Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Rick Warren Issue

Yesterday it was reported that Rick Warren was chosen to give the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. At first I thought it was a joke or a misreporting.

Surely there are better choices than the anti-choice Rick Warren who compared abortion to the Holocaust. There must be a better pick than the anti-gay rights Rick Warren who, athough admitting that divorce is a bigger threat to marriage than gay marriage, still compared it to incest and pedophilia while hiding behind the excuse of the "redefinition" of marrige (which is fodder for a completely different post altogether). The man who said that stem-cell research is "non negotiable" for Evangelicals when deciding on their presidential choice couldn't be the guy that Obama chose to speak at his inauguration, could it?

It looks like it is true, and for a moment I felt a little better after reading this:

...the decision to get involved with Saddleback was actually not Obama's. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, run by the House and Senate, put together the program for the swearing-in ceremony. Congress, not Obama, invited Warren...

What the hell is that all about? Great, so Obama doesn't have a choice on who gets to give the invocation at his own inauguration ceremony?

Or does he? Why is the New York Times online reporting it this way a full day later?

Barack Obama has selected the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, a role that positions Mr. Warren to succeed Billy Graham as the nation’s pre-eminent minister and reflects the generational changes in the evangelical Christian movement.

...Mr. Obama’s inauguration program, for Jan. 20, was announced Wednesday by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Celebrations.

Inauguration programs follow a traditional outline but also allow a president-elect to put his stamp on the proceedings and set the tone for his administration.

The choice of Mr. Warren, pastor of a megachurch in Orange County, Calif., is an olive branch to conservative Christian evangelicals. Mr. Warren is an outspoken opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage — litmus-test issues for Christian conservatives. In fact, his selection set off a round of criticism by gay rights groups angered by his support for California’s ban on same-sex marriages.

So did Obama decide on Warren or what is decided for him? Did the "release" of this information precede Obama's knowledge of it in an attempt to corner him into accepting the program? And why haven't we heard a statement from the transition team? Or is the quesiton even being asked - too much Blagojevichin' to worry about Warren, you know.

I have mixed feelings about this. If this is a political game to placate the Religious Right and try to win them over, then it won't work. Even though Obama did get twice the number of votes from young Evangelicals that Kerry received in 2004 he still received about 25% of their vote overall, the same as Kerry. The other issue I fear is the "what have you done for me lately" effect. Sure, the Religious Right will tolerate Obama... for about as long as Warren's invocation lasts. But unless he's going to do a 180 on Pro-Choice and stem-cell research, I don't think he'll gain any new supporters, and he'd certainly lose more than he'd gain.

On the flip side, what does the choice of Warren say about what Obama or the Democratic party thinks of it's Progessive supporters. Right now, they are majorly pissed off about the Warren issue.

"My blood pressure is really high right now," said Rev. Chuck Currie, minister at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon. "Rick Warren does some really good stuff and there are some areas that I have admired his ability to build bridges between evangelicals and mainline religious and political figures... but he is also very established in the religious right and his position on social issues like gay rights, stem cell research and women's rights are all out of the mainstream and are very much opposed to the progressive agenda that Obama ran on. I think that he is very much the wrong person to put on the stage with the president that day."


..."Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance," read a statement from People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert. "He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion."


..."Let me get right to the point," Joe Solomnese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a harsh
letter to the president-elect, "Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."

Does someone get to review what Warren will say in his invocation before the event? Will he insert some unapproved passage and take a shot at the LGBT community? Will he compare Pro-choicers to Hitler? Probably not. But there's always that slim chance...

To those who aren't especially religious (including yours truly), does it really matter? Just because Warren is there doesn't mean Obama is all of a sudden adopting Warren's policy views. And I think we're pretty safe to assume that Obama is still in favor of the separation of church and state. Otherwise, we should just be pissed off that there is an invocation and a benediction to begin with. We should be angry that religious observance is part of the inauguration ceremony at all, shouldn't we? Or is that just a formality and therefore okay?

We take what we want out of the words of these people, don't we? If we are in agreement with them, it is of a secular nature. If we happen to disagree with something, it's based on their religious beliefs and don't pertain to us. Yes, Warren has said some pretty shitty things, but that's not to say he hasn't done any good. And let's not forget that Rev. Joseph Lowery, who was a founding leader of the Civil Rights Movement will be there as well. Does Lowery's benediction cancel out Warren's invocation? Does it supercede it?

And finally, maybe in Barack Obama we really did get someone who is doing what he said he would do.

Lee Stranahan:

Apparently, Barack Obama meant what he said about our politics being too small for our problems.

...I don't understand how anyone who listened to Obama during the campaign would be shocked that Obama lets Warren give the invocation. It's vintage Obama. It does not signal agreement with Warren's political positions, some of which are clearly at odds with Obama's. Warren isn't making policy or even giving a sermon. He's saying a prayer and then possibly dancing later at some inaugural parties. If anything, it's the possibility of this dancing that should be deeply troubling to all Americans.

...Rick Warren felt some of this same heat when he invited Barack Obama to speak at his church on World Aids Day. Conservatives railed against Warren for legitimizing Obama. People with different political opinions aren't supposed to come together in anything but a shouting match.

...There's something bigger at play here and you can't say Obama didn't warn you. He talked about reaching out, about expanding our politics and that crazy bastard actually meant it. Nobody on the left or right quite knows what to make of it. We want to cram Obama into our old, divisive, two toned ideological and political frame and if he doesn't fit, we'll attack him too. Attacking is what we're used to doing.

But in the long run this new politics benefits us all. Ironically, it benefits the minorities and marginalized and ill-treated the most. I know this may be hard for many to see right now but the truth is that this sort of symbol is what America needs. Not seeing just Warren on stage or just Lowery but seeing both of them of there at once.

Obama said it in the abstract time and again during the campaign. Now he's showing us. Seeing the things that Pastor Rick Warren and Reverend Joseph Lowery have in common is more important than seeing the things that separate them. America needs to see that. It's a step down the road where a majority of us see the things that straight Americans in love want are the same things that gay Americans in love want, too.
Lee Stranahan is a better man than I. My first instinct is definitely not "do unto others." I think I eventually get there most of the time, and not so quickly. But I do agree with his idea that attacking is what we are used to doing, so maybe we should keep an open mind about things. Case in point, now it seems that the Religious Right is angered over Warren's participation in the inauguration.

So who knows? Maybe he'll back out, although I doubt it. Just as I doubt Obama would change his mind about having him there.

UPDATE (12:20pm): Obama press conference where he is asked about the Warren choice.

(H/T Paddy)

Also, more Stranahan:
If opposing same-sex marriage but being on record for equal rights is homophobic then Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are all homophobic. I can think someone is wrong about gay marriage without calling them a homophobe. Throwing around that word doesn't help and it's generally unprovable.

UPDATE II (3:10pm): Thom Hartmann. Wow.

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