(CNSNews.com) – Instead of a prayer delivered by clergy, the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited a layperson to give the invocation on Monday for the second presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, 79, a civil rights activist and widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, was tapped by the committee after Christian pastor Louie Giglio backed out because of a flap over a sermon in which he called homosexuality a sin.
Mrs. Ever-Williams is the first layperson and the first woman to give the invocation since at least the 1937 invocation for FDR's second term, according to the data available at the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
"America, we are here -- our nation's Capitol," Evers-Willliams' invocation began. She asked for "blessings upon our leaders," but she did not invoke God in her opening. She spoke about mankind and womankind and the "promise of America."
Her invocation at one point mentioned the "Almighty," but she left out "Under God" in quoting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The only time she mentioned God was when she said, "We invoke the prayers of our grandmothers, who taught us to pray, 'God, make me a blessing.'"
Toward the end of her invocation, Evers-Williams invoked "Jesus' name and the name of all who are holy and right, we pray. Amen."
When asked by Religion News Service in a Jan. 17 interview with Evers about her religious affiliation, Evers-Williams did not provide a definitive answer.
“I have been Baptist, I have been Methodist, I have been Presbyterian,” Evers-Williams said. “I have attended all of those churches depending on where I have lived in my life.”Dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidents who have included an invocation in their inaugural ceremony have chosen a wide range of clergy, from Catholic bishops, Episcopalian priests, Southern Baptist ministers, and Jewish rabbis.
Roosevelt chose ZeBarney Thorne Phillips, an Episcopalian and chaplain of the United States Senate for his 1937 inauguration.
Southern Baptist evangelical preacher Billy Graham gave the invocation at the inauguration of two presidents – Bill Clinton (for both inaugurations) and George H. W. Bush.
Addie Whisenant, a spokesman for the committee said that the person chosen to replace Giglio would “reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.”