Disappointed by Obama’s Rick Warren Pick, But Not Discouraged

The announcement that Pastor Rick Warren has been chosen to give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony landed with a thud in my inbox. Many people who know Warren as the affable megachurch pastor and best-selling author may be confused about the anger and disappointment that his selection has generated among progressive activists who worked so hard to help elect Obama. Here’s my explanation; you can find plenty of other voices online.

Warren enjoys a reputation as a bridge-building moderate based on his informal style and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa. He took grief from some of his Religious Right colleagues when he invited then-Senator Obama to his church for a conference on AIDS a couple of years ago. And, in August he hosted presidential candidates Obama and McCain at his church.

But Warren has never been as far from traditional Religious Right leaders as his carefully cultivated public personality would suggest. In an email sent before the 2004 election he wrote a Falwell-esque email proclaiming that, for Christian voters, the issues of abortion, marriage for same-sex couples, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia were "non-negotiable." In fact, he said, they are "not even debatable because God’s word is clear on these issues."

And while some Religious Right leaders were nervous that Warren would give Obama a platform to talk about poverty and the environment at the August event, Warren thrilled them by eschewing those issues entirely in order to emphasize issues like abortion and marriage that worked to McCain’s advantage with the evangelical audience. After the forum, Warren was dismissive of Democratic Party outreach to evangelicals, and to evangelicals who are aligned with Democrats.

Warren also campaigned for Proposition 8, the initiative that stripped same-sex couples in California of their right under the state constitution to get legally married. But it’s not just his support for Prop. 8 and the dishonest campaign on its behalf that is so galling to equality activists. It’s that Warren has since equated loving same sex couples seeking to get married with incest and pedophilia. And he has repeated one of the Religious Right’s big lies: that somehow allowing marriage equality to stand would have threatened the freedom of preachers like him to say what they thought about homosexuality. That’s not remotely true, but it’s a standard tool of Religious Right leaders trying to resist the public’s increasing support for equality.

In other words, Warren has been divisive and dishonest on the issues of marriage equality and religious freedom. And on other issues important to many Obama supporters, as well. He adamantly opposes a woman’s legal right to abortion and dismisses common-ground efforts to reduce the need for abortion by comparing them to accommodating the Holocaust. He is disrespectful of progressive people of faith, suggesting that they are tools of the Democratic Party or more Marxist than Christian. So much for the values of unity and respect, not to mention the constitutional principle of equality, on which President-elect Obama campaigned.

Why exactly is he being given the high honor of delivering the invocation at one of the most historic ceremonies in American history?

There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good. Rev. Joseph Lowery, who has been selected to give the benediction, is a lifelong advocate for justice. There are others like him, and in our increasingly diverse nation, they aren’t all Christian.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn’t need or deserve a position of honor at the inauguration of a president who has given hope to so many Americans by rejecting the politics of division and emphasizing his commitment to constitutional values.

I am still excited about the tremendous changes in policy that I expect under an Obama administration. But it’s the job of progressive advocates to hold public officials accountable, and to speak up even when our friends drop the ball. This decision, which will leave a bad taste in the mouth of many passionate supporters of Barack Obama, is one of those times.

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  • invalid-0

    As a Democrat who supports gay rights and who hopes Obama will bring some dignity back to the office of President, I am stunned by his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. Picking Rick Warren as his representative clergy is like picking Britney Spears to perform in Carnegie Hall. Rick Warren seems to have that mega-church flash, but is largely a publicity hound. There are thousands of clergy in this country who have fought to heal the social wounds of our society and to bring the people of this country together. Rick Warren is far down the list of such people.

  • invalid-0


    Perhaps now progressive Democrats can now let the scales fall from our eyes and see Obama for who I suspected he was during the entire election process: a swarthy version of Bill Clinton. Self-interested, obsessed with adhering to an imaginary “center”, offending no one, loved by all – at least in his own mind. Some of Obama’s recent picks for cabinet and agency head positions (H. Clinton, Salazar, Vilsack) are horrible choices that can only be based on political payback; there’s just no way any rational head of State would believe that these were the best people for the job, particularly given how deeply into the ground our government has been driven by 8 years of Bushco. Wake up people and start thinking Yes We Can keep Obama from returning us to the post-Reagan, anti-New Deal Democratic party of the ’90s. Enough with the phony “hope” and “change”, and start thinking about real change, real sacrifice, real intelligence and hard work.

  • invalid-0

    Didn’t Obama win the nomination and ultimately the presidency because he brings people together? Because he is “inclusive”? Because he is against the divisiveness of Washington politics? No one was going to bring us together like Obama,… yes we can, right? I am shocked by the article and the few replies who are now whining about Obama actually being a man of character and following through on exactly what he said. This is the kind of man you want as a friend! One who you can disagree with civilly and yet still be friends. He does not do what you want so he is no longer your BFF, eh? How childish! Time to grow up and realize no one will agree with you, and you with them, on every single issue. To compare Obama to Clinton right now is not even close! We should be applauding the New Democrat: integrity, honesty, direct, succinct, and thoughtful– not the skirt-chasing, long-winded, dishonest, circuitous conversation that was the legacy of the previous (non)standard-bearer for the party. The comment in the blog about “Self-interested, obsessed with adhering to an imaginary “center”, offending no one, loved by all – at least in his own mind” strikes me as quite a telling remark about the author, more so than about Obama.

  • invalid-0

    It is quite clear that Kathryn has her opinion on Rick Warren’s invocation selection. I would like to know where she draws her opinions from. It is obvious that Rick Warren bases his moral values and opinions on what the Bible teaches and his faith in Jesus Christ.

    Kathryn, I would like to hear your views on Religion, specifically, what religion you practice. How do you believe that people have the right to kill an innocent baby and marry whomever they wish. Where did you get the all-powerful knowledge of what is right or wrong. Did you make it up, because you think that it is fair in your eyes? Ultimately, the way is see your view is that you believe that you have a better plan for society than an almighty God does. I am truly interested in how you have come to believe in your world view. I have read some of your articles and they all talk about you being a liberal. That is great. Are you an athiest? I would be very interested to know.

  • invalid-0

    President-elect Obama’s choice of the homophobic Rev. Warren to offer the invocation in January is deeply disappointing to me and to every other LGBT person I know. There are so many deserving clergy, true practitioners of social justice, who could have offered the invocation. I am still squarely in President Obama’s camp, and there is much on his plate: Bush & Co. have left him and all Americans with a gigantic mess. We will all have to pull together to mend our broken nation. But I will look to President Obama to walk the walk from here on in. If he is, indeed, a “fierce advocate” for LGBT equality, let him show it.

  • http://godlessliberalhomo.blogspot.com/ invalid-0

    Is it OK to you that Warren has devoted so much time and effort to promoting discrimination and violence against women and queers?