It’s not every day that I read Christopher Hitchens in Slate and he’s lambasting people I know personally. But you know Rick Warren, the rightwing homophobe who’s giving the prayer at Obama’s inaugural? It turns out that one of his “leading allies and defenders” is Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, whom I knew in Sunday school as a kid. And Warren’s mentor was Wally Amos Criswell, former pastor of the same church, whose sermons I grew up hearing weekly, and who, if memory serves, may have baptized me (I was six). I would not have called Dr. Criswell a “dismal nutbag” as Hitchens did – there were those in that church who fixated on the Revelation/Apocalypse/Rapture nonsense, but I don’t recall Dr. Criswell being among them. He was ostentatious about his Greek, and if he leaned too heavily on biblical inerrancy, at least it was the inerrancy of the original languages, and not a facile adhesion to the KJV. Whatever his effect on the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, his sermons were threaded with learning, and I held nothing against him until 1976 when he endorsed Gerald Ford from the pulpit, which I found too unseparate-churchy-staty. Still, it’s ironic that the shortest degrees of separation between myself and our president-elect seem to lead through the Southern Baptist Church.
For the record, my choice to lead the inaugural prayer would have been Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whom I regard as a brilliant orator. Or, perhaps even better, my Bard colleague Paul Murray, our campus priest, who has just scandalized the Catholic Church by publishing a memoir of his life as a gay priest. That would be one hell of an inaugural.