As the Rev. Frank M. Reid III of Baltimore's Bethel AME Church takes the podium today to deliver the invocation at the opening ceremonies of George W. Bush's inauguration, he will address a nation deeply divided, still licking its wounds in the wake of a bitter election.
"I haven't finished it yet," said Reid of his pre-inauguration prayer. "But if I was going to entitle it, it would be 'A prayer for healing.'"
"It refers to something that's been going on since 1972: the politics of entertainment instead of the politics of empowerment," he said. "It's a call to move away from the politics of theatrics to the politics of truth. From the politics of blame to the politics of building up broken down cities and people."
The 2 1/2 -hour Inaugural Opening Celebration, to be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, begins at 3:30 p.m. It is open to the public, and organizers expect more than 75,000 people to attend.
Reid, 59, has led the 13,000-member Bethel AME Church in West Baltimore since 1988. It is one of the largest and most prominent churches in the city. Through its television broadcasts, Bethel and Reid have gained a nationwide reputation.
Reid ran a strong campaign in 1996 when he finished second to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings for the Democratic nomination to the 7th District congressional seat that was vacated when Kweisi Mfume took over the presidency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
It was Reid's TV ministry that apparently brought the Baltimore pastor to the attention of the Bush campaign. About two weeks ago, Ernie Ladd, a former professional football player and wrestler who is co-director of the inauguration committee's Office of Diversity, visited Bethel and approached Reid after the service to ask whether he'd deliver the prayer.
"I was honored, amused and perplexed," Reid said. "I was honored obviously because he's the 43rd president of the United States. Amused because I said, 'Here I go again.' Perplexed because I know that there will be those amongst the black leadership elite that will misinterpret a simple prayer for the president of the United States."
Reid has not been afraid in the past to swim against the current. He was an early and vocal supporter during the mayoral primary of Martin O'Malley, a white man running against two black candidates who had received the endorsements of most of Baltimore's black leadership. Reid's endorsement prompted the Baptist Ministers Conference of Baltimore to withdraw their invitation to Reid to preach at their annual retreat.
But leaders of two of Baltimore's black clergy groups yesterday refused to criticize Reid for providing prayer at Bush's inauguration. The president-elect received received scant political support from blacks.
"Frank Reid is first and foremost a pastor," said the Rev. Gregory B. Perkins, the newly installed president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. "He's a man of God, and prayer is always in order. I have no problem whatsoever."
The Rev. Johnny N. Golden Sr., president of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, called Reid "a dear friend" who has his full support. "Had it been someone else ... I might ask, 'For what gain'" are they doing this, Golden said. "In a local setting, Frank has little to gain. He's not trying to get to the big time, he's there. He probably has more to lose than gain locally."
Reid, a registered Democrat, said Bush's political affiliation made no difference to him in accepting today's invitation.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to pray a prayer to invoke God's healing on a nation that needs it," he said. "And that's worth the criticism."