Religion in Society

Obama Deserves Credit for Rick Warren Pick

| by Deal Hudson

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called it "magnanimous." I must admit, I certainly didn't expect it. The gesture from president-elect Obama of tapping Evangelical pastor, Rick Warren, to deliver the inaugural prayer deserves recognition and congratulations from those, like myself, who have criticized his positions on abortion and other social issues.

Obama may have thought he was making the "safe" choice of a moderate Evangelical who had invited him to speak at his influential Southern California church in December 2006. But the wounds are still open over the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, amending the definition of marriage in the state constitution to a union between a man and a woman.
Warren publicly supported Proposition 8 and took heat from "progressive" Evangelicals as a result. Now Obama is taking a tremendous amount of criticism from prominent and powerful members of his base. From the Human Rights Campaign, the leading edge of the gay lobby, to Hollywood political activists, the disappointment of Obama supporters is loud and clear.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said the invitation to Warren was as much of an insult to gays as inviting an anti-Semite would be to Jewish Americans. The invitation from the Obama campaign to a LBGT (lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender) group to march in the inaugural parade for the first time does not "heal this wound." ("Hey, we're also bringing a gay marching band. You know how the gays love a parade," Solmonese said.)

The HRC president is clear about what it will take to make up for the insult; Obama needs "to put some meat on the bone" by appointing someone from the LBGT community to his administration. Evidently gay activists have been feeling left out of the appointments already announced. Other groups who supported Obama have their appointees, "Yet, we're the ones left waiting for some real evidence of inclusion."

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In Hollywood, where opposition to Proposition 8 generated as much energy as the campaign, the Warren invitation was a "betrayal." One prominent Democrat consultant, Chad Griffin, cleverly turned his guns on Warren, asking him to step aside. "Rick Warren needs to realize that he is further dividing us at a time when the country needs to come together," he said.

He dismissed the invitation as an "innocent mistake of the transition team," evidently not taking the president-elect at his word that he deliberately chose Warren as a gesture to the social conservatives who did not support him. At his December 18 press conference, he affirmed his support for gay and lesbian equality, adding, "What I've also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."

In defending his choice of Warren, Obama went further than arguing for inclusion: He argued for civility. "We can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

Who can argue with that? Too bad it is only the political right that gets tagged by the media for bad manners. The president-elect may have to rap some liberal knuckles to convince them he really wants a better public tone from everyone.

Many have called Obama's choice of Warren "shrewd." That may be, or perhaps Obama means what he says. We will see. In the meantime, I congratulate the president-elect for inviting Warren and I admire his refusal to back down under pressure from the extreme wing of his political base.

Click here to see our debate on Pastor Rick Warren.

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