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Political Physics: The Rick Warren Conundrum


A blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

Obama, Rick Warren & The Purpose Driven Inauguration

rickwarren2I should start by saying that I have a copy of A Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren.  I think my mother gave it to me.   I did not like it, so I’d suggest taking whatever I say with a grain of salt.

Even before the talking points were leaked to the press, Barack Obama’s selection of mega preacher Rick Warren to give his inaugural invocation continues to spark controversy among gay rights advocates and pro-abortion groups.  Warren is known for his staunch anti-abortion stance and was ardent supporter or Proposition 8 in California.  That is why his selection has baffled Obama supporters, particularly since the candidate is pro-choice and supports equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.

The reaction among many Obama supporters – gay and straight – has been swift, angry and bitter.  The president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, sent Obama a letter that read, “Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans….[w]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”  In the Los Angeles Times, longtime celebrity publicist and gay activist Howard Bragman noted, “Obama didn’t realize, after all the support he got from the gay and lesbian community, we feel betrayed right now.”

And then there are the host of celebrities who poured their support and money into the Obama Campaign, who spent almost as much money working to stop the tide of Proposition 8 who are also feeling betrayed.
In response to the backlash the Obama camp issued a statement that read:

“Pastor Rick Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. He’s devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, the President-elect recently addressed Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health to salute Warren’s leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and pledge his support to the effort in the years ahead.

The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community. They disagree on other issues as well. But what’s important is that they agree on many issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, including poverty relief and moving toward a sustainable planet; and they share a commitment to renewing America’s promise by expanding opportunity at home and restoring our moral leadership abroad.

As he’s said again and again, the President-elect is committed to bringing together all sides of the faith discussion in search of common ground. That’s the only way we’ll be able to unite this country with the resolve and common purpose necessary to solve the challenges we face.

The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight.

Also, for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade.”

rickwarren1In a recent press conference Obama himself stressed that being inclusive and building bridges is critical to rebuilding the Nation and is a key component of how he intends to run his White House, “A couple of years ago I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion,” he said. “Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign’s been all about, that we’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.”

And supporters of the selection of Rick Warren think Obama is right on point.  Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Huffington Post argued that Obama’s selection of Warren was “more than a crass political move, it was about numbers and influence.”  Warren’s selection could give Obama access to the sixty to eighty million Christian evangelicals that are “still too big, too important, and to politically strategic to ignore.”  Even if only a small opening, it could still be significant for Obama.

As Steve Chapman noted in the Chicago Tribune, “What Obama would clearly like to do is to at least soften the views of evangelical Christians. One way to begin that process is a clear and even controversial display of goodwill–saying, in effect, “We disagree on some things, but I intend to listen to your concerns, and I want to be your president.”

Listen, I think Obama should have made a different selection.  Even if he wanted to appease evangelicals under the notion of “you may not have voted for me, but I will be your president too,” there have to be a lot less controversial selections than Warren.  I find his stances on abortion and gay rights appalling.  And I think the “answer” of we are also including Reverend Joseph Lowery was lame and insulting – kind of like the “I have black friends” comment.  However, I do believe that this is only the first of many times that Obama is going to rub “us” – read “us” as whatever works for you (e.g., gay, straight, pro-choice, anti-war, pro-bailout, etc.) – the wrong way.  See if he really intends to run his White House in a truly bi-partisan fashion and really plans to mend and/or build bridges, he is going to piss “us” off.

We loved his message of “one America” during the campaign, but living it may be a different story.

. Photo Credits: Rick Warren – Kevin Cheng; Flyer – speakingoffaith