Bishop Robinson's Lost Prayer at the Inaugural Kick-off

By Cathleen Falsani 1-21-2009

090118-inauguration-lincoln-memorialSunday afternoon, I sat in front of the TV with a box of tissues and watched every second of the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial live on HBO.

It was a glorious, moving event that had me in tears from start to finish. There were so many highlights - Denzel Washington's stirring opening remarks; Tom Hanks' monologue about Abraham Lincoln as the orchestra played Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait"; James Taylor's soaring rendition of "Shower the People"; U2 singing "Pride" on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech; Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen leading the crowd in "This Land is Your Land" (with ALL the verses, even the politically edgy ones most people leave out.)

The "We Are One" concert was fabulous, but as the live broadcast drew to a close, with Barack and Michelle Obama making their way across the stage, stopping to thank each of the celebrities that had participated in the event, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing.

It wasn't until I flipped to continued coverage of the event on CNN and spotted the bespectacled man with a clerical collar standing a few people away from Bono in the star-studded receiving line that I realized what it was:

Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Last week, a big deal was made of the announcement that Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, would give the invocation at the concert. A lot of folks saw it as a salve to the gay community (and its supporters), who were angered by Obama's earlier announcement that Pastor Rick Warren would offer the prayer at his inauguration. (Warren was a supporter of California's Proposition 8 to outlaw gay marriage and believes homosexual acts are sinful.)

Robinson was there, but where was his prayer?

HBO, which had exclusive rights to air the nearly two-hour concert, didn't broadcast Robinson's invocation, saying it was the Presidential Inaugural Committee's call to keep it in the "pre-show."

PIC spokesman Josh Earnest's explanation to me via e-mail late Monday afternoon:

We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson's invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday's program. We regret the error in executing this plan - but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event.

A source confirmed that highlights from the concert - including Robinson's invocation - will be shown on jumbo screens on the Washington mall during today's inauguration.

Whether it was an unfortunate mistake (one that was curiously repeated when the concert was re-aired Sunday night) or a bone-headed misstep by cowardly political wonks afraid to let the controversial Robinson talk to God on national TV, silencing the bishop's voice was a great loss.

Obama's loss.

Our loss.

Fortunately, Sarah Pulliam, a reporter for Christianity Today magazine, taped the invocation. This is what Robinson prayed:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will

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