The other day I emailed a few questions to Rick Warren, who has accepted Barack Obama's invitation to give the inauguration prayer, and he's now responded. Warren says, among other things, that the invitation was "completely unexpected" and that "several dozen" other pastors would do "a better job." It's apparent that he knows a great deal about inaugural prayers--he actually has a binder containing them all--and he says he's going to reread them all before he settles on what shape his will take. I don't think he'll be backing away from praying in the name of Jesus. On the other hand, he won't be using his prayer to preach or take a political stance--"that's the fastest way to kill a prayer," he says.
Here are my questions and Warren's answers:
How hard or easy was the decision to accept the president-elect's invitation?
I am both humbled and honored to have a tiny part of a history-making day, when our country inaugurates our first African- American president. The invitation was completely unexpected. I could name several dozen wonderful pastors, both black and white, who would do a better job.
Do you expect to look at some past inauguration prayers to see what's been done before?
I've always been an avid student of American history, since a Richard Warren was one of the 41 Pilgrim signers of the Mayflower Compact. I already have a collection of many of the important prayers in U.S. history, including a binder of every inaugural prayer. Of course, I'll reread them all again before Jan. 20th. I own Abraham Lincoln's handwritten note confirming the need for a national chaplaincy to care [for] wounded soldiers during the Civil War and approving a pastor.
How do you think about the kind of prayer to be given at a (any) public event, given that the audiences at such events usually have various faiths represented?
It doesn't bother me at all when an Imam prays a Muslim prayer in [a] public arena or when a Rabbi prays a Jewish prayer in public or when anyone expresses their personal faith in public. This is America. We don't deny our differences but we are respectful of all of them. I'm a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray.
By which I mean both what is prayed for and how it is prayed?
Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements, nor political posturing. That's the fastest way to kill a prayer. They are humble appeals to God. My hope is that all Americans will pray for the new president.