Posted by: mutantpoodle | December 17, 2008

The first really dumb move

OBAMA MCCAIN WARRENVirtually 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.

I’ve been arguing for the past few days that Obama hasn’t been distracted personally by the Blagojevich scandal. Perhaps I was wrong, and this is the manifestation.



  1. I think you know, this is an area that I’ve really had problems with Obama – it was one of the big reasons I didn’t support him during the primaries (SEE MCGLURKIN, DONNIE). But, yeah, even though I really objected to his dogwhistles during the primaries, I can kind of, sort of, see a justification for them. Well, not really. But maybe a little.

    This? I don’t get it. I don’t see what it gets him, I don’t see who it brings on board who wasn’t already on board, and it pisses off a lot of people who already had serious doubts as to his commitment to gay rights.

  2. But you know, there are a whole lot of people who WILL feel included by this — for whom Warren means something. It’s a gesture to them, too.

    One of the things I realize living in the boonies here is that theologically there are a lot of people much more conservative than I. I think Obama is actually smart to have someone like Warren. And I remember listening to Krista Tippett’s conversation with Warren, and being impressed that he was able to talk about changing his mind, being exposed to new ideas.

    If Obama is really about bringing people together, the inauguration should have room for Warren as well as more conventionally liberal types.

  3. I can’t accept that argument. Rick Warren has made some offensive statements about gays and lesbians. He’s not so great on women either. No one would condone including someone like say, David Duke, because he represents the racist demographic.

    I am sure there are people of faith out there who do not hold views that are anti-Democratic at their core. Jim Wallis comes to mind.

  4. I get the underlying thought of the Warren invite. I think the problem is not so much the person as the venue – in a celebration of something historic, Dr. Warren is salt in the very fresh wound of those still hurting over Prop 8. You can demonstrate your inclusiveness in a lot of ways – the inaugural is not the only venue.

    Interestingly, Warren’s getting a lot of flack from the Christian right for participating. But just because they think it’s wrong doesn’t make it right.

    While I understand all the reasons to do this, one thing I’d like to see, now that the political middle in this country has moved left, is that same movement on a theological level. While I applaud Warren for recognizing that the Bible isn’t just about smiting gays and lowering taxes, and his real, personal commitment to fighting poverty, I’d like to think that the theological center in this country could move towards a bit more tolerance than someone like Warren espouses. Who knows – maybe he’ll get there one day. But the timing on this is bad, and I think folks who are incensed are completely entitled.

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