Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speaking Nonsense to No One in Particular?

Episcopal Bishop Vicky Gene Robinson has never ceased to scandalize and fracture the church with his sexual immorality and his “It’s all about me!” promotions. His error and controversy seem continual.

But still, I believe he is on the cusp of being his most scandalous when he declares about his pending inauguration-related invocation: “I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer….” That leaves one wondering, then, to whom it will be addressed and whether it will be a prayer at all.

Who will be invoked?
According to the New York Times reporter Laurie Goldstein, “Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer to ‘the God of our many understandings….’” Who the heck is that? Is that “god” simply a generic stand-in for some vague deity-like construct that Robinson is not able or willing to clearly name?

Is there any true God that Robinson believes worthy of being addressed and capable of acting on one’s earnest petitions? Or are we just kind of playing at some kind of amusing wish fulfillment in thinking there truly is a God, and so it’s perfectly okay to envision that “god-image” any old way one fancies in order to fulfill a ritualized but actually meaningless tradition in public occasions? Or might it be that in truth there is a whole pantheon of gods, and Robinson’s intended wording is meant to address the whole lot of them equally?

Bishop Robinson has taken the role of a Christian clergyman. One would think that that would entail allegiance to, love of, and devotion to the Christian God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That true God has declared himself the only God, as opposed to the false gods that humankind continually seeks to worship as idols of human construction. This true God rightfully demands that his people “shall have no other gods before me” (see the beginning of Exodus 20).

So why would Bishop Robinson deem it appropriate to pray not to the God of the Universe but to some unnamed and undifferentiated construct or to some handful of idols? In such a “prayer,” he would be vigorously breaking the first and second commandments. Apparently that does not bother Bishop Robinson, who seems more intent on currying public favor than serving the Living God.

What will be said?
And that leads to the second concern: Will it be a prayer at all? A prayer is communication with God. In public, the speaker of the prayer is intended to raise up the devotion, the needs, the petitions, and the praise—if not the confessions!—of the whole people, saying for them as one speaker what needs to be said to God by all. God is the audience. The people are the co-supplicants with the one voicing their prayer.

Thus, if Bishop Robinson will be truly praying, then he will address God with and for the people. His words will be directed to God and not get diverted to a human audience. Certainly people will hear what he says in so public an occasion, but their thoughts ought to be “Yes! That is what I would like to say to God, too!” rather than, “I’m convinced by what you say, Bishop Robinson, and you make a good point!”

The temptation for anyone leading public prayer is to grandstand, to say things to the crowd through the guise of addressing God, to make a statement or wage an argument or wax loquacious. A prayer, however, is an intimate conversation with God. A public prayer is an overheard conversation with God, intended by the one offering the prayer to capture the needs of the people and include the listeners in the experience of addressing God.

Prayer is no exercise between a speaker and a human audience, yet one wonders if that is not Robinson’s bottom-line intent. In addressing no god in particular, Robinson seems not very concerned about the vertical communication but apparently very concerned about his horizontal message to the crowd.

And then again, the whole idea of offering an invocation in a pluralistic society is rather dicey. How can the one praying attempt to speak for a crowd of mixed intent and devotion—or none at all?

It would seem to me that if a person of a particular faith is invited to invoke a deity in an invocation, the expectation should be that the person of faith would invoke the god that person believes in and worships. Typically, those planning occasions seek someone most likely to represent a broad plurality or majority of the crowd, so that the invocation best represents the interests of as many as possible.

Some people, however, will inevitably find the undertaking to be superfluous or meaningless. Those people have every right to quietly, respectfully not participate in the prayer. For instance, if a Hindu spiritual leader were invited to open an occasion with prayer, I would simply wait out the time of prayer with dignity and decency. It wouldn’t speak for me, and I wouldn’t be taking part in the prayer, but that’s okay. I can give the spiritual leader that opportunity to pray as he sees fit.

But what I wouldn’t do is expect the Hindu to tailor his prayer to Christian standards or to abandon his beliefs and pray to some mush god. Neither he nor I would have integrity in such a situation. A spiritual leader can legitimately pray only to the deity in which he or she believes. Anything else is a mockery of prayer, a blasphemy, a false accommodation to syncretism.

But as it looks to me that from what he says, Bishop Robinson is apparently a man who doesn’t have a prayer.


Blogger Walter L. Taylor said...

