One Rival Too Many For Inauguration Day

Rick Warren is certainly not the person I would have liked to see picked to give the inaugural invocation, as reported by CNN. The Salon War Room reports that the decision was made by The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies but it is hard to believe that Obama, along with Congressional Democrats, did not have a say. Right WIng Watch gives a recap of the reasons Warren should not have been chosen:

…in 2004 Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were “non-negotiable” issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone.  He criticized Obama’s answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice.  He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying “there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population … This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about.” He’s declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.

People For The American Way issued this statement:

It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

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. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. 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.

I’m sure that Warren’s supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn’t need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.

Perhaps this decision was made as part of an “appeal to unity.” Damon Linker argues that  this was politically expedient decision in his response to the objections expressed by Andrew Sullivan. Linker writes:

…Obama’s a politician, and the Warren pick is just the latest sign that he’s an exceedingly shrewd one (as Andrew concedes). Warren is beloved by mainstream evangelicals, who have helped him to sell millions of books extolling a fairly anodyne form of American Protestantism. (Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell he is not.) It is in Obama’s interest (and the Democrats’) to peel as many moderate evangelicals away from the GOP as he can. Giving Warren such a prominent (but purely symbolic) place in the inauguration is a politically cost-free way of furthering this partisan agenda. (As for whether having Warren deliver the invocation is an example of “Christianism,” I’d only note that Obama didn’t start the tradition of including prayers in these civic occasions. And his own speech is guaranteed to be more restrained in this regard than others have been.)

Now, Andrew might be right that Obama will not prove to be a champion of gay civil rights (at least when it comes to the issue of marriage). But we can be absolutely sure that no presidential candidate of the current Republican Party would be anything other than a rabid opponent of these rights. And that means: What benefits Obama and the Democrats — and what harms the Republicans — contributes (if perhaps only negatively) to Andrew’s cause. And that should be what counts.

If reaching out to Warren would result in a division of the religious right with many moderate evangelicals suddenly deciding to support Obama and social liberalism this gesture would certainly be worth it. I just do not believe that is going to happen. There is a time for trying to get along with those you disagree with, but there are also times when it is best to marginalize those with extremist beliefs rather than to help provide them credibility.

Those who agree with Warren’s beliefs as summarized above are never going to support the agenda of those of us who supported Obama and desired an end to the rule of the authoritarian right. There is nothing moderate in Warren’s views, even if there are others who are even more extreme. To promote Warren’s views as moderate only allows extremism to continue to be promoted under the guise of mainstream thought.

If there are really true moderates who respect Warren it would still be best to seek their support by means other than associating with someone like Rick Warren. The right wing thrives by demonizing and distorting the views of their opponents with preposterous claims. Their propaganda claims that liberals seek to take away people bibles as well as guns, along with redistributing the wealth, appeasing foreign enemies, and having the government take over health care. Obama has a small opportunity to demonstrate the absurdity of the right wing claims that liberals are hostile to religion by featuring a liberal theologian who respects our heritage of separation of church and state in this role as opposed to a reactionary who opposes everything Obama stands for.

Update: More information on the inaugural plans at The New York Times. Obama’s talking points reported by Sam Stein.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    libhomo says:

    People should boo Warren the entire time he speaks.  Obama should be ashamed of himself for what he has done.

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