On top of the back-and-forth in comments on this post, a few more thoughts on the matter.
I am not a big fan of Rick Warren’s. He thinks I’m going to hell. He said so in mixed company, at an Aspen Institute forum. He was asked if Jews were going to hell. He said yes. He can go ahead and feed every poor child in Africa and I’m still going to think he’s a fool for believing that. Reverend Rick is also not too big on gay or women’s rights. (Indeed, if Jews–and all other non born-again Christians–homosexuals, feminists, and anyone who has either had an abortion, performed an abortion or reluctantly agrees that it’s none of our business who has abortions…if all those people are going to hell, then heaven’s got to be about as interesting as linoleum.)
I have no problem with Barack Obama asking Reverend Rick to deliver a prayer at the Inauguration. It will have zero–repeat, zero–impact on the policies of the Obama Administration. And it may do some good, especially if it gives pause to all those people who think that I–and the crypto-Muslim Barack Obama–are going to hell…If it causes those folks to give the new President just the slightest credit for appreciating their worldview, if it causes them to give him the benefit of the doubt on controversial stuff like talking to the Iranians or universal health insurance, then it’s worth it. If it causes evangelicals to say, “Well, he’s not demonizing us, maybe we shouldn’t demonize him,” it’s worth it. If it makes Rush Limbaugh’s toxic blather about our next President seem even the slightest bit ridiculous and over-the-top to his idiot legion of ditto heads, it’s worth it.
The thing is, Obama is trying to change the nature of public discourse from the raw blast it has been for the past 20 years to something more civil and tolerable. You sense that every time he opens his mouth. He’s all for opening doors. I don’t know how many of ultra-conservative evangelicals will walk through the door he is opening by having one of their most popular leaders join the inaugural celebration, but I appreciate his inclusive intent.
…amid all the shouting about how “controversial” the selection is and what a “slap in the face” it represents to various Democratic constituencies, no one has mentioned what a, well, boring choice Warren is.
(Yes, sharp-eyed readers will notice TIME selected Warren as one of our People Who Mattered for 2008. I thought that was rather uninspired as well.)
The Obama folks needed to pick two religious leaders for the Inaugural Ceremony — one to give the invocation and the other the benediction. They had already decided they wanted one to be an African-American preacher and the other a white Evangelical. Why an Evangelical, given that Evangelicals didn’t exactly surge over to the Democratic side on Election Day? One guess is that maybe Obama meant it when he said in his victory speech (and again in this morning’s press conference): “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”
The main problem is that Warren, while a Big Deal in the religion world, has lately been much more interested in being a Big Deal than in actually trying to lead a new Evangelical movement. If Obama wanted a truly interesting and visionary white Evangelical, he had better choices (although not all of them would have passed a pro-gay marriage litmus test): Bill Hybels or Tony Campolo or Joel Hunter or Brian McLaren or Leith Anderson.
Any one of them would also have the added value of not being someone who recently called for the assassination of the president of Iran or who isn’t confused about whether laws allowing gay marriage would place restrictions on what religious leaders can say from the pulpit. Nor do they have Warren’s distinction of first embracing Obama and then kicking him after the Saddleback Forum when it seemed like the Democrats’ fortunes were fading.
There was no doubt that Obama, like every president before him, would pick a Christian minister to perform this sacred duty. But Obama had thousands of clergy to choose from, and the choice of Warren is not only a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service but a bow to the continuing influence of the religious right in American politics. Warren vocally opposes gay marriage, does not believe in evolution, has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Which brings me to what I said in comments on my earlier post:
…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.
Giving Rick Warren this platform suggests that his fairly far-right evangelical beliefs represent the religious mainstream, and I don’t believe that they do. I have no problem with Obama talking with him whenever he likes, even though I agree with Klein that he’s a fool, albeit a somewhat amiable one.
But it would be nice to keep as many fools as possible away from the inaugural stage.