Thursday, December 18, 2008

My first disappointment with Barack Obama

It had to happen. Every new president has to move toward a consensus. But I'm troubled by Barack Obama's decision to have Rick Warren give the invocation at his inauguration. Yes, it's purely symbolic. But symbolism is important in a presidency, and Warren symbolizes intolerance. Most recently he was active in supporting California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in that state. But personally, his his efforts to bring about a schism in the Episcopal Church--my church--trouble me even more. He's been working to break up my church for at least three years. In November, 2005, he spoke at a Pittsburgh meeting of Episcopal Church dissidents opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a committed relationship, as Bishop of New Hampshire. An excerpt from a November 11, 2005 New York Times article:

The Episcopalians and Anglicans were joined by well-known American evangelical Christians, most notably the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life." Mr. Warren gave encouragement to conservative church dissidents who are trying to break with the Episcopal Church but who have often been stymied by disputes with their dioceses over ownership of church property.

"What's more important is your faith, not your facilities," he told the crowd at the Convention Center here. "The church is people, not the steeple. They might get the building, but you get the blessing."

Warren, whose megachurch is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, is self-serving at best when he works to break up another church. He is a divider, not a uniter. There are conservatives who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians, but are committed to the staying in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Edward Stuart Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana is a good example.

For Obama to un-invite Warren would cause even more problems for the president-elect. If Warren has any decency, he'll politely decline the invitation and allow Obama to choose someone who will bring the country together.


Lisa said...

I, too found this news disappointing. The only thing I can think of that might explain why Obama would choose such a figure is that in this progressive administration, perhaps it is, in a strange way, a means to show inclusiveness for those Americans who didn't vote for Obama and who believe as Warren does. As much as I disagree with them, it's their America too and they do have the right to their opinions and voice.

I wish he would have chosen someone else and my speculation is only that. I don't believe anything this President-elect does is done without considered reason -- whatever it may be.

Lionel Deimel said...

I would like to have seen Katharine Jefferts Schori chosen for the invocation, but that may not have been a smart choice from a political point of view. I believe Obama’s choice was an instance of reaching out. Of course, Warren is more sympathetic to the poor and the sick and the environment than many high-profile Evangelicals of the recent past.

I heard Warren at the Network meeting you cite. (I attended on behalf of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.) He was encouraging fellow Evangelicals to act on their beliefs, not to steal Episcopal Church property.

Shauna Roberts said...

That's disappointing. We need all the help we can get in California overturning Prop 8, not a seeming presidential endorsement of antigay views..

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know much about Warren, but what I've heard of his views make me suspicious of him. I'm sure it was a case of "reaching across the aisle," but I do think a better choice could have been made.

Lisa said...

OK, I take my earlier comment back. I read up on Warren and I don't have any idea why Obama would choose him.

Anonymous said...

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

steve said...

I've been away from the Web due to the ice storm last night and this morning. Thank you all for your comments.

Lisa--I think you're right in your first comment. And, as Lionel mentions in his comment, Warren is concerned for the poor and sick (he's done quite a bit for AIDS victims) than most evangelicals. But his intolerance of homosexuality makes him a bad choice.

Lionel--My own problem with Katharine Jefferts Schori is that she comes off as aloof--maybe too much of an intellectual to be the kind of charismatic leader that Warren seems to be.

I read the coverage of Warren's statement at the Pittsburgh meeting as actively encouraging a schism in the Episcopal Church, rather than working within the church as Bishop Little has advocated. The late William F. Buckley, a Roman Catholic, became very much involved in the Prayer Book revision controversy on the 1970s. But so far as I know, he didn't urge Episcopalians to split from the church because of the 1979 Book. For someone to give his support to a schismatic movement in a church not his own seems to me wrong.

Shauna--Yes. Warren's done many good and decent things, but his inflammatory statements about gays and lesbians send the wrong signal.

Charles--I'm sure he could have. I suspect he could have found someone in his own denomination, the United Church of Christ, who could have been much more of a uniter.

Gerry--I grew up reading Bierce and Mencken, but I'm still hopeful about Barack Obama.

Usman said...

I am definitely not the right person to comment on Obama's choices. But, if what Lisa says is correct; for me that is a mistake. Being 'TOO' inclusive is also dangerous, especially if it turns to appeasement.
I am commenting because I have seen the appeasement of the right and religious groups in Pakistan, over the past few decades. And look, where we are today. From being a tolerant, reasonable lot, Pakistanis have become intolerant.

Accepted that other forces have been play, but I have always reckoned that 70's was the decade when the rulers of Pakistan with US support started the process of making the right wing happy. And it never ended, and nothing was enough to make them happy.

steve said...

