At my alma mater, Wellesley College, on the first Sunday of the school year, students gather at the chapel for "Flower Sunday," one of the oldest traditions of the College. While Flower Sunday has Protestant roots, the service has evolved into a multi-faith celebration, with chaplains of the entire Religious and Spiritual Life team participating: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Unitarian, and whatever other faiths are currently represented and serving students' needs. It is a festive celebration of love and faith, filled with dance and song. It is so popular that the College now also holds Flower Sundays for alumnae during Reunion and the yearly conference for alumnae class officers.
I am an agnostic verging on atheism, with gastronomic, not spiritual, ties to my very reform Jewish roots. Still, I make a point to go to Flower Sunday every time I return to the College for Reunion or the alumnae conference, for I love the message it conveys. We are a community of diverse faiths and practices, but we can come together in celebration and sisterhood to share our traditions. There is a lesson here for our president-elect.
As much as many of us, myself included, would like to see President-elect Obama rescind Rick Warren's invitation to give the invocation at Inauguration, the ramifications for his relationship with the Evangelical community would be serious. Like it or not, they are a force in our society and a community—like the LGBT community—that Obama would be unwise to offend if he wants to build support for his agenda. I think Obama is right to try and build bridges with this community rather than set up an "us and them" dichotomy. Having Warren give the invocation was not the right way to go about it, for it has damaged his relationship with the LGBT community, among others, but I think the basic concept of reaching out is a productive one.
I suggest, therefore, that President-elect Obama open up the invocation and benediction to a group of religious and spiritual leaders representing the many faiths of our nation. Their order of speaking could be chosen at random, and they would each have a set time limit. Warren could be one of them—not that a bigot like him deserves to be there at all, but because of the repercussions at this point of leaving him out. His presence would, however, become just one among many. Perhaps openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson could be one of the others.
There remains, of course, the question of whether it is right to have a religious segment of the inauguration at all, but that seems a much more difficult issue to tackle. A multi-faith ceremony would at least avoid linking any specific faith to our government.
I am in some ways disappointed that Obama did not think of this approach from the start. Yes, a group invocation and benediction would be a break from tradition, but if Obama is really all about change and inclusivity, that should not matter. A multi-faith contingent would set a striking new tone for the administration, and perhaps for our country.