President-Elect Barack "No Drama" Obama opened up a giant can of what the hell this week, when it was announced that controversial evangelical pastor, Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, would give the invocation at the inauguration.
Warren, quite famously, is against gay marriage and came out for California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. The ballot proposition was pushed after the courts declared it discriminatory to allow heterosexuals the right of marriage but not homosexuals. Naturally, all kinds of people have cried foul, most notably in the gay, lesbian, transgendered community, as well as a host of Liberals and progressives. And while I understand what Obama is trying to do here (re: be inclusive, reach out to evangelicals), there are a host of evangelical ministers he could have invited to the big show who wouldn't have arrived with nearly as much baggage.
"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."
Warren does have a rather peculiar relationship with the incoming president. The two share a general ethos that political differences should not serve as impediments to progress. On topics like AIDS and poverty relief, they see eye-to-eye. But Warren's domestic and social agendas are at odds with Obama's. And for the gay and lesbian community in particular, the choice is a bitter pill to swallow.
"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." (Huffington Post)
Warren is sort of in the running for that unofficial position of "national spiritual leader," a la Billy Graham. That particular evangelical minister attended 10 inaugurations (almost all of them) since President Dwight Eisenhower. He also showed up for other big events like the occasional "bless the war" ceremony. It's a nice, influential position and with Graham old and sickly, there is some chatter about who will step into his shoes. Since it's not the sort of thing you can apply for, all you can do is do your darnedest to hop on any and all hot topics that would put you in the middle of the political fray. Warren did this during the election, hosting a debate of sorts where Warren sat down individually with Obama and his opponent John McCain and shot the shit.
Mama Snob joked that Obama might as well have picked Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Father Michael Phleger if his intent was to have a good, vocal minority of people go into pique. (I offered up Jesse n' Al, too, as all parties suggested would equally piss off someone, or everyone, at once.) But I'd argue that it was easier to pick someone who would irk Liberals and progressives because there has been a long-standing knowledge that you can push pinkos around because the modern right wing is so far right we truly have no other place to go.
Unless we're going to all start voting for Ralph Nader or something.
Therefore this is the latest indignity to endure.
All I ask is that Warren remembers that the inauguration is about the presidency, not CONTROVERSIAL CULTURE WAR ISSUE OF THE DAY, and will just give the invocation without pissing of 48 percent of the country. The announcement has already distracted and derailed the news cycle. But I think Warren will keep-it-simple-stupid, because he is a smart guy and wants to be Graham's heir apparent. And you don't get to be Graham's heir by being unpalatable, like crazy Pat Robertson or dearly departed but also crazy Jerry Falwell OR by being kind of skeevie, like Creflo Dollar, OR by being too vague, like Joel Osteen.
In a statement Warren recently released, he praised Obama for picking him and kept everything on message.
I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.
Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.
The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God's blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America's leaders during this critical time in our nation's history.
So while I wouldn't have gone for someone who equated homosexuality with incest and pedophillia, in the end, I think everything will be fine. On the left, people will be offended. On the right people will be confused. (Many are wondering why Warren would give this sort of "endorsement" to someone who is pro-abortion, pro-gay rights. But, obviously, Warren has a plan too.) And if it were me, I probably would have picked someone who either no one's ever heard of, was a 1960s Civil Rights activist or Osteen because I'm a punk and would not have wanted something as silly as pastor pickin' to become the drama-rama du jour on Hardball. But that's me. How did Obama's latest pastor pick sit with you?
And what IS IT WITH THIS MAN AND PASTORS? I know he's church shopping in Washington, D.C. Maybe he should let someone else pick this time. I'm sure someone in D.C. can point him and Michelle to the least controversial, all Jesus all, the time, Christian church in D.C.
BTW: As if to balance out Warren, Civil Rights activist, pastor and pro-gay rights Liberal Rev. Joe Lowery is giving the beneditcion. Lowery is best known of late for using the Coretta Scott King's funeral to call out President Bush. Another moment in the Bush presidency that was hilarious, although (like with the shoe throwing) it was pretty rude to use a funeral to bash our craptastic president. That didn't mean I didn't laugh, but ... dude. There was a funeral going on.