Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Purpose of Life

A number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are outraged over Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren, a so-called minister in the evangelical church, to give the invocation at his inauguration. See e.g., On Rick Warren and Praying for Realignment. Like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, Warren is one of those people who believes that God hates the poor, disenfranchised and those who don't fit the mythical notion of a traditional family. He's not a big fan of gays either (to say the least), and was a vocal proponent of Prop 8, which has precipitated the brouhaha over his participation.

As Mike Madden explains at Salon, How the hell did Rick Warren get inauguration tickets?:

Except that Warren, by this point, isn't just the purpose-driven friendly face of evangelical Christianity anymore. He took sides, very publicly, in favor of California's Proposition 8, which overturned the state's gay marriage law. 'About 2 percent of Americans are homosexual, or gay and lesbian, people,' Warren said in a widely circulated video (and in a virtually identical e-mail to his congregation) before the election. 'We should not let 2 percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not just a Christian issue, this is a humanitarian issue.'

* * * *

But Obama was determined to defend his pick Thursday, and he set out the pro-Warren talking points himself, when a reporter brought it up at his now all-but-daily press conference in Chicago. "A couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion," he said. "Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And 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 where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

Translated out of press-conference-speak, though, that basically means: "I know you're upset. Too bad." Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama's inauguration committee and a senior advisor during the campaign, told Salon later that picking Warren "was not a political decision," which is usually the surest sign that something was exactly that.
Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House shares my sentiments on the pick, The Pastor & The Great Liberal Letdown:
Nevertheless, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma:

The purity test to which some liberals insist on holding Obama as he cobbles together what is shaping up to be a welcome contrast from the Bush administration is silly and smacks of right-wing self-righteousness. Still, the selection of Warren is difficult to swallow.

I never thought that Obama walked on water, but I can understand the feelings of betrayal among those who did. Then there are the gays and lesbians who expected more from a civil-rights president and better damned well get it once he takes the oath of office.
I don't believe that this is a situation where, as Matthew Yglesias says, in Symbolic Politics, "it’s very easy for a person who isn’t part of the minority group that’s being symbolically dissed to dismiss someone else’s concerns as merely symbolic and not that big a deal." It is a big deal for those who are gay to be subjected to the hate-filled screed of Rick Warren and I fully support their views. Yet, in the end, I just can't get excised over Warren's involvement in the ceremony.

Don't get me wrong. As far as I'm concerned, through his televangelism nonsense, Warren pedals the religious version of a pyramid scheme, with his ploy for money and his sugar-coated bigotry. In my opinion, he's an aw, shucks, not too bright, con man who shouldn't even merit any consideration. As Field Negro said, something about the guy creeps me out.

However, as I said with his Cabinet picks, I'm not sure it's fair to criticize Obama for this. This is not a change from what he preached during the campaign; rather, it is an example of his philosophy. After all, he's doing precisely what he promised -- reaching out to those who oppose him or are the enemy. Not my style, but for those who can do it, it sometimes works.

Liberals say that they allow other points of view, yet it sometimes seems that it's only permissible if it's within a prescribed range of opinion. Bob Casey, the Senator from Pennsylvania, is a good example. He's conservative on many social issues, such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Yet, he holds other positions that are laudable, such as his pro-labor positions. He was an early supporter of Obama and took a good bit of flak in scrappy Scranton for favoring a liberal. Senator Byrd -- once a KKK member, is proof that an evolution of ideas is possible. Yet, it can only happen if people continue to debate and discuss opposing positions.

And the reality is, it epitomizes the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans require -- no, demand -- adherence to the cause, while Democrats let just about anyone into the tent. The range of opinions allows an Obama to share a seat at the table with a Warren, much as they may disagree on most issues. During the course of the campaign, I objected to the concept that Obama should be responsible for the views of those he knows, such as Reverend Wright, and that same view leads me to believe that we should not impugn Obama with the vile bigotry of Warren, merely because they interact.

And frankly, if we're looking for a range of viewpoints, as Obama is, it's sad that Reverend Wright rather than Warren isn't the controversial pastor who will be on the dais. See Why Are Rick Warren’s Views Acceptable And Jeremiah Wright’s Not?

Finally, once again, it is especially unfortunate that the focus has been centered on the controversy and it is only that aspect that has garnered all of the media attention. Sam Stein at Huffington Post aptly notes, Rick Warren, Obama Invocation Choice, Causing First Real Rift With Progressives:
Indeed, lost in the hubbub about Warren, is the fact that the man tasked with overseeing the benediction is a icon within progressive politics. Rev. Joe Lowery, a hero of the civil rights movement and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King famously called out President George W. Bush during Coretta Scott King's funeral. He also is a supporter of same-sex marriage. But he is not garnering the same attention as Warren for his inauguration role.

(Cartoon via Tony Auth, NYTimes)


Susan said...

A rare occasion when we disagree: There are lots of ministers out there, so the choice was not between Warren and Wright. Why must Obama shine such a bright light on someone who supports what is now -- and rightly -- considered unlawful and mean-spirited discrimination?

JudiPhilly said...

It's not that I support Warren (or Wright, for that matter). I wouldn't have picked any religious figure, if it were up to me.

My point was that it is consistent with his philosophy of including all viewpoints & I agree that means not just those who agree with you.