Virtually no one I’ve read in left blogistan today is pleased that Dr. Rick Warren will be delivering the invocation at Barack Obama’s inaugural. And I’ve gotta say, it seems kind of stupid to me.
By that I mean he pisses people off and gets nothing for it.
Now, in fairness, the choices are made by a joint Congressional Inaugural Committee, but Obama could almost certainly veto someone objectionable. However, as Obama and Warren are friends, albeit friends who disagree about a lot of stuff, that would have been uncomfortable.
But Warren is problematic. He made a ludicrous argument that he opposed Prop 8 on free speech grounds (i.e., that he wouldn’t be allowed to preach against homosexuality if it passed) and suggested that it was the proer role of government to take out “evildoers” – in this case, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet he presents himself as the moderate face of the evangelical movement.
I don’t think this means anything about what Barack Obama believes; it doesn’t have any policy ramifications, and I don’t feel like it’s a fuck you directed at me (although I might feel differently if Rick Warren tried to make my marriage goals unconstitutional).
But considering the pain he’s about to endure, and the goodwill he’s going to lose, in exchange for absolutely nothing, it seems dumb.
That said, Steven Waldman at Beliefnet defends Warren:
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 journey.
Finally, he’s mostly about God. Yes, he says things that are controversial and, I believe, is sometimes ill-informed and insensitive. But the Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose of Christmas barely mention the hot-botton culture war issues. He has his views on those issues but really believes that getting right with God is most important thing.
For Obama, picking Warren for the inauguration is a smart move. George W. Bush chose Franklin Graham, a hard-right evangelical to do his prayer. Instead of retaliating by choosing a liberal preacher, Obama opted for spiritual bipartisanship. The move helps to depoliticize prayer — which, of course, is very politically shrewd.
Sorry – I don’t see it. Picking a liberal preacher to perform his invocation wouldn’t be retaliation – it would be following his beliefs. If some on the right chose to see it as retaliation, too bad. I think a larger issue is that only right-leaning preachers are perceived as “real” preachers; that those on the left are considered “fringe.” It would be nice to have a national platform refute that.
Anyway, I don’t think Obama was purposefully snubbing gays and liberals. I think he didn’t think about it in those terms, which strikes me as strange. Or perhaps careless.