Rick Warren at the Inauguration

I thought Frank Rich’s response to the Rick Warren controversy was very strange. In the New York Times, Rich wrote that asking Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration “was a conscious–and glib–decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.” It was, Rich said, rather like George W. Bush’s high-handed dismissal of moderate and liberal voters at the outset of his administration. And “we all know how that turned out.”

I would have thought exactly the opposite. Obama seeks to obtain political capital by inviting a conservative evangelical to speak at his inaugural, thus reassuring Americans who think that the President Elect is a Muslim, or else secular and hyper-liberal. He might also hope to peel some conservative voters away from the Republican coalition. Far from arrogant or spendthrift, this was a rather calculated, cautious, and defensive political move. The people it might offend (i.e., supporters of gay rights) are outnumbered by the people it might attract; and more to the point, the former have nowhere else to go, whereas the latter are potential swing voters. If I were criticizing Obama, I would assail him for unprincipled caution rather than arrogance.

My actual views are more ambivalent. I do understand that it’s hurtful to give a ceremonial role at a public event to a person who is not only against gay marriage, but who compares legalizing it to legalizing incest. I suppose a rough equivalent would be an anti-Semitic speaker–but gays are far more victimized by discrimination and violence than Jews are in modern America. So that’s a big argument against inviting Rick Warren.

On the other hand:

1. The political advantages are considerable, since evangelicals really could splinter, and liberals could pick up their votes. The Bible is not for tax cuts; the Bible is for stewardship, education, and the poor.

2. Warren used words about gay marriage that are indefensible (and that he apparently regrets), but his actual position cannot be considered beyond the pale. Most Americans share that position. Warren also shares with most Americans the opinion that religious scriptures are authoritative. The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are pretty strongly against gay marriage. I could make a theological argument in favor of gay marriage, basing my position on a certain reading of the whole biblical canon. That reading would be tendentious, although sincere. I think Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor, is entitled to his more traditional and more straightforward reading of a text that he is entitled to use as his guide.

3. This invitation has hurt people, and I am sorry about that. It has also opened some healthy conversations, such as the one between Rick Warren and Melissa Etheridge. Bishop Gene Robinson and others have noted that an invocation is not a dialog or a deliberation. Robinson said, “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table, … but we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.” I would respond that Warren shouldn’t be excluded for praying to the wrong God (if that even makes sense); and that asking him to speak was an indirect way of bringing him to the table on this issue.

There are several kinds of politics at work here. Gays are rightly trying to develop a public identity and asking for it to be favorably received. From the perspective of that “politics of identity and recognition,” Warren’s invitation is harmful. Meanwhile, Obama is trying to develop and expand social programs. For that “politics of distribution,” the Warren invitation is smart. And various people are discussing a controversial issue: gay marriage. The Warren invitation is a spur to that “politics of deliberation.” Much depends on which we think is most important. It’s not surprising that Frank Rich would opt for the first choice, since he is an almost perfect representative of liberal identity politics. What I do find surprising is his failure even to notice the other kinds of politics in this case.

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2 Responses to Rick Warren at the Inauguration

  1. jon johansen says:

    I get the political reasons for barack kissing rick warren’s ass. But let me ask you this. Do you think that the Obama camp thinks that the gay community will just sit quietly by and take it? If they do then they are not doing the research on the protests that are being organized for the inaugaration,. Don’t be surprised if you hear fog horns, boos and hisses, backs turned and obsenities while rick is praying over our next president. I worked on his campaign for a year of my life and he decides to sucker punch me. I will be on the mall that day that could have been so beautiful. But we will not sit down and shut up! We will be heard.

  2. Peter Levine says:

    From Michelle, by email:

      To speak to mankind’s spiritual core:

      Our Father, is the only and wisest”all inclusive” moral compass that we as thinking and rational humans have ever had presented to us.

      He is our passive councilor who never enters communication unless I invite His council, by knocking on His door.

      It is only from His council that we have learned He names anger and retribution as the two hardest chain links to rationally separate in our human psyche, while in the form of earthly bodies.

      He accepts responsibility as a father, He tells us we were made in His image, but were not made complete. He explains His on-going process of creation included adding a woman for company. Yet still we lacked the ‘full’ compliment of wisdom at this time, as He felt the timing was not yet right.

      Wisdom was then our missing chain link that should have been placed in between anger/passion and retribution. It appears that someone/thing else beat Him to that punch line, and wisdom landed up being placed somewhere else in our chain.

      This councilor now advises us that the only way to quell anger at friends, family, parents and even strangers and stop yourself from acting as a judge, jury and executioner (Godly traits) is to forcefully will (surrender) the control over your passions, to Him. Realize the people’s actions have stirred, impacted and tapped your ‘God endowed’ passionate emotions of response and anger in their passionate emotional display.

      This is where we see His historical records describing what qualifies as justifiable cause for complaints. Complaints that could legitimately be brought before a (Levite) judge, with God permitting only the judge permission to execute judgment, and in accord with His guidelines given only for judge’s use, as the records show.

