In 1980, Rev. Bailey Smith, then president of my own Southern Baptist Convention, caused a brouhaha when he declared “God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews.” Today, Dr. Rick Warren, another prominent Southern Baptist, didn’t even give them (or any other non-Christians) a chance to pray when he offered a faith-specific, Christian prayer at President Obama’s inauguration—unlike Rev. Joseph Lowery, who gave an inclusive and memorable benediction, and Rev. Barry Black, the U.S. Senate Chaplain, who prayed reverently and appropriately at the inaugural luncheon. Warren had every legal right to do what he did, according to the First Amendment, but he was still wrong to do so.
He was wrong because there is nothing in Scripture that requires adding the words “in Jesus’ name” to every prayer. That’s not what praying in Jesus’ name means anyway. He was wrong because Paul tells us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient: all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). Warren may have had the right to pray in Jesus’ name, but it didn't edify those present who don't call on our Savior’s name. He was wrong because it went against the spirit of the occasion, which focused on diversity and bringing us together as a nation in spite of our differences. But most of all he was wrong because it violated the Golden Rule.
Put the shoe on the other foot, Christian, and ask yourself how you would have felt if at the inauguration a Rabbi prayed a Jewish prayer that excluded Christians. Or if an Imam prayed an Islamic prayer. If you can't say amen to someone else’s faith-specific prayer, how can you expect them to say amen to yours?For an intelligent discussion of the issue from one Jewish military chaplain’s perspective, see the following article by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff: “Prayers That Hurt.” (I served with Chaplain Resnicoff one summer in 1993 when he was a senior Navy Captain and I was an Ensign Chaplain Candidate.)