Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Troubling Rick Warren Controversy

It's all over the blogosphere - condemnations of President-Elect Obama's choice of Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Not only are members of the LGBT community upset by this choice, but so are many others who support their civil rights and believe in equality for all. I am among the latter, and certainly agree Warren represents all that is evil about the religious right and their ignorant, bigoted views of the gay community, hiding behind a smarmy smile and a veneer of civilization just because he has supported helping AIDS victims in Africa.

My hopes for the Obama Administration are in a battle with my revulsion about Warren. I have been reading so many excellent posts about the controversy I thought rather than say something myself that has been said better elsewhere, I'd round up some of the comments I've been reading.

There have been many outcries of hurt and anger from some of my favorite bloggers - FranIAm has expressed her dismay in her recent posts, as has Christopher at From the Left. In one of his posts, he stated:

"The liberal and progressive community looked the other way and gave you the benefit of the doubt when you voted for the FISA bill and hired a series of retreads from the Clinton administration but dragging Rick Warren to Washington DC on January [20], 2009, goes too far and is unforgivable."

Godless Liberal Homo is saying that attendees at the inauguration should boo Warren when he takes the stage.

"Rick Warren should not be playing a major role in a Barack Obama's inauguration. Warren has devoted a major portion of his life promoting oppression, bigotry, and violence against women and queers. Obama is following the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush policy of pandering to heterosexist and misogynistic religious extremists. So much for "Change You Can Believe In."

Obama's invitation to Warren is a vicious, personal attack against every woman in this country.

Obama's invitation to Warren is a vicious, personal attack against every queer in this country.

One thing that people in DC for this disgraced inauguration should do is to boo that bigoted extremist the minute he starts spewing his bullshit until he shuts his hateful mouth. America needs to send a message that bigotry and militant fundamentalism have no legitimate role to play in politics or society as a whole."

DCup posted an excellent clip of Keith Olbermann talking to Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on Countdown, and pointed out that the separation of church and state issue has to be straightened out, as well as linking to some other great posts on the subject.

Obama has defended his choice of Warren, saying:

"'I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that are entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights and issues like abortion,' Obama said. 'Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign is all about: that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.'"

Many feel this explanation doesn't cut it, that "tolerating the intolerant" is going too far when it comes to inclusiveness.

However, there are other perspectives out there, and I think it's important to consider them.

James Joiner over at An Average American Patriot has another point of view.

"I just love it! It is vintage Obama reaching out to both sides, i think this is great! While gay rights groups were busy objecting to the selection of Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren, who opposes same-sex marriage, to give the invocation at the inauguration, they may have failed to notice who is giving the benediction.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, 87, is best known as a civil rights icon and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also comes from a liberal Christian mainline religious tradition, the United Methodist Church.

In 2000, Lowery, gave what was described as an electrifying speech calling for gay clergy, to the dinner during the general convention of the United Methodist Church, the nation's second largest Protestant denomination....

And in 2004, he told ABC News he supported same sex marriage..."

Dusty at It's My Right to be Left of the Center has this response to the controversy:

"Warren is saying the opening prayer people, that is all. He isn't part of the cabinet and he won't be setting if all this yahoo is doing is saying a friggin does that affect the fight for LGBT equality? Obama picked a pro-gay rights man, Joseph Lowery to give the benediction, which is another prayer right?"

She goes on to point out:

"My point in this whole mess is that we must choose our battles carefully. Rick the fuckwit Warren isn't worth our time and energy. No one is ever going to convince him that the LGBT community deserves the same rights as everyone else....I will say that Warren is less offensive than the vast majority of Theocratic wingnuts. He doesn't call AIDS God's revenge on gays and he believes climate change is real and churches have a responsibility to deal with it.

That means we have some common ground with Warren. That means we, the universal we, should find a way to make Warren and his sheep part of the equation on climate change and AIDS. It also means we can take our talking points to him on the subject of gay equality, but do it in a respectful way. If we use the Rush Limbaugh method, we won't get far...correct?

Obama wants to unite us all around our common beliefs. I think he purposefully picked Warren to show he is reaching out to all sides....

Obama is going to piss off the right, the left and the centrist folks many more times before his term comes to an end. Lets not allow Warren's prayer to divide those of us that believe in the fight for gay rights ok? If we are going to pick our battles wisely...this ain't one of them that will do us any good in the long or short run."

