Many commentators have made much of President-elect Obama’s choice of Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church and best-selling author, to deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration later this month. The main issue, according to many who object to his selection, is that Warren has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, adamantly campaigning in support of Proposition 8 in California (banning gay marriage) and decrying gays and lesbians as being outside of the approval of God.
The real problem with Pastor Warren, at least from a liberal’s point of view, is that he isn’t a totally reprehensible character in the vein of many members of the Christian Right. In fact, Warren and his congregation have done an amazing amount of good things throughout the world in the name of God’s love. However, it is true that on the issue of our LGBT brothers and sisters, he has fallen short of what I would consider to be the truly radical, truly inclusive love of God, having compared gay marriage to incest, pedophilia, bigamy, and the like.
So what’s the appropriate response? Should President-elect Obama have chosen such an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, granting this man a place of honor and prestige before an international audience? Or is this choice, as my friend Harry Knox (who heads up the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program) has made the case, an outrageous slap in the face of all gay and lesbian Americans?
I acknowledge the pain of discrimination and exclusion of the LGBT community, particularly with respect to the Church. I do think that Rick Warren was totally out of bounds in his previous comments, and that his views are grounded in bad theology. At the same time, however, one of President-elect Obama’s main themes throughout his campaign was to emphasize dialogue and rapprochement between Americans with vastly differing points of view.
I think that if you believe that Rick Warren is a decent man who holds terribly wrong and hurtful views when it comes to sexual orientation, then perhaps you could hold out the prospect of changing his mind on that issue, and I believe that the best way to change someone’s mind is to engage them rather than shut them out and demonize them (even if they are demonizing you). As Paul wrote, we are to be devoted to one another in love and outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). In other words, I believe that we are called to be more generous to others than they are toward us.
If President-elect Obama wants to reach out to the evangelical community and invite them to be part of the national dialogue, he could have done a lot worse than choosing Pastor Warren to deliver this invocation. However, at the same time he reaches out to the evangelical community he also needs to reach out to the LGBT community by making an unequivocal statement of support for equal rights, and even a statement that he believes that God’s love knows no boundaries and harbors no judgment on the basis of sexual orientation. In this way, he could show his willingness to engage with those persons whose religious beliefs differ from his on certain issues while also inviting them to have a seat at the table – but not allowing them to exclude others from that same right of taking their own place at the table. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:
“Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”