      You can choose to either rebuke this entire concept, or hold yourself accountable to it. This is your choice! What He does not allow you to do is pick and choose which parts of it you will believe in.

      If He did, He would be allowing you to assume you have greater wisdom than God himself, and knowing more truth feel superior and self empowered to re-create your own acceptable religion. When you pit your powers of deduction and wisdom as superior to even one of those guidelines given by God, we have the point of divergence.

      For anyone willing to use the Obama argument given in the Senate of stupidity if we adhere to biblical law, is pure ridiculous as once again to apply only one page of the historical record without the subsequent revelations is self religious invention and corrupting the complete message of God. This is like looking at the creation of Adam and no further, then using this as an argument to remove every woman on the planet. The Lord created in phases, and the Lord reveals in phases. But By Mr. Obama’s reasoning we should then keep offering sacrificed animals and forget God gave the blood of His son, Jesus Christ, so no more blood would be spilled -as the simplest point of debate. Yet again, in the bible it goes on to define what slavery should really be considered as, mutual respect for both parties with fair and decent compensation for services rendered unto each other. A modern day contract appears no different.

      The one common standout theme thruout the entire bible is we have to surrender to leadership of some form. Not a single person is above leadership from a higher power, in amongst the many forms found.

      Now to speak to the politics of removing religion from public forums:

      So when God explained the flesh is weak, and the beloved Kings Solomon, David and Herod demonstrated, we understand human weakness and entrapment befalls all men, not just a few!

      There came such a time when a minority of British settlers in America lost trust in British rule. They understood their “Shepard” had strayed from God’s council, and was not caring for ALL his “sheep” equally. His usurpation’s from absolute despotism led to many complaints including unfair taxation without representation, and were described as pure tyrannical.

      Their opening argument to other world powers to acknowledge their right of separation, and accept as total justification for cause was totally derived from the universal acknowledgment of a religious Creator of life. One Creator who gave all mankind self evident truths with certain unalienable rights to seek alternative pursuits of Life, Liberty and Happiness! It was within the sanctity of this RELIGIOUS justification, God sanctioned biblical rights, that these people argued their entitlement to pursue alternative moral leadership, and upon which they derived their argument. A God observing man’s right to legitimately shrug off a monarch turned dictator, substantiated thru religious righteousness (like Moses and Pharaoh).

      It was their stated intent to embrace all religious orders, operating under the acknowledgment of one “Creator”; the newly independent people sought a more universally embracing secular approach for their government. By refusing exclusivity to ANY ONE order of association, an obvious lesson in failure gleaned from British history, government by their design was expected to facilitate and accommodate all derivatives of worship “Under God”! This being the one acceptable and unanimous endorsement from “We the People”.

      Now we see new agnostic and atheist generations using the morality of this “right” which was originally afforded to men who believed in a Creator, as now only the moral birthright (regardless of believing in a Creator) as the only true entitlement of “right” to alter governing law.

      With this deception of lawful “right” to change law, they now have set about abolishing all visual and audible forms of public worship and religious observation by using the intimidation of lawful punishment!!! Yet these were the very cornerstones used to design a constitution of freedom upon. “Under God, and In God We Trust” was the verifiable stamp.

      There is also no written evidence anywhere in America or amongst the forefathers records to support their opinion, one where it is decreed unlawful or offensive to refer to God, the Creator, in any form of public worship.

      We see them further their call for government to appoint itself lawful in defining marriage. Yet the application of this union was only ever described by God. The complete ownership of and original definition can only be found in biblical records.

      But if we also allow ourselves to redefine the biblical definition of marriage, then we will be admitting we are more powerful in reasoning than God?? Thus the constitutional right that was stated – to exist under a Creator, seizes to exist completely.

      Jesus is also the gay person’s best ally.

      The timing of Jesus was the biggest coupe! His records hitched a ride on a large carrier, like a small parasite does. His was on the historical records from the greatest nation of inventions that ever existed! One man (twelve disciples) forever immortalized…. because they wove their record into the fabric of time thru the recordings of those days of great academic and inventive discovery.

      In that record you can see how He is also teaching us to co-exist under a society or rule that does not always suit our beliefs or needs. Be passive in execution! Re-enforcing the message to surrender your anger to the wisdom of God. Render unto Caesar that which is His, (his taxes, his face on the currency). So too we should respect that God named and defined marriage, render that to God.

      There can be a path of co-existence until the end times, His message was all about co-exist, not redefine what has already been established.

      I have no issue with a civil union having all the same legal rights as marriage by definition. I can co-exist with a non biblical option under human laws like Jesus did with the Romans. Civil union is not already defined by religion, but I have to take moral issue with re-defining marriage. Do not force a Christian to call a Roman Emperor ‘God’, likewise do not force a Christian to call a civil union ‘marriage’.

      Likewise do not abolish public worship “under God”, as this was a cornerstone used to justify us that freedom. Live under co-existence, as it was this very religious freedom that earned you the right to practice “yours” free from persecution.

      Please do not replace, learn to co-exist. You might feel your wisdom is greater than God’s, but I do not. Therefore I want to co-exist with you, not suppress or replace, please afford me the same courtesy in return!

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