Did Rick Warren’s Invocation Sound Off To Anyone Else?

This is hardly a big deal, but did anyone else think that Rick Warren’s invocation sounded just a little bit, very slightly, to a degree hardly noticeable at all, off? I certainly don’t mean to be in any way dismissive or disparaging about such an important religious leader of ours. But while listening to Mr. Warren’s invocation, something sounded off to me. So I closed my eyes so that I could focus my attention exclusively on the tone of Mr. Warren’s voice, since that’s where the emotional truth of what anyone says invariably lies. And when I did that I was amazed and shocked to hear—just as an immediate, unprocessed impression—insincerity.

I am absolutely not suggesting that Rick Warren is insincere about anything he said; I know that’s absurd. It might have been his nerves; it might have been just me; it might have been that while delivering his invocation Mr. Warren just naturally (and certainly understandably) slipped into the Public Persona Mode that is necessarily highly developed in anyone who leads an enterprise anywhere near as megalithic as Saddleback Church. And of course there always is that slight distinction between a person’s Public Mode and their Personal, Private Mode. I’m sure that’s all it was. I was just wondering if anyone else noticed/felt it.


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  • Yes John, I noticed it too, although admittedly it was more like "something is bugging me…..". I think you hit the nail on the head.

  • Oh, cool. Thanks, Gina. I was hoping it wasn't just me. It's interesting to think of what, exactly, that was we heard.

  • Tim

    I felt the exact same thing, John, but it really didn't strike me fully until I was able to contrast it with the ease and sincerity of Rev. Lowery's benediction.

  • Oh, I know. I teared up at Lowery's benediction. It was so perfectly real. Far be it from humble, ever-unopinionated me to hazard any guess at all as to the nature and/or orign of that off note we heard in Warren's voice. But perhaps you have any thought on that?

  • I think that Warren may have been emotional; he may also have been overwhelmed. He has been under more scrutiny in the past few weeks than at any time in his entire life – and has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism from every side. I disagree with his support of Prop 8, mainly because I disagree with pastors getting into politics at all. But I don't believe for a second that he is a homophobe or a gay-basher.

    Any pastor worth his salt has a thick skin or he will end up selling life insurance. But everyone in the country, Christian or otherwise, seems to have an opinion on Warren and is airing it publicly at every opportunity. That goes way beyond the members of a congregation (even one the size of Saddleback)And that has to wear on a guy.

  • I think Warren was, at one point, affected by emotion. What I took away as a non-believer, though, was that I don’t mean s**t if I don’t believe in Jesus Christ…which royally ticked me off.

    Hats off to Obama just the same, though. Include a religious zealot to pander to the Christian conservatives making him think that he (and his flock) have a place. Who, after all, really cares what anyone but Obama said on Tuesday?

    What did I pick up on? “tired dogma”, “evidence”, “science”. Not to compromise President Obama’s efforts, but he says EVERYTHING that I, as an atheist, would say if I needed to pander to the religious right and hoped to achieve the highest office in the land [world?].

    If there was a moment that I could call the blessings of the supernatural, it is now. President Obama faces troubles and pressures under which I would likely crumble like a used candy wrapper. I can only hope…wish…even pray (in the desperate metaphorical sense), that he has the guidance of intelligent people to navigate the complex issues that we face as a nation.

    My vernacular does not include include effective substitutes for religious language so, for what it is worth…God bless Barack Obama.

  • Odgie: But Warren gives huge talks before tens if not hundreds of thousands of people every month. And he’s been doing that for … what, ten years? At this point I think it’s safe to say he’s immune from any sort of stage jitters. And God knows he’s used to every kind of criticism; he’s lived in the public eye now, on as famous a level as exists, for a long time.

    Anyway, not a big deal. As I said, I was really just curious to see if anyone else had even heard it.

  • I'm obviously incredibly biased, but nothing I've ever heard Rick Warren say has sounded sincere to me. Of course, I don't make a habit of listening to him, either.

    That being said, he does get credit for being able to speak in front of LITERALLY a few million people. I wouldn't be able to do it. At least I don't think so.

  • I'm not a big fan of "canned prayer"… Invocations/Benedictions are really sermonettes delivered with bowed head and eyes half shut.

  • I guess the insincerity thing didn't hit me. I did listen to his prayer a couple of times…maybe it just seemed more rehearsed (which made it sound insincere to some?) — but I suppose I would definitely rehearse if I was giving the invocation at the inauguration! In any case, I think I enjoyed the benediction more.

  • Well.. I think what we also heard a little bit of in Rick Warren's tone was that he didn't want Obama to become president.

    It was quite obvious to me that after having that open forum/debate-type-thing hosted at Saddleback Church, Rick Warren was disappointed by a lot of the answers he got from Obama, but even more disappointed that McCain was not a good enough candidate to stop him from becoming president.

    So, to answer your question, I think what we heard in Rick Warren's voice yesterday was his disappointment with who the new president was..

