MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, has been chosen to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's kickoff inaugural event this Sunday. The New Hampshire bishop will offer a prayer at the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
The announcement follows controversy over Mr. Obama's choice of the conservative, evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration itself. Pastor Warren has angered gay-rights supporters, most recently by his support of the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California. Well, Bishop Gene Robinson joins us to talk about this. Bishop Robinson, welcome back to the program.
Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire): Hi, Melissa. It's great to be back.
BLOCK: Do you think that Barack Obama is, in essence, balancing the scales here, I mean, choosing you to mitigate the anger in the gay community and beyond over his choice of Rick Warren?
Bishop ROBINSON: No, not really. I think Barack Obama is turning out to be exactly who he told us he was going to be, which is a person under a very large umbrella that will include all Americans. And while I, too, was concerned with the naming of Rick Warren as the person to give the invocation at the inauguration, the whole inauguration wasn't yet planned, and I am simply delighted to be a part of it.
BLOCK: Does the timing indicate to you that they responded to the criticism of Pastor Warren? That announcement came on December 17th. When did you get your own invitation to speak?
Bishop ROBINSON: I was actually invited about two and a half weeks ago, but I'm told, and I believe it's true, that this was in the works actually quite a long time. And it's really based on the brief but important relationship that I established with then-Senator Obama very early on in the New Hampshire primary. And then I continued to work behind the scenes in the campaign, advising the campaign and Senator Obama, particularly around gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
BLOCK: Well, what is your message going to be this Sunday when you deliver the invocation?
Bishop ROBINSON: Well, I'm not exactly sure I will know until that moment…
BLOCK: You probably wouldn't want to spoil the surprise by telling me right now.
Bishop ROBINSON: Well, exactly. I think it will be a surprise to me. And I expect to be somewhat overwhelmed by the setting. You know, the Lincoln Memorial is my favorite place in all of Washington. I have always wept at those words of Abraham Lincoln inscribed there, but of course, it was also the scene of the "I Have a Dream" speech. It was where Marian Anderson sang at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt. So to be there with President-elect Obama is just an incredible honor.
I plan to pray both for the new president, of course, but also for the country. You know, this will be a very happy event, but it's important to pause and remember that we're entering a very difficult time in the life of our country, and a lot will be asked of us, as well as of this new president.
BLOCK: Have you been finding inspiration in the words of other invocations that were delivered?
Bishop ROBINSON: Actually, I've mostly found caution in the words of others. I've actually read back over the inaugural prayers of the last 30 or 40 years and frankly, I've been shocked at how aggressively Christian they are. And my intention is not to invoke the name of Jesus, but to make this a prayer for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Although I hold the Scripture to be the word of God, you know, those Scriptures are holy to me and to Jews and Christians. But to many other faith traditions - they have their own sacred texts. And so, rather than insert that and really exclude them from the prayer by doing so, I want this to be a prayer to the God of our many understandings, and a prayer that all people of faith can join me in.
BLOCK: The God of our many understandings.
Bishop ROBINSON: Yes. You know, I was in treatment for alcoholism three years ago and am grateful to be sober today. And one of the things that I've learned in 12-step programs is this phrase, the God of my understanding. It allows people to pray to a God of really, many understandings, and let's face it, each one of us has a different understanding of God. No one of us can fully understand God or else God wouldn't be God.
BLOCK: I'm not sure that that God of many understandings has ever been invoked in an inauguration before.
Bishop ROBINSON: Well, I've done a lot of things for the first time in my life, and I will be proud to do this one.
BLOCK: Well, Bishop Robinson, thanks for talking with us.
Bishop ROBINSON: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.
BLOCK: Gene Robinson is the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop. He'll be giving the invocation at Barack Obama's kickoff inaugural event this Sunday.
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