Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama and Warren

The shock of the century -- Barack Obama picked Rick Warren as the chaplain of his inauguration.  

I’m not shocked.  Nor am I as horrified as some.

You surely know that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, is the author of the wildly popular, “The Purpose Driven Life,” and its sibling, “The Purpose Driven Church.”  He’s especially popular with the likes of Forbes Magazine which called his book, "the best book on entrepreneurship, management, and leadership in print.”

His own website touts his success as the nation’s most influencial pastor (The Economist).  And, according to The Times of London, “Business and political leaders across America are turning to Rick Warren for guidance.”

But that’s not what has people upset about Rick Warren and the inauguration.  It’s that he is anti-gay and anti-choice.  He let the fight to pass Proposition 8 in California, which bans same-sex marriage and equated homosexuality with pedophilia and incest.

Let me be very clear about where I stand on those issues.  I believe gays in this country need to have the right to marry or choose whatever equivalent form to marriage they feel is appropriate (gay friends disagree as to whether it should be called marriage or something unique to same-sex bonds.  I don’t care but feel they should decide) -- and that it should be set out in our laws.  I also believe that abortion must remain legal, and that making it illegal will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions in our country.  

Obama has always said he supports the rights of gays to marry, but anyone who has watched the election should know that he is, above all, a political creature.  Despite the betrayal many gays and lesbians feel in this selection, Obama knows that the LGBT community is small, and he feels under great pressure to prove just how “center” he is.  

For the record, Bill Clinton had Billy Graham give his inauguration, and Graham was just as anti-gay as Warren -- probably more so.  It’s clear that Obama, who doesn’t have a church at the moment, chose a pastor who had wide popular appeal and would assuage the right-wing evangelicals.  Anyone who thought he would move forward purely on conviction seems to neither have followed Obama very carefully nor have a sense of how politics works.   

Having said that, was it the smartest move he could have made?  Doubtful.  Mr. Obama could have chosen an unknown pastor of a middle-of-the-road church with unstated views on anything controversial.  He could have picked somebody respectable but completely uncontroversial so that the invocation would have been a non-event.

That would not have been anyone in my church, of course, because we are hated by the right as being too liberal, too pro-gay, too pro-choice.  But there are others he could have invited.  Brad Braxton of Riverside Church in NYC comes to mind.  There you’ve got an evangelical affiliated with the UCC and the American Baptist Church.  Yet, the church quietly affirms its support for same-gender civil marriage.  Of course, Mr. Obama probably does not know Rev. Braxton.

So, I would not have picked Rev. Warren for my inauguration.  On the other hand, just as it is wrong for him to put gays in the same category as pedophiles -- just as much as I disagree with him on that entire front -- it’s also wrong for his opponents to equate him with Nazis (as I’ve seen) or with the KKK.  Yes, he’s wrong, but he’s not evil.  

And he has shown himself to be capable of learning.  He changed his view on the environment, for example, not an insignificant conversion.  

Still, my biggest objections to him have more to do with how he views the church -- essentially as a corporation, as as entrepreneurial enterprise.  That’s why business and political leaders love him.  Which is why I wouldn’t have him speak.  But that's another article.  

Besides, I have my own religious leader.  And if I ever become President-elect, I'll pick her.