  • John,I didn't actually hear the invocation, so I can't contribute to your main topic . However I did hear the benediction, and I was appalled how closely it resembled something from a High School Pep Rally. I believe that true prayer should be heart-felt, sincere, and unrehearsed. If you have to read it from a card, or memorize it, then it is a speech, not a prayer. If you are praying on behalf of a large group of people, then you need to say things that represent the collective heart and soul of the entire group – given up to God on their behalf. It is not an appropriate time to preach to the crowd you are supposed to be spokesperson for, nor show off your personal talent for alliteration. The words of a sincere prayer come from your soul, and it takes true humility in order to deliver it, concentrating everything towards He Whom you are actually speaking to. That is true prayer. Neither of the invited guests yesterday possess the humility needed to give a true prayer. They are showmen, who spend their lives praying for profit.

    Everything about a presidential inauguration dwells in the realm of glorification. It's the ultimate National "we are the champions" day – full of pomp and circumstance. If our Nation had indeed heard a pure, simple, and humble prayer offered in our behalf, then we would really have something to be surprised about.

  • Mormon: Whoa. You cannot be talking about the benediction given by Rev. Joseph Lowery. I understand it wasn't exactly a formal benediction, but … I thought it was fantastic. It amazes me you have such a negative response to it (if that's the talk you're talking about). But oh, well. Different folks!

  • It sounded to me like he was saying what he thought we wanted to hear, instead of what he wanted to say. Which is sad, because I wanted to hear whatever it was he wanted to say.

    But giving THAT invocation? That was a lot of weight to carry. So I don't judge him for it, at all.

  • "If you are praying on behalf of a large group of people, then you need to say things that represent the collective heart and soul of the entire group – given up to God on their behalf."

    Then there should have been no prayer. The patchwork of America, as the President put it, is too different for any one prayer to represent the collective.

    "Which is sad, because I wanted to hear whatever it was he wanted to say."

    So you would have preferred "I wanted McCain and Palin to win, and the gays to stop marrying!" ? 😉

  • Lindsey: I agree with you. But to suggest that a pastor leading a prayer said what he thought his audience wanted to hear rather than what he actually wanted to say IS a judgement, is it not? You're saying that you think, or guess, that in his prayer Warren was being insincere. That's a pretty powerful judgement. I'm not trying to be obnoxious to you, or anything like that. (You're one of my favorite bloggers!) I'm just saying: that is a tough thing to think/guess about a pastor delivering a prayer. Of all things, we expect our pastors to be sincere when leading a prayer. And if Warren really wasn't sincere (and it didn't sound like was to me, either), then what happened there?

  • I found the prayer to be overwrought, insincere and somewhat not reflective in content to what I've heard in other words of Rev. Warren in recent weeks. I know however that I heard his prayer with bias which I seem to have when the person praying has compared the love I have for my wife to incest and pedophilia. I'm just silly that way. I was greatly moved by the prayer of Rev. Lowery though I really wish he would have left the last part of prayer off despite how those gathers engaged with it….the yellow man just wants to be mellow?! Gringe.

  • Not a Rick Warren Fa

    Anita, I'm sure the laws will change someday to make same-sex marriage legal in all states. But I also imagine the two examples you stated will also eventually (much later, probably) be given legal protection because they can easily be justified if love is love, and there are no absolutes to help the government define legal relationships. (And it's too bad the government is involved at all, but we live in a fallen world.)

    You feel judged by Rick Warren. Completely understandable. But those you mentioned probably feel judged by you. In fact, past world cultures might say you are being harsh to single them out.

    Just being a devil's advocate here. 🙂

  • I'm with Morse…

    A Christian pastor can conduct a prayer that is inclusive if need be. But we were at THE PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION….and he recites the Lords Prayer?!?!?! C'mon!! Talk about a thumb in the eye of a lot of Americans!!

    Still…it could be a page from Lincoln's 'team of rivals' concept. Give Warren a stump where he can feel important and make him feel included…and then ignore him. Y'know…the more I think about it, the more I think it was a brilliant move on Obama's part.

  • "But I also imagine the two examples you stated will also eventually (much later, probably) be given legal protection because they can easily be justified if love is love, and there are no absolutes to help the government define legal relationships."

    Incorrect. Both pedophilia and incest can be demonstrably shown to cause harm. Homosexuality cannot.

  • Greta Sheppard

    Funny thing that none of you hammered the guy delivering the Oaths of Office to Obama!……he messed up big time. In all fairness, though, I have to agree with you, John, that something was amiss with Rick Warren…… perhaps because his words were not extemporanious…he read it all from notes……emotions don't often come through in that case . Also, I think he was conscious of those who cried out against him being there.

  • Not a Rick Warren Fa


    Many things that "can" cause harm are still legal in our society. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to bungee jump, eat fast food, drink alcohol, ride a motorcycle, let children participate in beauty pageants, etc.

