Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, the media has been pining to write a story about liberal dissatisfaction with his transition efforts. By and large, the meme has been blown out of proportion, as the press overestimated how divisive Obama’s cabinet choices were for progressives.
The press may now have its conflict moment. And it comes in the form of the spiritual leader chosen to launch Obama’s inauguration.
On Wednesday, the transition team and Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced that Rick Warren, pastor of the powerful Saddleback Church, would give the invocation on January 20th. The selection may not have been incredibly surprising. Obama and Warren are reportedly close — Obama praised the Megachurch leader in his second book “The Audacity of Hope.” Warren, meanwhile, hosted a values forum between Obama and McCain during the general election. Nevertheless, the announcement is being greeted with deep skepticism in progressive religious and political circles.
Gay leaders are furious.
“Picking Rick Warren to give THE invocation,” wrote John Aravosis on AmericaBlog, “is abominable.”
“Let me get right to the point,” Joe Solomnese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a harsh letter to the president-elect, “Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”
Just yesterday, Obama picked Chicago’s Arne Duncan as Education secretary. The same Duncan who favored an all gay high school in Chicago. Clearly, Obama is more pro-gay than pro-social conservative but this choice is especially galling because Warren supported Proposition 8 in California.
I suspect pro-choice advocates are none too happy either.
I think Obama likes Warren even though he disagrees with him on many issues. Warren clearly brings together evangelical doctrine with social compassion in a way that is attractive. I suspect Obama would like to change Warren’s mind on issues but knowing he cannot, he wants to reinforce the good he sees in Warren and those likeminded.
In any event, we all have to live together even though we disagree on how to even frame up the issues. I doubt Obama will back down on this and may use it as a means to get across a message of co-existence.
UPDATE: 12/18/08 – Sam Stein has the Obama talking points regarding Rick Warren.
• This will be the most open, accessible, and inclusive Inauguration in American history.
• In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world’s most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.
• Pastor Rick Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. He’s devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, the President-elect recently addressed Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health to salute Warren’s leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and pledge his support to the effort in the years ahead.
• The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community. They disagree on other issues as well. But what’s important is that they agree on many issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, including poverty relief and moving toward a sustainable planet; and they share a commitment to renewing America’s promise by expanding opportunity at home and restoring our moral leadership abroad.
• As he’s said again and again, the President-elect is committed to bringing together all sides of the faith discussion in search of common ground. That’s the only way we’ll be able to unite this country with the resolve and common purpose necessary to solve the challenges we face.
• The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight.
• And for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade.
UPDATE: 12/18/08 – Rick Warren just issued a statement via the Christian Newswire. Here is the entire statement:
Statement by Dr. Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church Regarding the Invitation from President-elect Obama to Deliver the Inaugural Invocation
LAKE FOREST, Calif., Dec. 18 /Christian Newswire/ — “I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.
“Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.
“The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history.”
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