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Shortly after he was asked to deliver a prayer at President Barack Obama's inaugural festivities, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson proudly announced it wouldn't be a Christian one. He had been "horrified" at how "specifically and aggressively Christian" previous inaugural prayers were. Robinson, whose elevation as his church's first gay bishop has been a major factor in bringing the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism, ended up addressing his prayer to the "God of our many understandings."

The day after Obama became President, the Episcopal Church's National Cathedral hosted an interfaith worship service featuring Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. The service's liturgical framework was Christian while the content was strictly nonsectarian. The sermon cited Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Cherokee sources, avoided exclusive truth claims, and shied away from particular names for deities. Cathedral staff even rewrote the Book of Common Prayer's responsive prayers to avoid any overt Christian witness. The only way the service could have been more inclusive was if they had replaced the altar with a kitchen sink.

While many Christians might be alarmed by civil religion in the Obama era, the Bush era wasn't terribly different. In his second inaugural address, for instance, Bush praised the "truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran." And he told Arab news channel Al Arabiya, "I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God."

Still, the Obama era of religious inclusivity has new—and very exclusive—teeth that may leave some Christians wondering if they are welcome. Take Obama's proposal for changing the faith-based ...

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Civil Religion's Sharper Teeth
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April 2009

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