This morning as I was having my oatmeal and tea I heard the news that President-elect Barack Obama had asked Reverend Dr. Rick Warren, the Pastor of Saddleback Church to give the invocation at his inaugural. My visceral reaction was disappointment and anger. I disagree with Warren on a number of issues- same sex marriage, a woman’s right to make informed choices about pregnancy, and a number of other social issues. It was the pastor’s vocal support and advocacy for California Proposition 8 that made my blood begin to boil as I heard the news about his role in the Inauguration. With the level of agitation I had- I was about to go to the computer and write about this choice as an “outrage”.
But I never like to have my actions or the positions I take on issues to be guided solely by my initial reaction. Kneejerk politics is never wise. So I decided to wait, I read a little bit more, a heard a little more- including the choice of clergy that the President-elect made to give the benediction- Joseph E. Lowery. I know that this post may bother some in my community.
As a gay man I remain disappointed with the choice of Warren, but I’m not going to set my hair on fire and, like it or not, when the President-elect promised to strive for a nation that is united- it means reaching out to those who differ with our opinions. President-elect Obama said during the campaign that he wouldn’t bow to special interests- that was something those of us on the left cheered. But I think we might have forgotten, like it or not, that even if we are on the side of the angels we are by definition a group that is united by an identity and we have a specific agenda. It isn’t just the bad guys who are the “special interests” it is also the good guys- us. Being a special interest is not a bad thing; it is necessary to have advocacy groups for issues that affect communities struggling to be heard. But it is a bad thing for a politician to be owned by any special interest group and any sort of identity politics needs to be done delicately.
In a news conference Obama said he is a “fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.” But he said he will build relationships with people of opposing views, and wants his inaugural to reflect that goal.
“That dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign’s been all about: That we’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we — where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans,” he said.
Mr. Obama chose Reverend Joseph Lowery, considered the dean of the civil rights movement, to give the benediction. Rev. Lowery opposed Proposition 8 and is an iconic figure as a co-founder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In essence the President-elect has, as he said would, extend a hand to people who do not agree with him.
I realize that evangelical Christians will not be embracing gays and lesbians anytime soon, if ever. But does it help us to immediately react with anger to Obama’s choice for the invocation? Does it not help our cause for a President committed to our issues to simultaneously reach out to the evangelicals? And as much as I dislike Rev. Warren, he is as good as it gets when it comes to conservative evangelical leaders; in other words he doesn’t make my skin crawl.
I think that the President-elect is setting a tone of inclusion and being agreeable as we disagree; welcoming everyone at the table- even those with whom we disagree.
I do not like the choice of Rick Warren. I disagree with Reverend Warren on most things. I am offended by the deeply insulting remarks he has made about gay and lesbian people, his support of Proposition 8 and his preaching that misguided support for this measure to his followers; but I don’t think I am so delicate that I see Mr. Obama’s invitation to Warren as a slap or an outrageous snub. Mr. Obama is walking his talk and we should all be grateful for that since it is a rarity in the political sphere. If a conservative Republican had asked a minister from the Metropolitan Community Church to say a prayer at an event we would be calling his action heroic and inclusive while those on the right would be pillorying their guy. Shouldn’t we strive to act better than those we oppose who villify us? We need to concentrate on the fights that matter and not look like a bunch of entitled whiners.