Criticism over gay bishop's omission from Obama broadcast

By staff writers
January 20, 2009

The USA's premium cable channel, HBO, has expressed regret for not broadcasting an invocation by openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson for the televised Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

However it seems that it was the Obama team not TV executives who were responsible for the decision, and HBO says it will be included on all repeats. There were a large number of complaints.

The event, a concert planned by the Presidential Inauguration Committee, was watched by millions and was planned to kick off the festivities for Barack Obama's inauguration as US president today.

Bishop Robinson delivered a stirringly inclusive opening invocation before the start of the concert (text here: ), but this was not included as part of HBO's broadcast.

However, it was the presidential inaugural committee not HBO who have taken responsibility for the perceived slight. The channel said it had always intended for the bishop’s invocation to be included in the telecast and that the omission was an oversight.

The inaugural committee scheduled the opening event at the Lincoln Memorial, and HBO purchased the exclusive rights to broadcast it.

“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,” Josh Earnest, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee declared.

Bishop Robinson was invited to deliver the invocation after Barack Obama endured criticism for choosing Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, to give an inauguration address today (20 January 2009). One of those critics was the bishop.

Obama defended his selection of Warren saying that the inauguration will feature “a wide range of viewpoints”, that one of the trademarks of America is its diversity, and that in spite of deep disagreements people have to learn to bridge the liberal-conservative culture divide in the USA.

Pastor Warren said last week that he welcomed Robinson's public role and prayer at the concert on Sunday.

"President-elect Obama has again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground,” he declared recently. “I applaud his desire to be the president of every citizen.”

Warren has been barraged with criticism because of his support for the anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8.

Bishop Robinson became the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop in The Episcopal Church in New Hampshire in 2003.

In preparation for the event, the bishop said he has read inaugural prayers throughout history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were”, according to the New York Times.

For his prayer, Robinson said he is “very clear” that it “[should] not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scriptures or anything like that”.

He added: “The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their [invocation].”

However, the invocation pulled no punches in denouncing injustice and intolerance as part of its plea for a new era in the USA, highlighting opposition to discrimination and recrimination in many belief traditions.

An atheist campaigner in the USA tried and failed to get all religious references, including one in the oath of allegiance, legally removed from today's ceremony.

Bishop Robinson said his partner of more than 20 years, Mark Andrew, would accept an invitation from the Obama team to join him in several inaugural events. The two had a civil union ceremony last summer in a New Hampshire church.

The bishop’s invocation was delivered at 14.25 Eastern time, five minutes before the nationally televised portion of Sunday's event began, reports the New York Times. HBO broadcast the event live on Sunday afternoon and replayed it in the evening. It is scheduled to be rebroadcast on a sister channel, HBO2, on Wednesday at 11.30 Eastern Time.

The event is also available for replay viewing on The cable channel says the prayer may be added to the version posted online as well as to the repeat broadcasts.

Christianity Today magazine has posted a video of Bishop Robinson's invocation: The full text is here:

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