Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration understandably has angered some of the president-elect's supporters. But Obama was convincing Thursday in arguing that his invitation to the evangelical pastor, who opposes abortion and backed Proposition 8, didn't constitute an endorsement of Warren's views on gay marriage or any other issue.
History shows that the views of inauguration preachers aren't a reliable guide to the policies of the presidents on whom they invoke God's blessing. At John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, the invocation was delivered by Cardinal Richard Cushing, the archbishop of Boston. But given Kennedy's pledge of strict separation of church and state during the campaign, it would have been foolish to assume that Cushing's participation signaled an endorsement by the Kennedy administration of "pro-Catholic" policies such as government aid to parochial schools.
Billy Graham, who delivered the invocation at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, was decidedly more conservative than the president he prayed for, but Graham was such a fixture at presidential inaugurations that Clinton naturally included him. (So eminent was Graham that in 2001, when he was too ill to attend George W. Bush's inauguration, the president-elect tapped his son Franklin Graham to deliver the invocation.)