Right on, Jim. By the way, do you know what the last of the ordination vows is in the Episcopal ordination service? It is as follows:

"Will you persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God's grace, both for yourself and for others, offering all your labors to God, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit?"

Ironic, eh?

9:40 AM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks. That's terribly ironic about the Episcopal ordination vow.

I suppose that once one starts breaking vows, it's easy to go for a clean sweep and break 'em all!

How easy it is to put self ahead of God--and how costly and tragic!

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

10:12 AM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Noel said...

I expect we will all soon face an option of whether or not to share communion with those who violate their vows and/or those who think it is okay for them to do so.

Aligning with 1 Cor. 5:11, 2 Cor 6:17, etc., remaining evangelicals in the PCUSA are going to have to refuse taking communion in certain gatherings.

Will we have the backbone NOT to break bread with Robinson, et. al.?

11:25 AM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Jim said...


I know that you are Noel Anderson from Bakersfield, CA, but not everyone does.

Walter Taylor's profile gave his full name and town.

I ask every commenter to put his or her name, city, and state after the comment, in order for each of us to be identified. We do much better when we have real identities!

Consider your identification taken care of this time, Noel! And thanks for commenting.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

11:51 AM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Red_Cleric said...

Noel wrote: "remaining evangelicals in the PCUSA are going to have to refuse taking communion in certain gatherings." Yeah but how do you explain that to your elder during a Presbytery meeting?


5:09 PM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Jim said...


This blog nanny insists on your full name and city. Your profile gives me Portland, Oregon, but it doesn't readily provide your last name. Please furnish it.

I can guess pretty accurately, but maybe not all the other readers. :-)

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

5:21 PM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger Red_Cleric said...

Sorry. my bad missed the part about the whole name.
Alan Wilkerson Portland OR.

5:23 PM, January 14, 2009  
Blogger ZZMike said...

I think Obama was trying to placate the folks who were incensed that he chose Rick Warren.

But the result will be that everybody is annoyed by one choice or the other.

With all of Obama's fascination with Lincoln, you'd think he'd remember the bit about not being able to please all the people all the time.

Mike Zorn
Santa Ana CA

4:28 PM, January 15, 2009  
Blogger Viola Larson said...

Noel's thoughts here has caused me to spend too much time reading Calvin (Is that possible?) trying to find the answer to his thought. My problem is I already know of one Church in our Presbytery that has ordained homosexual elders since PUP, and one Church whose session gave the pastors the right (poor choice of words I know) to marry homosexual couples in civil ceremonies when it was still legal here.

So what about communion at Presbytery? At least the Presbytery hasn't yet said its okay to do it. Doesn't that make the difference, because if the PCUSA said it was okay then the word would not be rightly proclaimed with the Sacrament. I'm still reading.

Viola Larson,
Sacramento, Ca

10:17 PM, January 15, 2009  
Blogger karenkolbin said...

I'm sorry if this is a repeat message. I am wondering how it is we can diassociate ourselves with folks like the Episcopalians who are unrepentant homosexuals and not the members of the PCUSA? how does that work? knowing that so many unrepentant homosexuals remain as members where do you start to bring order out of the present chaos? Church discipline has been poor at best if there has been any at all being carried out from Presbytery to Presbytery. Certainly if a person who is an unrepentant homosexual is welcomed to the communion table as a member he has a right also to "serve as an elder" within the church. The very heart of our Prostetant faith has to do with the equality of a brotherhood of believers who are not a "special priesthood" as ordained pastors and elders. Unlike the Anglicans, really, who do continue closer to the Roman Catholic tradition. Aren't each one of us a members considered to be equally priests, prophets and kings as members of Christ's Body?

5:13 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger karenkolbin said...

Sorry I did not leave my name and city in the last post.
Karen Kolbinsky
Hillsborough, NC

5:20 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger karenkolbin said...

as far as your blog, gosh..
you are totally right on here!
I had no idea about Robinson replacing Warren to pray at the inauguration...has this actually happened? did Obama choose the bishop over Rick Warren? how have I missed this or have I somehow misunderstood?

5:23 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger Strode said...

Karen -

V. Gene Robinson is to deliver an "invocation" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural event and is not replacing Rick Warren at the actual inauguration.

Rich Strode
Portland, Oregon

8:39 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks for commenting.

I think that Jesus was meant to be the perfect prophet, priest, and king, who so completely fulfilled all the longings of his people. I'm not sure if that is meant to be our role, too. We just point to him!

