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Just a pinch of incense

I am categorically not interested in the things for which V. Gene Robinson generally receives media attention. I am far more interested when somebody who bears the title of a Christian bishop says things like this:

Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”

“I am very clear,” he said, “that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. 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 prayer.”

Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer to “the God of our many understandings,” language that he said he learned from the 12-step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.

The issue here is no more and no less that if he, as one who bears the title of a Christian bishop — that is, a successor to an apostle, a transmitter of the apostolic faith, the very faith witnessed to and died for publicly by the same people he is in theory supposed to succeed — does not believe that the inauguration should have a “specifically” Christian prayer, then it is his responsibility to stand down from the event. Period. He does not get to have it both ways. Christians, those who believe Christ is God in the flesh, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, do not have the option of praying “To Whom It May Concern” for purposes of playing nice with civil functions.

The martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155 A. D.) is useful here:

And there the chief of the police, Herod, and his father, Nicetas, met [Polycarp] and transferred him to their carriage, and tried to persuade him, as they sat beside him, saying, “What harm is there to say `Lord Caesar,’ and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?”

At first he did not answer them. But when they persisted, he said, “I am not going to do what you advise me.”

Then when they failed to persuade him, they uttered dire threats and made him get out with such speed that in dismounting from the carriage he bruised his shin. But without turning around, as though nothing had happened, he proceeded swiftly, and was led into the arena, there being such a tumult in the arena that no one could be heard. But as Polycarp was entering the arena, a voice from heaven came to him, saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man. No one saw the one speaking, but those of our people who were present heard the voice.

[…] But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.”

Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

This old man was strong, played the man, refused to offer incense, refused to bow the knee to civil religion. Was he being too “specifically and aggressively Christian” for the comfort of V. Gene Robinson, I wonder?

By contrast, a man who bears the title of a Christian bishop is elbowing to be first in line to offer his own pinch of incense. He’s falling all over himself to do exactly what Polycarp (and, incidentally, Rick Warren, whatever else I may think of him) refused to do — be something other than what he is for purposes of better fitting into a civil function.

I say again: if he thinks being “specifically Christian” has no place at the inauguration, fine. Then he should stand aside and let somebody else take his place — somebody who, unlike him, makes no claims to be “specifically Christian”. Of course, this seems like a very unlikely course of action.

How did Christianity change the world again, all those centuries ago?

However it happened, there’s no way it could possibly work today. Just no way.

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2 Responses to “Just a pinch of incense”


  1. 1 Jonathan 14 January 2009 at 12:53 am

    What a beautiful story about St. Polycarp. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. 2 David Schneider 14 January 2009 at 2:32 am

    Go Richard! I have mixed feelings: I’m glad you brought this to my attention but on the other hand this is the kind of lunacy that keeps me up at night typing. I’m glad I found your blog.


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