Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rick Warren and the inaugural prayer

A number of you have asked for my reaction to President-elect Obama choosing Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County (Calif.), to give the invocation at the inaugural. I have heard from many friends who feel hurt and even betrayed by this, and those feelings are real and need to be taken seriously. 

We especially need to be hearing the voices of our Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters. Warren is particularly well known in California; he was prominently in favor of Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. Many who worked hard for Obama - not just LGBT people - are angered or puzzled. I have heard words like "disgusted" or "thug" in describing Warren. 

That said, I am not surprised at Obama's choice. Obama has spoken at his church during the primary and then later in a joint appearance with John McCain. A clue to how Obama thinks can be found in Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life (more so perhaps than in the book most often mentioned of late, Team of Rivals). Warren has broken with the far-Right over issues including global warming. Warren is not James Dobson or Jerry Fallwell. And Unlike some in that crowd who denounced Obama as the anti-Christ, Warren was conspicuously friendly to Obama in both the primary and general campaigns. And I believe Obama when he says he wants to be the President of all Americans, so that must include even those with whom I deeply disagree.

And yet...

The choice of Warren is troubling. Obama could have done better, and that needs to be said without apology. The response I have seen that resonates with me the most comes from my friend, The Rev. Susan Russell, who is the President of Integrity, the organization that works for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church. Here, in full, is Susan's "Open Letter to the President-elect":

Dear President-elect Obama,

I'm sure you're hearing from a great many voices around the country this week about your choice of Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the upcoming inauguration. I am writing today to add my voice to those expressing regret at the choice and concern that the message being sent by the elevation of someone with Pastor Warren's values of narrow exclusionism to the "bully pulpit" of Inauguration Day.

I believe that reaching across the divide to include a strong, evangelical voice in the opening moments of your presidency is not just a good political move, it is a considered policy choice that helps bind up the wounds of a divisive campaign and eight years of polarization, preparing us as a nation to move forward together to solve the many problems that challenge us. This effort to begin your administration by representing differences of opinion in the selection of a pastor whose theological perspectives are different than your own is something I enthusiastically applaud.

The choice of Rick Warren is not. I agree with my Episcopal brother Bishop Gene Robinson, who said yesterday, "I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table, but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history."

Rick Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.

There are many fine, strong, evangelical voices in this country who do not carry Warren's baggage of having been one of the generals in the culture wars. Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis are names that come immediately to mind -- pastors who have balanced the challenge of bridging differences while standing firmly in their evangelical tradition.

It is true that the unfortunate choice of Rick Warren is particularly painful to LGBT Americans who have experienced first-hand the destructive impact of pastors like Warren who preach “family values” while practicing discrimination against gay and lesbian families. But it should also be a cause for concern to any American concerned that the exclusionism represented by Rick Warren is antithetical to the core values of inclusion, tolerance and the celebration of difference that so historically mark your embryonic administration.

I'm still setting my Pacific Standard Time alarm early on January 20th to make sure I don't miss a moment of Inauguration Day. I'm still profoundly hopeful at the new beginning we will celebrate together as Americans on that day as we work together to become a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a pledge but a practice.

But I pray that as we make that journey forward together, as you make the considered choices you will make about who prays God's blessing on America you will consider ALL Americans as you make those choices -- and you will consider that we can do better than Rick Warren. Yes we can. Yes we can.

The Reverend Susan Russell
President, Integrity USA


Anonymous said...
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Jefferson's Own said...

I find President-Elect Obama's choice of Warren to be refreshing. Finally, tolerance is no longer a one-way street. Obama makes the bold statement that tolerance must go both/all directions if we are to be One Nation. I truly believe that he intends to be the Preident of all Americans.