An uproar among those who support gay rights has developed over the selection of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Southern California, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. There is a perception that, in choosing Warren, Obama has made some kind of political or philosophical statement and there are those in both gay rights leadership and its supportive media who are taking it as some kind of slap in the face. Warren is perceived by those who advocate for gay and lesbian rights as being anti-gay, and as such, at least from their point of view, should not be given the opportunity to voice the invocation at the inauguration.
There are some flaws in their reasoning.
First of all, choosing Warren to offer the invocation goes way beyond the single issue mindset represented by the gay rights activists. Warren is an evangelical conservative, pastor of one of the largest evangelical Christian congregations in the United States, and his book The Purpose Driven Life, had mass appeal to a large and diverse group of individuals in Christianity, both in the US and worldwide. As such, he does not fit the stereotype of a conservative, evangelical minister or leader. I would guess that the forum which Warren hosted at Saddleback Valley with both presidential candidates back in the spring accounts for at least part of Obama’s reasoning in inviting him. One of the Obama campaign themes was reaching out to a broader segment of the population, in spite of known political differences, and this gesture is very much an example of that. Rick Warren is a leading evangelical whose preaching and writing goes way beyond the narrow scope of a single issue, and it resonates with millions of people. He represents much, much more than just a simple black and white position on gay rights. Perhaps Obama chose Warren because he represents a position which believes humans can have a personal relationship with God, and that this relationship has the potential and the power to be life transforming.
Gay rights activists justify their criticism of the choice, and their reasoning for excluding Warren and the conservative evangelical perspective from the public arena on the basis that they are both “anti-gay.” Gay rights activists have been among the loudest voices advocating for free speech, and for the legitimate inclusion of their perspective in the marketplace of ideas, yet in this case, they are advocating for the exclusion of an individual based on his view on one particular issue, and they have used that single issue to characterize him as “anti gay.” Somehow, that gives them the right to advocate for his ideas to be excluded, and to declare that he shouldn’t be offering the inaugural invocation. Isn’t that the same thing as discounting someone’s view because they are gay, or because they are of a different race? I think so.
Calling Rick Warren “anti-gay” is a major mischaracterization. I’ve not heard that Warren favors denying rights to anyone because they are gay. What he has done is advocate for the traditional, Biblical view of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and he is opposed to government intrusion to change the definition of an institution that did not originate with it. Not being in favor of gay marriage does not automatically translate into denying civil rights to individuals who are gay, lesbian or transgendered, nor does it make someone “anti-gay.”
Read Warren’s books. Listen to his sermons. If you’ve done that, you can’t characterize Rick Warren as being “anti” anything except anti-sin. And he acknowledges that it is God’s transforming power, through Jesus Christ, that is the only way to overcome sin and be forgiven, and anyone who desires to do that can do it. Given a fair and reasonable hearing, based on what he has preached and written, it would be difficult to characterize Rick Warren this way. The gay rights activists and their media apologists are painting with a broad brush, and this has led to an error in their judgement.
I’d like to think that Obama chose Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration because he is demonstrating a willingness to work with a broad spectrum of Americans, and that his presence on the platform represents that particular view. Rick Warren delivering the invocation at the inauguration is not a slap in the face to anyone.