Comrade Kevin talks about why he shifted from the radical left to a more moderate stance:

"When I was in my early twenties, I flirted with radical activist politics....In short, it was too much, it was draining, and I never got any resolution for all of my lofty goals and aspirations. Furthermore, the strident voices of the radical left, while they aim to win converts, end up isolating themselves...and instead of informing the masses, they instead turn off the average Jane or Joe....

It was at that point that I shifted more to the middle. Not because I was actively surrendering my ideals, but mostly because as a moderate it was highly plausible to occasionally see some reforms I favored passed into action. The life of a radical is a life of feeling supremely isolated....Even the biggest success gets parsed, analyzed, and transformed into something else to be angry about---mostly because the change enacted didn't go far enough. Being that radicals almost never get anything they want, I couldn't function for long as one of them.

Now we're in the part of the political season whereby we are called to collectively second-guess the cabinet selections and tentative decisions of the President-Elect. I have a totally different perspective, since Obama's election in and of itself is joyous to me. I think perhaps we must think we're somehow obligated to get everything we want exactly the way we want it, which subsequently reminds me of my radical days. Even if the most liberal political candidate ever was elected, I don't know if he or she would make every decision more or less in line with the whims of the left-wing base. I'm not sure if we're a nation of whiners as much as we are a nation which claims to want a diversity of ideas, that is, as long as they're the same are ours."

In her comment on Dusty's blog post, Karen Zipdrive also echoed this point of view:

"As a bonafide queer for 40 years now, I think I've earned the right to have an opinion on this.

My opinion, which I've scattered throughout blogworld, is that a two minute prayer given by a slobby evangelista is not worth fretting.

Obama said he planned to be inclusive, and as a die-hard liberal I have to accept that he's being more inclusive than I ever would.

But we saw how sickening it was to watch Bush exclude everyone with whom he differed, and we saw what hatred that behavior fomented.

If that's not enough to salve the wounds of my fellow homos and our supporters, consider these points:
1. The evangelical colleagues of Warren are outraged that he accepted the invitation.
2. The sight of Shakira shaking her considerable assets on the same night cancels out 2 minutes of Jesusian mumbo-jumbo.
3. The sound of Aretha belting out a tune double cancels Rev. Slobbo.
4. The sound of YoYo Ma's cello will soothe the eardrums of anyone who were offended by hearing the prayer.
5. The short prayer gives all of us ample opportunity to go to the bathroom, then to the kitchen for a little snack.

So keep your powder dry, my friends. All this righteous indignation makes us look like the sour prunes on the right.

Let's roll with it, I say."

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, has put forth a list of agenda items they want Obama to pledge to support, in order to help them get past the slap in the face he has offered by choosing Warren. This is probably a good idea for Obama to consider in order to heal the rift this choice has opened.

We have to keep in mind that Obama has already said he would support a number of policies favorable to the LGBT community.


"'While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.'
-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

The Obama-Biden Plan
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. Barack Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.

Fight Workplace Discrimination: Barack Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. Obama also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: Barack Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: Barack Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

Expand Adoption Rights: Barack Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not."

OK, so where does that leave me? You have to "stand for something or you fall for anything," as the saying goes.

Here's the way I see it.

President-Elect Obama, whatever decisions he makes in terms of picking his cabinet or his inauguration speakers, still offers a WAY better future for all of us than the McCain-Palin duo would have if they had been elected, and not just on this issue but on most issues near and dear to progressive hearts.

Besides, he has a few other items on his plate that are going to need a lot of thought, effort and focus:

1. Closing Gitmo
2. Getting out of Iraq
3. Fixing the worst economy since the Depression
4. Establishing universal healthcare

And that's only four things, just to get him started. There are plenty of others. We need to remember we elected Barack Obama to solve a lot of serious things that have been wrong with this country for eight long years.

We can't let his choice of Warren sidetrack us and once again cause us to self-destruct through divisions among our ranks, as Democrats often do.

For once, let's stay together and support this President. He is going to need all the help he can get and he is only human.

He has a belief in inclusion which is welcome after eight long years of exclusion. If he overdoes it and invites someone like Warren to the table, he needs to be told it was hurtful to many of his supporters. But we shouldn't "rip our shirts" and say he is dead to us. That is self-defeating.

