Inauguration prayers and sermons

Some prayers and sermons are given more news value than others. For example, the fact that HBO did not broadcast Bishop V. Gene Robinson's prayer on Sunday made a rather significant news ripple. However, a CNN interview with Colin Powell received priority over the mealtime prayer of Rear Admiral Barry C. Black (Ret.), U.S. Senate Chaplain, before Tuesday's rather significant congressional luncheon with President Obama.

If anyone watched the end of Sunday's Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh AFC Championship game, one would have noticed the scary incident when Willis McGahee was on the field looking horribly hurt while his teammate Ray Lewis was nearby, on one knee with his head bowed in one hand. The announcers multiple times noted that he was kneeling nearby but they never said what he was doing. When McGahee was taken off the field, the announcers commented a final time that Ray Lewis was still on the ground, but again didn't bother to mention that he was likely praying. Needless the say, we have had our issues with the way the subject of prayer is handled in NFL broadcasts.

But back to the subject at hand on this historic day.

The fact that religion played an important role in today's inauguration received a lot of notice in the news. See here a Los Angeles Times article on how "Obama's religion-studded inauguration joins a long history" of inaugurations. However, how much of that was coverage of substance with regard to the faith-issues?

Rachael Zoll of the Associated Press noted about a week ago that a Muslim woman and rabbis would be offering a prayer at the inauguration's National Prayer Service. The article is a preview of sorts that announced that The Rev. Sharon Watkins would be delivering the service's sermon. Watkins happens to be the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is based in Indianapolis.

Fortunately for religion readers in my neck of the woods, The Indianapolis Star's Robert King picked up on this story, and my front page this morning had a nice religion-oriented feature tied nicely into the inauguration:

Watkins made history in 2005 when the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), whose general offices are in Indianapolis, made her the first woman to lead a mainline denomination. But this latest achievement is prompting a renewed round of congratulations from women who now look at her with the pride she felt that day at Yale.

"It seems to give a moment of hope and opening that the aspirations of girls and young women can be wide open," she said.

Watkins, 54, met Obama last summer in Chicago when his campaign called together a diverse group of faith leaders to offer the candidate lessons about their concerns and pet issues.

"He was not reticent to come back with his own opinions," she said. "There was some pretty good give and take."

So much, in fact, that the meeting bordered on contentious. But Watkins offered a closing prayer that, she was told later, seemed to have a calming effect. She doesn't know whether that landed her the sermon Wednesday. But she will take it.

Unfortunately, the article is not long enough to give the reporter the necessary room to expound upon any of the larger issues such as how this selection reflects Obama's own faith and worldview and a deeper look into Walkins's own religious views, but it is a start.

The key will be to see whether the media follows up on any of these prayers and sermons to give its readership an in-depth view of what was said and what those words meant.

As a quick but incomplete survey of what is out there, see Zoll's report on the prayers here and Newsweek's Lisa Miller here.

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