Holy One, blessed be He, could take delight in a people whose prayers petition for a love that triumphs over hate.

They could have invited Dr. Tink Tinker of Colorado. Dr. Tinker is a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is from the Osage Nation--a Native American, a constituent of the First Peoples whose ancestors were at home in North America long before white European immigrants found their ways to this continent. Dr. Tinker might have offered prayers to the Great Spirit for all of the peoples who dwell in this land, for all of the racial and national groups that have emigrated to this land, for the well being of earth at a time of threats to its climate, and for all the created things and creatures that dwell in the land. He might even have offered thanks for those who love this country so much that they camped for many months at Standing Rock in gratitude for the gift of good water that the Creator's peoples have an obligation to protect rather than pollute. Perhaps the Creator, who leads us "beside still waters," would delight in a nation that prays in thanksgiving for the beauty of the earth.

They could also have invited United Methodist Bishop Minerva Garza Carcaño of California. Bishop Carcaño, who was born and raised near the border with Mexico, is the first Latina ever to be elected as a Bishop by the second largest Protestant denomination in the country. As a member of the Council of Bishops of her church, she is authorized to speak for all of its Bishops on matters regarding immigration. Bishop Carcaño has prayed at the border between Mexico and the United States. She has ministered to undocumented persons who have crossed it. She has also been arrested for taking part in such efforts. And she has prophetically challenged Americans to be good Samaritans in showing love to our neighbors.

The Lord, who delights in those who love their neighbors as they love themselves, would welcome prayers for the people and the President of a nation to be neighborly. The American people would have before them a sign that citizens whose ancestors were here before any immigrants came, and that citizens whose ancestors came from Latin America and Asia and the Middle East and Africa, are the equals of those whose ancestors came from Europe.

Those who are organizing this ceremonial arrival of the regime could have asked an irenic Imam, an Osage spiritualist, and a Hispanic prophet to pray on the steps of the Capitol on Inauguration Day. At least then we would have a reason to believe that the Constitution will endure and that all religious life in America will be free to thrive for the next four years.

Well, other steps will have to be taken. If people of faith are to have a prayer during the coming regime, we will need to pray on other days in other settings that the promises and purposes of God will prevail.