    (Again, devil's advocate here.)

  • Ah, but nothing that ALWAYS causes harm is legal.

  • Not a Rick Warren Fa

    "Ah, but nothing that ALWAYS causes harm is legal."

    Nothing? Always? STRONG words.

    Wow, you must have a great deal of faith that we have laws covering EVERY SINGLE HARMFUL THING. Me? Not so much.

    Besides, what you consider harmful might be fun in my book. What's harmful to me could be welcomed by you. That's why an absolute standard is needed. Otherwise, it's all Russian roulette.

  • Aurelia Glenn

    Warren’s presidential invocation is the first (and he probably hopes, the last) time he had to give, in effect, a political sermon. That’s probably what made him uncomfortable, in addition to the almost literal sea of faces (a couple of million folks that he could actually see) before him.

  • I think that the challenge of praying publicly is to pray to an audience of One. Here is something I wrote a few weeks ago about Matthew 6:5:

    Praying to be seen and heard by men.. I have witnessed and participated in this kind of religious seduction.. this seduction engages the darkest part of us. The desire to be seen is an insidious one.. many are duped by the enemy thinking that they are being “spiritual” when they are just being Pharisaical. Jesus says don’t do it. If you find yourself praying in public just pray from your heart.. and keep it real.. pray to that audience of One.

    That said.. I can’t imagine what a bad job I would have done if I was Rick.

  • "What’s harmful to me could be welcomed by you."

    Not talking about me and you there chief. I'm not that arrogant.

    Talking about medical science.

  • Not a Rick Warren Fa

    Nah, medical science is constantly evolving, and more discoveries are made. I'm not so arrogant to think we have it all figured out and we'll never learn more about what can harm us as human beings — physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc.

    After all, leeches were once considered cutting edge medicine.

    And I'll end with that, because we've traveled far afield from the point of this blog. Sorry about that, John!

  • ginamarie33

    Not a Rick Warren Fan wrote: "….because we’ve traveled far afield from the point of this blog"

    I just want to say, I love the "far afield" note….it rang beautifully in my mind as I read it! Sorry, I just love when things are written so well…….

    Otherwise, no real comment! 🙂

  • I just want to point out that I find it hilarious you seem to think the evolving nature of science is somehow a detriment.

  • Well, I suppose in a way I am passing judgment on what I believe happened, but I'm not judging Mr. Warren for it. Oh, how to explain… I don't think Rick should be punished. I don't think that all of the people who have been helped by him should feel less of him if it were the case. I don't think that God should feel slighted. I think that praying in front of millions, in front of hundreds of millions on TV and streaming on line, is a heavy burden to carry. I think that you'd have to be a superhuman not to be swayed by that and not to be concerned that you may cause injury to your ministry or the man who asked you to come, and I think that in the same situation I may well have not done any better. Especially if I was unsettled and questioning about the whole situation, which I think Rick Warren may reasonably have been.

    So while I have passed judgment on the circumstance, I've nothing but compassion for the man. I hope that clears things up?

    (And what an honor to be a well-liked blogger! I like your blog, too!)

  • Jessica

    I would assume that if Rick Warren had said to the powers that be that he would be praying from the heart and not making a prepared speech that they wouldn't be so keen on that. My guess is that they required something be prepared and approved. I don't know much about him so I can't say that I heard anything different than his norm but my guess is that he has the final word on what he talks about when he is on his own turf.

  • Will

    I'm not fond of Rick Warren's communication style either.

    John, could you comment on the content of both prayers — Warren and Lowery? I'd be interested to know which lines hit you positively or negatively.

  • Will: Thanks for asking, but I'm afraid an analysis that detailed is a tad beyond what my workload can just now accomodate.

  • For what it is worth, I thought yesterday's FOX News article expressed my sentiments exactly regarding Rev. Warren's "display"! Obama endorsed this? All I can say is, it sure sucks to be a white person these days.

  • Will

    Most people probably know this, but the beautiful beginning of Rev. Lowery's benediction was a verse from the African-American national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing":

    "God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand — true to thee, O God, and true to our native land."

    And the end of the benediction starts with "For all the saints, who from their labors rest," and that's the first line in the hymn "For All the Saints" (How/Williams), but I can't find a reference for the rest.

    Does anyone know if this part is original to Rev. Lowery?

    "[…] work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — when yellow will be mellow — when the red man can get ahead, man — and when white will embrace what is right."

  • I meant Reverend Lowery.

  • Yeah, it’s just such a burden to be white in America.

    Could you please go be a complete dick in someone else’s blog?

  • I don’t even understand how someone could view those lines, which come from an old song, as racist anyway. It’s just silly.

  • Mr. Me

    One thing I noticed was that at the end he named Jesus a couple different ways, including Isa… which is the islamic name for Jesus. Why????

    He also seemed to give the impression that Jesus was just one way to the Father.