More progressive pastors

MORE PROGRESSIVE PASTORS…. Well, maybe three out of four ain’t bad.

As is well known by now, the Obama inauguration will feature two pastors in high-profile roles — the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery will deliver the benediction and Rick Warren will deliver the invocation. The prior is a champion of civil rights and a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, while the latter is, well, Rick Warren.

But Obama and his team have other relatively high-profile gigs for religious leaders, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding Warren, the selections have been far more encouraging.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003 and last year entered into a civil union with his gay partner, will deliver the invocation for Sunday’s kickoff inaugural event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with President-elect Obama in attendance.

Robinson isn’t the only one.

President-elect Barack Obama has selected the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration.

Ms. Watkins, the first woman ever selected to lead the service, is the president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a small, liberal-leaning Protestant denomination with 3,754 congregations and about 690,000 members in the United States and Canada. Ms. Watkins was elected to the post in 2005, the first woman ever chosen to lead a mainline Protestant denomination.

For those unfamiliar with the Disciples of Christ, it’s a pretty liberal denomination, closely associated with the United Church of Christ (Obama’s denomination), and Watkins’ record on hot-button social issues is strong.

In announcing roles for both Robinson and Watkins, the transition team insists the choosing of these progressive pastors has nothing at all to do with the criticism of Warren, and they were selected for these roles in advance of the controversy.

Maybe, maybe not. But Obama’s team had four slots to fill, and three are going to religious leaders who preach a positive message of hope, tolerance, and inclusiveness.