Leaders in the LGBT community are incensed by President-Elect Barack Obama’s (PEBO) choice of Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lakeside, CA, to deliver the invocation at the 56th presidential inauguration on January 20. Warren is a strong evangelical voice and the author of the popular book and brand, The Purpose Driven Life. Gay rights activists see this pick as yet another blow to their cause after the passing of Prop 8 and other legislation to deny gays civil liberties like marriage and adoption. Warren has been a vocal supporter of Prop 8, and many other of his social conservative views run counter to Obama’s more progressive agenda. The president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) published an open letter to PEBO on the HRC website expressing outrage at the invocation pick and calling for a reconsideration.
Journalists and media pundits have said that this pick is PEBO’s attempt to extend an olive branch to the religious right and those other social conservatives who didn’t vote for him. The folks at Politico have labeled the LGBT community furious and raring for a fight after Prop 8:
The rapid, angry reaction from a range of gay activists comes as the gay rights movement looks for an opportunity to flex its political muscle.
How do these journalists know what PEBO’s motives are for extending this invitation to Warren? For me, this choice is vintage Barack Obama who is the consummate diplomat. Where have these folks been the last month as he has rolled out his cabinet choices, the so called “team of rivals?” Were they asleep for the last two years as PEBO displayed his penchat for engaging his ideological friends and foes. His political opponents used this against him during the primary and general campaign, painting his willingness to talk to America’s enemies, as immature and foolish. For others, this perspective was a refreshing change from the Bush administration’s hostile indifference to those nations on his black list. Well we know who won on November 5…
I have wondered what drives this aspect of PEBO’s personality. Most people flee from or ignore those who don’t agree with them even on mundane issues. At the very least we avoid those topics where we don’t agree and especially matters of religion and politics. PEBO seems to espouse the Socratic method in which one uses the opposition to better flesh out one’s own views. Rick Warren and PEBO fail to agree on many issues, but it is obvious that they have found some common ground on which to share a mutual respect for each others convictions. In 2006, Rick Warren took heat for inviting then senator Barack Obama to speak at Saddleback Church’s Global Aids summit. In much the same way that the LGBT leaders are now lodging their complaints against PEBO, conservative leaders and bloggers blasted Warren. Remarkably, the naysayers in both cases bear a striking resemblance to each other when you examine the way they make their case against a Warren inauguration invocation or an Obama address at the summit. Isn’t that interesting? Those clothed in anger cannot be distinguished even if they are as different as night and day.
In this case, Rick Warren will give an invocation, a prayer to God. I don’t have his script, but such an occasion as inaugurating a president will most likely include thanksgiving, requests for guidance for PEBO and Americans, and blessings for America and the world. That he disagrees with PEBO and others on some fundamental issues should not bar him from humbly leading America in prayer. In the same way, Barack Obama’s pro-life stance shouldn’t have barred him from working with Warren on AIDs in 2006. But again, this is not how we loving, caring, fellow-feeling humans operate (sarcasm intended).
Civil rights giant and vocal LGBT supporter, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery was tapped to give the benediction. For the first time, the Lesbian and Gay Band Associaion will march in the inaugural parade. These facts are cursorily mentioned if at all in the the articles addressing this rift. The media and the right wringers have been itching for a controversy, scandal, or anything to wax eloquent, ignorant or just plain wrong about in print and on screen.
It is not my intention to antagonize my LGBT sisters and brothers. I understand their reasons for speaking out and how this pick would seem threatening. PEBO’s choice, I think, presents an opportunity for all of us engage those who share different opinions. Now this is a very simplistic first step to address complex, and long held divisions. Personally, I know how it feels to be in spaces where people actively ignored me or treated my difference with indifference. Thankfully, there has not been a time when my difference was met with open antagonism and violence.
It goes without saying that, PEBO, despite his wide appeal will not please all the people all of the time. I am glad that he has a big table and makes room at that table for those of like mind and others.