Progressive Revival

A few days ago, the Obama team announced that Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop who is an openly partnered gay man, will pray at Sunday’s Inauguration rock concert on the National Mall. 


On the Rachel Maddow Show, Bishop Robinson shared that initially he had been disappointed–if not angry–that Obama had chosen conservative mega-church pastor Rick Warren to offer Tuesday’s Inauguration prayer.  Then, he confessed, that he realized that Obama was doing what he said he would do–trying to create a “big table” around which a variety of people with different perspectives could sit.  Sitting with Rick Warren, as difficult as that might be for a religious leader like Robinson, signaled the beginning of a new “post-partisan” vision of faith in the public square.  So, while Robinson may not love Warren’s inclusion, he said that he “gets it.”


Inclusion, of course, works both ways.  Bishop Robinson was also invited to be one of Inauguration Week’s most visible religious leaders–something that will not please hosts of religious conservatives.  I hoped that Robinson would have been invited to give the benediction following the swearing in–a challenging pairing to Warren’s invocation.  Instead, Robinson was recruited for the Sunday event (with Bono!), a high-profile celebration that kicks off the Inauguration.  Thus, Robinson has been given pride-of-place–the first spiritual voice at the big Obama party.


As the Obama team announced Gene Robinson’s participation, Rick Warren responded.  Not directly, of course.  Pastor Rick has been in “no comment” mode since his inclusion stirred so much controversy.  But he has responded in a more subtle, less noticed, and insider-baseball kind of way.  Pastor Rick’s church has offered “shelter” to Episcopalians who are trying to shatter their denomination over Robinson’s canonically-correct election as bishop.   In a letter to anti-gay Episcopal leaders, Warren wrote: “We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.” 


Put simply, Warren has invited those Episcopalians who have–for six years now–have dehumanized and politicized Bishop Robinson in an overt attempt to lead a denominational schism to establish rival churches using Saddleback as a base.

This is where the Rick Warren saga stands.  Rick Warren, who campaigned against gay marriage in California and has been no friend to LGBT persons, is invited to Obama’s post-partisan “big table,” as is–eventually–Gene Robinson, who is the nation’s most public gay religious leader.  Bishop Robinson has every right to be angry by Warren’s genial, Hawaiian-shirted anti-gay politics.  The bishop told Rachel Maddow that he was hurt, but that he understands what the President-elect is trying to do.  He says that he trusts Barack Obama and is willing to sit at the same table as Pastor Rick.  He knows that including Pastor Rick, a conservative evangelical, means that Obama will also include him, an openly gay bishop–all are welcome at this table. 

After being caught in a tirade of anti-homosexual views, Rick Warren posts a retraction of sorts on his church website saying that homosexuals aren’t really bad and that he actually “loves” homosexuals.  He gets Melissa Etheridge to autograph his favorite CD.  Then, he creates a haven for the same Episcopalians who have done everything short of physical violence against Bishop Robinson and the church who chose him as a leader.  His public acts of “love” don’t jive with this less-public invitation to Episcopal leaders who are working to split a 400-year old denomination.  Pastor Rick has decided, evidently, that it isn’t even enough to meddle in the business of LGBT persons, or the politics of Californians, but he also has to meddle in Bishop Robinson’s 80-million member Anglican Communion. 

If you are invited to sit at table with someone, if you break bread with them, is it–in any way–morally right to behave in such a way?  Creating a big table means that people develop relationships, they look in each others eyes, they come to understand the issues, concerns, and problems facing their fellow diners.  It really isn’t fair to sit at table and use the knife to stab someone else in the back.  Pastor Rick, evidently, likes to sit at tables with different folks, but doesn’t seem to be very trustworthy once he leaves the dining room.  Maybe he doesn’t really hear the conversation.  Maybe he thinks the conversation is about him.  Maybe he thinks everybody will convert to his point of view. 

So, a simple question begs:  What would Jesus do with Gene and Rick?  And what would Jesus expect of them?   Who best embodies Jesus’ command to love God and love their neighbor?

When it comes to Gene and Rick, it doesn’t seem like much of a contest.

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