Rick Warren is not your typical Christian evangelist pastor. Still, according to progressive left standards, he’s persona non grata for his views on homosexuality (identical to Obama’s himself). Obama’s decision to invite Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration in January has therefore rubbed a lot of progressive feathers the wrong way:
Barack Obama’s choice of a prominent evangelical minister to perform
the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward
social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing
fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that – in the wake of a
gay marriage ban in California – is looking for a fight.
Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern
California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances
on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other
evangelicals’ staunch support for economic conservatism. But it’s his
support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex
marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday.
Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but also opposed the California
constitutional amendment Warren backed. In selecting Warren, he is
choosing to reach out to conservatives on a hot-button social issue, at
the cost of antagonizing gay voters who overwhelmingly supported him.
“It’s a huge mistake,” said California gay rights activist Rick Jacobs,
who chairs the state’s Courage Campaign. “He’s really the wrong person
to lead the president into office.
“Can you imagine if he had a man of God doing the invocation who had
deliberately said that Jews are not going to be saved and therefore
should be excluded from what’s going on in America? People would be up
in arms,” he said.
The problem with the logic of the gay lobby here is that Proposition 8 was not even remotely comparable to anti-Semitism. Proponents of gay marriage often make the fallacious comparison to civil rights when arguing for gay marriage, but the simple truth is that civil unions provide the equality that they seek in their legal relationships. The gay lobby is simply pushing against the grain by insisting that civil unions be legally labeled “marriage” when in fact they would have every right that married heterosexual couples enjoy under civil unions. Insisting on the label has nothing to do with being denied those rights, but everything to do with provoking backlash and in effect slowing down acceptance of gay marriage in the mainstream. Comparing their push fo rgay marriage to the civil rights struggle – with Jim Crow, the Klan, and the Freedom Ride – is just tone-deaf and insulting to the memory of people who fought against genuine evil for freedom.
Rick Warren’s position on gay marriage is perhaps not “progressive” but progressives need to understand that they are far outside the mainstream, center-left majority. It’s a foolish waste of their political capital to insist that Obama make any accomodation to their entire platform, just because Obama is “progressive” on some issues.
As far as Obama’s decision goes, it is indeed a olive branch to social conservatives but it is also a slap in the face of the old-guard conservative evangelist leadership:
If you followed the internal politics of evangelical and fundamentalist
leaders, you’d see this for what it is–not an elevation of Warren, but
a slap in the face of the old guard leaders like Dobson and LaHaye.
They’ve been fighting to see who gets to be the spokesman for the
movement, and lately it’s been a tie. Obama just broke it.
And let’s be clear, there is a difference between those groups.
Warren may not be progressive on gay rights, but he’s been out front on
a number of issues of global justice–traveling from Davos to Damascus,
and working hard to get rank-and-file evangelicals invested in
“creation care” environmentalism and the fight against global HIV/AIDS.
If he were put in charge of HHS
or listened to on gay policies, I’d be pissed. But what Obama is doing
here isn’t that. It’s a move that marginalizes the worst on the
religious right, elevates a guy who’s more progressive than most
religious leaders on a number of issues, and earns him some moderate
cred at the outset.
Steven Waldman also makes an impassioned case for Rick Warren :
First, Warren has used his fame and fortune primarily to help the
most destitute people in the world. He reverse tithes, giving away 90%
and keeping 10%. Please contemplate all the religious figures who have
gotten rich off their flock and pocketed the money. Who among you
reverse tithe or would if you were rich? I know I don’t, and every time
I think about what Warren has done it makes me question whether I’m
giving enough. That is a Christ-like example.
Second, he’s worked hard to get other conservative evangelicals to
care more about poverty. Some on the left had hopes that Warren would
somehow move evangelicals to the left on social issues. They were
confusing temperamental with political moderation. Just because Warren
is a nice guy, greets you with a hug, used to wear Hawaiian shirts, and
cares about the poor, doesn’t mean he’s a political liberal or even
moderate. He’s not. But it’s in part because he’s conservative on everything else that his views on poverty carry such weight in the evangelical community.
Third, he has voiced his own spiritual doubts.
This is hugely important. So many religious leaders view expressions of
doubt as signs of weakness at best and heresy at worst. By admitting
his own doubts, and explaining how he worked through them, Warren gives
permission to the rest of us to have an intellectually honest spiritual
A lot of this, especially the reverse tithe, is something that you would think liberals (and especially progressives, who usually are more diligent about helping the poor than mainstream liberals) would laud Warren for.
All that said and done, on balance I have to take issue with Warren’s selection, solely because Warren has demonstrated the kind of blind sterptype about the muslim world that is frankly dangerous to our national interest. I am speaking specifically of Warren’s endorsement of assassinating the President of Iran:
Hannity: Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, wants to wipe Israel off the map, is seeking nuclear weapons…I think we need to take him out.
HANNITY: Am I advocating something dark, evil, or something righteous?
WARREN: Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped. And I believe…
HANNITY: By force?
WARREN: Well, if necessary. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers…
This is really quite ignorant and borderline Islamophobic. Given that Obama will wisely be pursuing the carrot and stick approach with Iran – including a nuclear umbrella for Israel, as deterrence – Warren’s invocation sends a signal that such rhetoric remains acceptable in American discourse and politics. Labeling Iran as evil is straight out of the Bush foreign policy playbook, after all.
It seems that Rick Warren’s invocation will be a slap in the face to two different kinds of mullahs.