We all ARE meant to live our lives according to God's good will, however, and that means leaders AND church members alike. It's not like deacons, elders, and ministers need to be "good," and church members can just sin away. Each of us is expected to conform our will and actions to God's good will for us.

We do believe in the "priesthood of all believers," and that, as you point out, has strong implications for the level of mature morality expected of church members as well as church leaders.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

12:54 PM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger Kattie W. Coon said...


Now that both Bishop Robinson and Rev. Warren have given their respective prayers, we see that both have given prayers that tried to be inclusive and, as a result, ignored the Trinity.

I would like to see your critique of Warren's prayer.

Huntsville, Al

1:04 PM, January 20, 2009  
Blogger Mac said...

Critique of Warren: It will be hard for anyone to do better than the last 65 words.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

7:31 AM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger Kattie W. Coon said...


Agreed to a point, but I would bet that the Gnostics prayed the Lord's Prayer, so I'm not sure what kind of critique you're giving.

Huntsville, Al

9:09 AM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger Viola Larson said...

What some have not noticed when they insist that Warren's prayer was not Trinitarian is that The Lord's prayer was first prayed by Jesus, the unique Son of the Father. It was a prayer very much involved with Trinity. Today, we as believers are united to the resurrected Christ and through him by the Holy Spirit we pray that prayer.

I am guessing that the Gnostics did not pray this prayer for several reasons. They did not use the Gospels that Christians use. They were supposedly not concerned with such things as "daily bread" or being forgiven of sins, or even being tempted. They did not feel that God's will should be done on earth since they believed that the material universe was evil. Insipid gnosticism was all that existed during the very early years of Christianity.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

3:03 PM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger karenkolbin said...

It might be we come to the realization that we can't judge anyone by outward appearances.
We can't only accept that someone who claims himself to be a "Christian" is for real.
what is the proof of LOVING GOD?
is it Jesus Himself who said "why do you call Me Lord, Lord and not DO what I command you?"
maybe Protestants went to an extreme when it comes down to their emphasis on GRACE while WORKS had not a bit at all to do with it all?
James wrote in his letter to the churches..FAITH without WORKS is DEAD..every bit as DEAD as WORKS without FAITH..
there is no way anyone can really love GOD or be following JESUS for real without DOING everything HE has commanded us to DO ..
otherwise? our "faith" is in vain and our "worship" nothing but mere lipservice..
hopefully this whole "homosexual thing" might have awakened at least a few within the confessing church to the reality of what the words of James are all about.
FAITH without WORKS is every bit as DEAD as WORKS without FAITH
Karen Kolbinsky, Hillsborough, NC

3:31 PM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger Kattie W. Coon said...

"What some have not noticed when they insist that Warren's prayer was not Trinitarian is that The Lord's prayer was first prayed by Jesus, the unique Son of the Father."

I don't know of anyone, at least from the blogs I've read, who claimed that Warren's prayer didn't fit into a Trinitarian model. We all just claim that it isn’t a very snug fit.

What I and others have pointed out is that the details of the Trinitarian model (i.e. the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) were completely absent in the language Warren used in his prayer. We, who are already indoctrinated with, and believe in the Trinity, will see his prayer as Trinitarian only because we already understand the connections. Others (Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, etc) may look at Warren's words and not see the connections and hence not be offended. That being the case, I fail to see how Warren led the masses in a prayer specifically to his/our Trinitarian God. He certainly wasn't making bold Christian specific proclamations.

In other words, either he was praying to ‘the God of our many understandings…’, or he was making a very lukewarm prayer to our understanding, a stealth prayer if you will. Either way, I don’t believe this is what God wants us to do.

“I am guessing that the Gnostics did not pray this prayer…”

That’s right Viola, you’re guessing, only guessing.

I hope y’all realize that I’m not in any way trying to be an apologist for the prayer Bishop Robinson gave. I’m only trying to point out that Rev. Warren’s was no better. Actually I’ve been finding it rather amusing to see how some tie themselves into logical knots in order to both trash Robinson’s prayer and praise Warren’s prayer.

Huntsville, Al

6:25 AM, January 24, 2009  
Blogger Albert Gillin said...

I want to leap frog back to the original article to say let's just all pray to Tashlan!

C.S. Lewis Continues to show that not only was he; but he continues to be ahead of the curve regarding things that Evangelical Beleivers should be on the watch for.

Albert Gillin
Walla Walla, Wa

9:44 AM, February 05, 2009  

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