Perhaps when he says he doesn't believe in gay marriage, he means it. But he does support a lot of initiatives that favor the gay community. And, he has an open mind, which means he may realize at some point, if communications remain open with the gay community, that civil unions are just another example of "separate" being inherently unequal.

If we condemn him and no longer support him during the next four years, this education may not happen and, as Comrade Kevin points out, we don't get what we want.

Am I happy that President-Elect Obama chose Warren? No, of course not. I feel it was very hurtful and what concerns me is he doesn't seem to have the sensitivity to understand why it was so hurtful. But we must remember that he does support a very progressive agenda and it will benefit all of us and the entire country if he is able to carry it out successfully.

And, because of Warren, he owes the LGBT community BIG. He will need to do something pretty dramatic early in his administration, such as repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, to prove which side he is on.

In closing, I'd like to reiterate something many have already pointed out about this whole debacle. If we had true separation of church and state, this whole controversy would be moot, because there would be no inaugural prayer. But that is a problem for another day. (When is the next Blog Against Theocracy?)


Anonymous said...

If you're there, don't boo.

Turn your backs.

When he gets up to speak, turn away.

A camera shot of thousands turning away from this man in silence would convey a strong message, I think.

Sue J said...

I love Quaker Dave's idea!

We need Barack Obama to be the President he said he would be. It is very true that he has a full plate, and this is just one item on that plate. He doesn't need to address my civil rights on his first day in office, but he doesn't need to snub them, either.

Mauigirl, thank you for gathering all these bloggers' thoughts together here -- that must have taken quite an effort!

Christopher said...

I didn't vote for a Bible thumping radical who pals around with religious extremists like Rick Warren.

Warren is antigay, pro-life and pro-assassination. His Saddleback Church runs a 12 Step program to "cure" men of sexual attraction to the same gender. Warren praised Syria as a "moderate nation," despite the fact that Syria is the grand pooh-bah of state sponsored terrorism in the middle east and wants Israel destroyed.

Meanwhile, Obama is reaching out to this asshole in the name of "inclusiveness" and has personally invited him to perform the inaugural invocation. Not cool and not good. Throughout history, often the person who fulfills this role goes onto be the president's spiritual adviser while they're in office.

The only way Barack Obama can win back the goodwill of the LGBT and Netroots communities is to immediately uninvite Rick Warren from the festivities on January 20, 2009. If Obama fails to do this, he will lose the goodwill he enjoyed after the election and he will be held in suspect by millions of Americans.

Furthermore, there is already talk beginning to gather of who we can get to oppose him in 2012. If anyone thinks his hiring Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State is the end of her presidential aspirations -- think again. Clinton could easily be talked into another run in 4 years.

Obama is a fool to think he could play us like this and get away with it.

Mauigirl said...

Quaker Dave, good idea. Turning the backs is a very dignified and strong statement.

Sue J, I totally agree - he definitely should not be snubbing these important civil rights - and I am hoping that he will take action very shortly after the inauguration to make amends for this grievous lapse of judgment.

Christopher, I totally agree that Warren is reprehensible and Obama hss just put a huge burden on himself before he even becomes president, to try to undo the harm he has done by choosing him to speak.

However, I sincerely hope he will make up for this and that talk of opposing him by fellow Democrats in 2012 will then subside. A primary battle in 2012 would probably result in a Republican win in November, and I shudder to think who that might be. Jeb Bush? Sarah Palin? It is sad that we have to continually make excuses and say "lesser of two evils" instead of wholeheartedly feeling good about anyone we elect. I had hoped this time was different.

Anonymous said...

Maui - What a fantastic compilation on the subject! Thank you for the link. I think I've made my opinion known elsewhere so I'll just go back to blogging about sex and hating the holidays.

Fran said...

This is an outstanding post. I have hardly had any time to read blogs today and I am so glad that I read this one! Brilliantly done. Thank you.

Openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson put it this way and I agree...
"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."-Bishop Gene Robinson

I do not want to perpetuate is an "us vs. them" environment... in fact that is exactly what has gotten us into so many messes.

However, to have Warren in this spot validates his words and behavior.

I got even more upset after seeing him on Dateline - where he pulled out the tired and sick old canard of gay equaling pedophile etc, that LGBT translates to sex sex sex.

So this is why I find it very upsetting.

