By Geoffrey Paul
January 13, 2009
The top USA Jewish leadership is keeping well out of the almost subterranean controversy over President-elect Obama's choice of the Rev Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration on January 20. You knew it, of course, that the invocation is a prayer essentially calling down God's blessing on the incoming President, a major part of the inaugural ceremony and something I have always found curious in a nation which separates between Church and State. The Rev Rick is an amazing man. The US media identify him as head of an “evangelistic megachurch” in California. Mega it certainly is: 87,000 members, 22,000 at Sunday services, 300 full-time staff and 9,000 volunteers .
What nobody seems yet to have decided to their own satisfaction is whether Rick Warren is too Christian or not Christian enough. There is one wing of the evangelistic movement which is absolutely delighted that Mr Warren has been quoted on numerous websites – without firm confirmation – as telling a Jewish woman that she would “burn in hell” because she did not accept Jesus as her Lord. But then the Rev Warren delivered a Friday night sermon at a major conference of Reform Jews just a year or so ago in which he counselled them on how to grow their communities (essentially, “Smile and be nice to everybody”). This brought down the wrath of died-in-the-wool evangelicals who felt he should have stood up there before a couple of thousand Jews and told them not how to grow their communities but to accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Some of the stuff I have been reading on fundamentalist Christian websites has been rather nasty and I will not point you there. But - now for the good news about the inauguration – one of the performers at the ceremony is our very own Itzhak Perlman who, with Yo-yo Ma, will perform a new piece specially written by John Williams (let's hope it keeps warm for them all). God bless democracy, or, as a United Synagogue website would say “G-d bless democracy.” But that's for another time....