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Gay bishop Gene Robinson to lead prayers at Barack Obama inauguration
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
US President-elect Barack Obama has invited gay bishop Gene Robinson to lead prayers at the opening of celebrations next Sunday leading up to his inauguration next week. The invitation will go some way to placate liberal critics in the US who condemned his invitation to the anti-gay evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration itself.
Bishop Robinson was himself among those who attacked Mr Obama over the choice of Rick Warren, describing it as a "slap in the face".
Bishop Robinson, whose consecration in 2003 was met with worldwide protests from the conservative wing of the Anglican Communion, said: "It will be an enormous honour to offer prayers for the country and the new President, standing on the holy ground where the 'I have a dream speech' was delivered by Dr King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
"It is also an indication of the new President’s commitment to being the President of all the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honour to be there representing The Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."
The Times disclosed last year that Bishop Robinson and Mr Obama had three private meetings during the election campaign where they discussed what it was like to be "first".
The President-elect's choice is a sign of his willingness to respond to criticism.
It also indicates that the conservatives might still wield immense political influence in the US but that they have lost their hard-fought battle for the soul of Anglicanism and that the gay and lesbian community, denied equal ordination and other rights for centuries, are with the election of Mr Obama on their way to capturing the moral high ground in the US church.
According to Bishop Robinson's friend Jim Naughton, a spokesman for the ultra-liberal Bishop John Chane of Washington, who broke the story on his Episcopal Cafe blog, there will undoubtedly be some controversy over whether the Bishop was invited as a response to the intense criticism of Mr Obama's selection of Rick Warren.
Mr Naughton said: "We don't know. We've been sitting on this news since just before Christmas, so it has been in the works for a while. But if Gene had been contacted before the Warren selection was announced, it seems unlikely he would have spoken out so strongly against the choice.
Ben Smith, of Politico's blog, said: "It's a mark of Obama's raw power at the moment as much of his unifying message, that he can bring in fundamentally opposed Christian leaders like those two, without either walking out. (Though, to be fair, they're a safe 48 hours apart.) Still, it's a mark of just how different, when it comes to mainstreaming gay leaders, it is to have a Democrat in the White House than a Republican, or even than a 1990s Democrat."