I am all for building bridges and inviting enemies to the table. I am not all about giving them front and center.

P.S. Quaker Dave's idea is great.

D.K. Raed said...

This was excellently done, MauiGirl. Personally, I don't usually even listen to invocations or benedictions, but you can bet I'll be listening to this one. I think Pastor Dickhead will be delivering a unifying message. He'd be a fool not to.

Randal Graves said...

My view mostly follows Fran's. Want a place at the table? Earn it.

enigma4ever said...

great post...I agree with Karen Zipdrive and's just a prayer..I have thought alot about it, at first I was kind of shocked...but I think we have so many is just one prayer..that's all...I am more interested what Obama has to say that day...

Mariamariacuchita said...

This is a great write-up expressing many bloggers' opinions. Thanks for the roundup of opinion. This made me re-think my own opinions, which is the sign (to me) of a great post.

enigma4ever said... after I read this I got to wondering ...WHO gave the prayers and invocation at Bush's Inaugurations? ( and since I did not watch either one I don't have a clue...) so here is the weird thing...I spent over an hour searching and can not find anywhere on the Internet....

Was it Haggard ??? anyone know- please let me know...I would love to know...

Mauigirl said...

Thanks all - don't have time at the moment to answer each individually but did want to tell Enigma I think Bush 43 had Franklin Graham (son of Billy I assume) give the invocation in 2005. Bush 41 and Clinton had Billy Graham.

Christopher said...


Check this out.

Nobama has dispatched Joe Biden to do damage control while he, Nobama, lays on his ass in Honolulu and drinks Pina Coladas.

I've got the transcript up of tonight's CNN's Larry King Live.

I almost feel sorry for Joe Biden. I mean, here’s a distinguished Democratic U.S. Senator, who spent much of his 35 year Washington career serving as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who opposed the 1991 Gulf War, and who worked as an advocate for important issues as crime prevention, civil liberties, and the creation of the Violence Against Women Act. But now, he’s forced with running behind Nobama with a mop and a bucket to clean up after him.

Nobama should be ashamed of himself for placing Biden in such a position.

Nobama has 29 days to uninvite the bigoted, homophobic, pro-life, pro-assassination, Rick Warren from the festivities or he will limp into his first term damaged among millions of LGBT and Netroots people.

It's up to Nobama.

Dave Dubya said...

Like it or not, we have God and Bibles all over our civic landscape. We swear on a Bible in court. Oaths of office are taken on a bible. "In God We Trust" is on the money we carry around.

We tolerate these, and in doing so we avoid the certain backlash and culture war idiocy of the Fundies. Thankfully we have the ACLU working to restrain the further infiltration of religion into our government.

Dusty is right. This is not the battle to stake everything on.

Too many people project their view of liberalism onto Obama. Obama has proven he would take right wing actions with his FISA capitulation.

The reality is the US is an empire and by extension, a right wing autocracy. It is hopelessly naive to think we will magically convert to a liberal democracy by a Democratic Party majority. They are democratic in name only.

Maybe events and conditions will bend the new administration and congress to a reasonable course away from the corporatism we are now mired in.

It will not happen soon and it will not be pretty. It will require nothing short of revolutionary change.

We were told a crock about the terrible "birth pangs of democracy" in Iraq.

What they don't tell us is we have to feel them here as well.

Travelingman Rick said...

Great post...I pretty much agree with just about everything said. We homo's can either cut off our nose to spite our face or realize this is nothing but politics.

Tom Harper said...

I hate Warren as much as anybody, but I don't think it's worth lashing out at Obama over this. He hasn't even taken office yet and he's already catching it from the left and the right. No matter how diverse or centrist he is, or when he has the occasional token wingnut like Warren, the Right still says he's the most leftwing godless socialist president ever.

And the left jumps all over him because of Warren, and some other choices. Me, I'm gonna wait until he takes office before I start condemning him.

Mauigirl said...

DCup, I am with you on hating the holidays. I'm not even putting up a tree this year!!

Fran, I saw him interviewed as well (perhaps the same interview) and found his comments repugnant. It made me feel even more upset that Obama had picked him.

DK, I agree - he will probably say something very placating and not rock the boat. Interestingly, on Rachel Maddow tonight she said that apparently his church has taken down the statement that "unrepentant" gays would not be allowed in the church.

