How many preachers does one inauguration need?

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Jan. 12 2009 7:44 PM

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How many preachers does one inauguration need?

See all of Slate's inauguration coverage.

Twice since 2000, atheists have sued the federal government to keep religion out of the presidential inauguration. Both times they lost. They have filed suit again over this year's ceremony, and their case looms especially large: Barack Obama is bringing in more preachers and pastors than we can count.

OK, we can count them. Four (so far, at least). Still, that's a lot of praying. Here's a quick rundown of inauguration week, God-wise.


Who: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson
When: Sunday
Where: The Lincoln Memorial
Sect: Episcopalian

Background: Robinson was elected the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003. * The event ticked off conservative Christians everywhere and threatened to cause a schism within the church itself. At least one American diocese voted to secede, and the archbishop of Canterbury denied him a seat last year at the church's once-a-decade meeting in England.

After Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration drew fire from gay leaders, the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Robinson to participate. It's unclear whether the invitation was a direct response to the criticism—transition officials say it was not. When Obama picked Warren, Robinson said, "it was like a slap in the face." It wasn't just that Warren had campaigned for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California. He has offered refuge to congregations that choose to break off from the church in order to form their own anti-gay sects.

Beliefs: Robinson teaches the standard Episcopalian gospel, save the obvious caveats about homosexuality. He was married and divorced in the 1980s, and now lives with a male partner. What irks his critics most is his belief that God and homosexuality are compatible, even complementary: "I have to tell you—I felt called by God to come out," he said in 2006.

Who: The Rev. Rick Warren
When: Tuesday, before the swearing-in
Where: The U.S. Capitol
Sect: Southern Baptist, evangelical

Background: Warren is the McDonald's of American pastors. He founded his church in Saddleback, Calif., in 1980. Since then, its congregation has grown to tens of thousands. It's not even a church—it's a "campus." His book The Purpose-Driven Life has sold more than 20 million copies. He played a prominent role in the 2008 elections when he hosted a forum with Obama and John McCain. In August, he said he doubted Obama could make inroads with evangelical voters. Obama took flak for picking Warren to give the invocation because of Warren's views on homosexuality and his recent efforts to ratify Prop 8. But Warren has drawn praise (with exceptions) for his work combating disease in Africa.

Beliefs: Warren is a preacher who tries hard not to sound preachy. He's a family-values conservative, but he keeps his teachings accessible and friendly. Sometimes that doesn't work, as when he suggested women should not divorce their husbands even in cases of domestic abuse. Warren also doesn't believe in evolution. "I believe that God, at a moment, created man. I do believe Genesis is literal, but I do also know metaphorical terms are used."

Warren's stance on homosexuality is hard to spin, try as he might. He says he supports "full equal rights for everyone in America." But: "I'm opposed to the redefiniton of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."