Furor Over Rick Warren


The choice of celebrity evangelist Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration is rather swift among gay activists: Drop him from the program.

The Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese writes to Obama, “Let me get right to the point.  Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.   Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years.  And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table.

“Rick Warren has not sat on the sidelines in the fight for basic equality and fairness.  In fact, Rev. Warren spoke out vocally in support of Prop 8 in California saying, “there is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population … This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about.”  Furthermore, he continues to misrepresent marriage equality as silencing his religious views. This was a lie during the battle over Proposition 8, and it’s a lie today.”

The word I hear is the selection of Warren was made by Obama himself and was a surprise to many of is inaugural organizers and those on the inaugural committee.

Official comment: Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for Obama’s inaugural committee, said, “Our goal is to present the most open and most accessible inauguration in history, and that means all people and all points of view.”

She said that Obama has long said it was “important to seek common ground on areas where you disagree.”

She added that while Obama and Warren have found common ground on issues like poverty and HIV and AIDS, the president-elect disagrees with Warren on a number of issues “that affect the LGBT community.”

She also pointed out that the Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., will deliver a benediction and has a long history of supporting civil rights for gays and lesbians.

While Warren follows in the footsteps of Billy Graham, and certainly carries a smile and demeanor in contrast to the fire and brimstone of many televangelists, his positions on many social issues fall in line with the pastor class of old. I doubt that there would be much opposition if the pastor who delivered the invocation were a Catholic priest, also supportive of Prop 8 but much less visible about it.

What has irked many gay activists is not just that Warren so publicly opposed Proposition 8, but in the way he has characterized his views, including the argument that he was voting to uphold his right to free speech and that the redefinition of marriage is akin to allowing incest and child abuse. He also cites the fact that Al Rantel, the openly gay radio talk host, also supported Prop 8, as if Rantel was representative of the gay community.

For the record, Warren does not call his opposition to same-sex marriage homophobia. In his interview with Beliefnet, Warren says, “Most people know I have many gay friends. I’ve eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church. Kay and I have given millions of dollars out of Purpose Driven Life helping people who got AIDS through gay relationships. So they can’t accuse me of homophobia. I just don’t believe in the redefinition of marriage.”

People for the American Way called the choice of Warren “a grave disappointment,” and noted that Warren himself has said that “the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance.” Andrew Sullivan writes, “Shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now. He won’t be as bad as the Clintons (who, among leading Democrats, could?), but pandering to Christianists at his inauguration is a depressing omen. More evidence that a civil rights movement needs to realize that no politician can deliver for us what we have to deliver on our own.”

Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign called the choice “a huge mistake.”

“Can you imagine if he had a man of God doing the invocation who had deliberately said that Jews are not going to be saved and therefore should be excluded from what’s going on in America? People would be up in arms,” Jacobs told Politico.

The controversy is similar to one last year, when Obama selected singer Donnie McClurkin to go on a tour of ministers throughout South Carolina in support of his campaign there. McClurkin had come under fire for making what some groups called anti-gay comments.

The full letter from Solmonese is below:

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