Randal, maybe Obama is hoping by choosing him he will start to earn it after the fact...hard to say.

Enigma, I was surprised when he chose him and I'm still unhappy about it. But James Joiner made me see that this is typical of Obama - he wants people from all sides around him, not yes-men. I wish he had picked a different way to express this at this important occasion but it's not as if he assigned him to a cabinet post...

Thanks Maria, I'm glad my post was thought-provoking. I always think it's important to look at various sides of an issue.

Christopher, yeah, I wonder how Biden felt about it. I'm afraid Obama isn't going to uninvite Warren - it would make it even a bigger deal and give even more publicity to Warren. I think he and we are stuck with Warren giving the prayer. But as I've said, I want Obama to do something concrete and immediate to make up for it. And I hope he understands the damage he has done. Because so far I don't think he does.

Dave Dubya, very true. I think a lot of people expected Obama to be more liberal than he ever said he was.

Travelingman, agree - and I almost used that same expression, cut off our nose to spite our face, in my post. It probably is politics - or, as I'd like to think, taking his policy of inclusion a mile too far.

Tom, I agree. The man hasn't even taken office yet. We have to wait until we see what he actually does. Who speaks at his inauguration is only symbolic, and while symbols are important, actions speak louder than words. Let's see if he keeps his promises, see if he really does support gay rights, and then we can decide how to judge him.

Anonymous said...

I think that this was a misjudgment on Obama's part. I do hate that he's giving that Jesusistan scumbag more national exposure, but Obama will learn soon enough that there will be no reconciliation between him and Warren's Klanservatives. Racism is as much a part of their fabric as gay bashing and hating the poor is.

Mauigirl said...

Jolly, I think he will probably learn that lesson - but I think he knows they'll never agree on certain subjects. What I think Obama believes is that on the common ground he does have with Warren that progress can be made. We will see if his bet is right.

However, I don't know if it's all bad that Warren has gotten more publicity. I was reading somewhere that probably a lot of people didn't really know what he stood for before this. "The Purpose Driven Life" is a popular book and sounds vaguely inoffensive like most self-help books with a spiritual twist to it - and many don't really know anything about him other than he wrote this book.

In fact, I didn't even know who he was until they mentioned the book, which I have not read but have heard of.

One plus that has come out of this - the attention now being paid to Warren's attitudes is now bringing out all of his bigotry and taking away that veneer of moderation that some thought he had. Perhaps Obama chose him for that very reason - hoping that the pressure of the protests would force Warren to rethink his church's narrow-minded attitudes. Apparently it has already gotten them to take their no-repentant-gays message off their website (of course that may just mean they still have the policy but don't advertise it).

I'm not giving Obama that much credit to think he might have thought of this that way but you never know. The man is smart.

Comrade Kevin said...

Thanks much for the mention. If I were feeling better I'd provide a detailed comment.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! I should have read you before I posted my own... Nice job!

Mauigirl said...

Kevin, hope you're feeling better soon.

Giggles, if you had posted before mine I would have included your comments as well! They were spot on.

Anonymous said...

I'm slowly losing my steam for Obama. I know the right thing to do is to wait for him to be inaugurated, but still, some of his choices -- including that homophobe Pastor Warren -- goes beyond the pale. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Mauigirl said...

Thanks Spartacus, Merry Christmas to you too.

I am still hoping Obama will do a lot of good for the country. He won't be perfect and we won't always agree with his choices but I do think he will try to do the right things. Unlike the previous administration who couldn't care less if they did the right things.

Fran said...

All things considered, I think open minded Obama would rethink this choice-- I understand Dusty's perspective, pick your battles- but I also think we as a nation have to take a stand together, and stop making excuses for the government to allow the discrimination. It is easy enough for Obama to find a neutral minister. Why start things off with this salt-in-the-wound act-- even if it is a quick prayer, even if we want to try to make excuses.
I still think we need to view it in the perspective of those who are denied basic civil rights due to sexual orientation.
When you view it that way, it is not acceptable.
If it is just symbolism, then he picked the wrong symbol- and he has time to fix/change it.

Personally, the time for excuses, and rationalizing the continued discrimination needs to end.

Of all the major problems on this administration's plate, this is an easy fix.

Honestly, you'd think Obama has had enough Minister woes that he really would appoint a committee to find a decent minister.


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