Usman--I don't think the invitation to Warren is as bad as our support of the right wing in Pakistan. Of course, the American government was blinded by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and was willing to support right-wing dictators in order to support the resistance to the invasion.
Of course, we abandoned Afghanistan once the Soviets had been driven out, which prompted a civil war and eventual Taliban victory. I don't know whether the U.S. had anything to do with Zia-al-Haq's rise to the presidency, but we certainly supported him after 1979.

"From being a tolerant, reasonable lot, Pakistanis have become intolerant."

I'm sorry to hear this from a Pakistani, as sometimes the American news coverage focuses only on the negative.

I'm still hopeful for the next few years.

Elizabeth said...

I agree, Steve, and find this bit of news depressing. I find the whole mega-church phenomenon downright repulsive, anyway, and wonder why, why, why?

I also wonder why do we have to have an invocation anyway? I hate pomp and circumstance, all that heavy symbolism thing.

I wasn't one of the people all excited about going to the inaugaration and will probably watch a bit of it, but I'm more interested in what happens afterward, frankly.

As for Prop 8, I think it's only a matter of time before it's "overturned." Progress means forward and I'm certain that we'll move forward eventually.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't mean what I said literally ("meet the new boss same as the old boss"). What I meant to say was that those of us who voted out the horrible GOP have every right to hold the new gang's feet to the fire. We didn't force that "change" mantra on them, but we bought into it. So do something that represents change already. Okay?

steve said...

Elizabeth--The invocation seems to be bordering on "an establishment of religion" as defined in the First Amendment. It's probably more of the kind of quasi-establishment such as having "In God We Trust" as our national motto. But I agree that we could do without it. If he hadn't been accused of being a Muslim, it might have been interesting if he had chosen a peace-loving Sufi imam to give the invocation.

I agree with you about the mega-churches. They're so dependent on the minister. I've complained that Episcopal churches need more enthusiasm, but the cult of personality of the mega-churches goes far beyond enthusiasm.

I hope you're right about Prop 8.

Gerry-I see your point.

Steve said...

(A different Steve) I expect that Obama will not always make well-considered decisions, but I suspect this one still is.

First, while, yes, everything is symbolic, this one doesn't cost anything in terms of policy. It's strictly symbolic.

Second, he's the President of everyone, not just the left. So he's not ignoring them like Bush ignored us.

Third, the rabid far right is waiting for him to take some actions that will rile their anti-abortion troops into action.

To distinguish between the more and less reasonable among them isn't a bad strategy. To reward small steps in the 'right' direction is classic operant conditioning.

Fourth, people aren't 'either/or' good or bad. Everyone's complex. To write them off is a huge mistake. Those on the religious right who support environmental efforts and working with the poor are approachable. If we can work together on these issues, maybe we can build enough trust to talk seriously about the other issues.

Steve, whenever I follow your link from Ropi's blog or Stress Management, I'm reminded I should stop here more often. Going to bookmark you this time.

steve said...

Steve--I still think it was a bad choice. I admit Warren has done some fine work for the poor, the environment, and for AIDS victims. While Warren's efforts to break up my denomination isn't well-known, his crusade against Proposition 8 is. And that makes the choice unfortunate. Still, it's not a major policy statement. What bothers me even more is that his economic stimulus package seems to be almost overwhelmingly devoted to highway projects, with rail and transit projects almost forgotten.

Thank you for your kind words, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Back again on this.

I just wanted to chime in a bit on the idea of religious activities at official functions. I don't like it, and don't even understand it unless it is just the "churchy" folk constantly working to make their point of view a taken-for-granted part of just about everything.

As for the mega-churches, I guess it is just another form of entertainment, like NASCAR.

steve said...

Gerry--The comparison of the mega-churches with NASCAR is good. I think it would be a good idea to skip the invocation, even though it probably falls short of establishment of religion. It's close enough.

Lilith des les Caves said...

Hi Steve,
Of course I write this from the other side of the inauguration than you wrote it, but here are my thoughts.

First, in every major speech Obama has given, he speaks of gay and straight communing as one America. His choice of Warren was a signal to... Hell, they aren't conservatives, but radicals who follow Warren and his ilk.

This was a signal to Warren's radical following of where Obama stands. He respects the source of Warren's power... aka Christ and the Gospel... and he is showing Warren and his followers how to behave accordingly.

When Warren offered his prayer, it was not offensive to anyway, as far as I could tell. He used Obama's unity theme and ran with it. Of course, now, that moment has past and partisan rhetoric has re-emerged on Capital Hill. What Obama does with this stimulus bill will tell the tale of 2010 and Limbaugh's future, IMO.

Obama has my full and unquestioning support at the moment. I may not agree with every choice he makes, but I respect his method of making it. He appears even handed and above the fray... he reminds me of King Hussein of Jordan in his final days. I am sure his fatal flaw will rear its ugly head eventually, but I have yet to see an inkling of what it might be.

Congress, OTOH, cannot be trusted, IMO. Sigh.