Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Obama and Rick Warren: Annoyed and Comfortable

Yesterday, news emerged that Obama tapped conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration. Social progressives, the LGBT community, and the Left are livid. Of importance to the discussion at-large, Obama and Warren have chasmic differences in their understandings of gay rights.

I am of two minds on this.

Emphatically speaking, I find Warren noxious and odious on many theological fronts. At the very least, his belief that homosexuality is analogous to pedophila, incest, and polygamy is shameful. He sadly misconstrues the life and ministry of Jesus, a ministry that was inclusive, inviting, loving, and embracing. To pick Warren to give the invocation provides unfortunate symbolic consequences, especially after the disappointing loss on Proposition 8. The prayer-giver is front and center to the entire nation and world, and, on this stage, to have a person who preaches exclusion and division is problematic. On this day, Warren's dehumanizing beliefs have a platform and a position of honor. The fact that disagreement over gay-rights is still vitriolic highlights that the pick was mishandled in and of itself. I empathize with the anger.

On the other hand, let's focus on the notion of inclusivity. In my mind, inclusion is a constitutional characteristic of progressivism, and inclusion was an important principle within the Obama campaign. Notably, Obama field organizers had a mantra: "Respect. Empower. Include." To cross-mix the ideas here, inclusion does not preclude respectful disagreement. That is self-evident to me. I thought of this as I watched Obama's press conference today. Obama:
... It is important for Americans to come together even if we have disagreements on social issues. ... We are not going to agree on every 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. ... Part of the magic of this country is we are diverse, noisy, and opinionated. ... [my transcription]
Sure, it is trasparent that Obama extended an olive branch to moderate and conservative evangelicals, perhaps even as a cheap policitical ploy. In terms of gay rights, America is bitterly divided. Remember, however, Obama is the President of the entire country, not just 52-53% of the electorate. Remember also, progress happens in dialogue. Obama in effect stated, "Sure, I ardently disagree with you, but, as a fellow American, I respect and value you and your opinion. Welcome." Respect. Empower. Include.

Interestingly, we applaud Obama for creating a bipartisan cabinet, one that both values the discussion of ideas and abhors group-think. We think it great that cabinet Democrats and cabinet Republicans can put solutions over partisanship. We applaud Obama for his willingness to dialogue with countries and regimes that hold anti-American sentiments. Dialogue is disarming, and high-level diplomacy can depress counter-productive and dangerous behavior. Yet, dialogue and inclusivity die when they cross certain Democratic ideals?

Which is more important to us: Being the inclusive, big tent party? Or being issue driven? The Rick Warren pick underscores the tension between the two. I would argue that inclusivity should, in many cases, trump issues, but there is a threshold in which, if crossed, a principled stand is necessary and non-negotiable. As my friend, Doug Williams mused, "How would we feel if David Duke were picked?" To his point, universal rebuke would naturally ensue. But, is this one of those threshold-crossing events? Yes. No. Perhaps. Throughout the course of the day, I have come down on either side of the question.

I guess, I am both annoyed and comfortable with the pick - annoyed because of the newfound prominence of dehumanizing beliefs on a historic day; comfortable because of the underlying notion of inclusivity.


Doug said...

Saheed, Telisha and I have been sitting in my living room hashing this out for hours. We keep going around in circles, convincing each other that including Rick Warren is a good thing, then back around the circle with the David Duke argument again. At any given time, two of us are on one side and one of us on the other. Then it flops again. I think we're 51% that it's OK at this point. We DO need to get away from litmus tests and single issue and identity politics. We do need to find common ground where we can and work on those issues. But what if David Duke was a huge supporter of universal health care and rebuilding our economy through 'green collar' jobs? By the way, there's a great post on Blue Commonwealth by Doug in Mount Vernon.

Darren Staley said...

I can see both sides of this argument, but every time I have second-guessed Obama over the past year, I have been proven wrong.

If this means that Rick Warren may be preaching tolerance for gays in the next year or so, that's a huge victory.

While I think the David Duke analogy is a non sequitur, wouldn't it be a good thing if Duke spoke and then recanted his previous ideology?

The rise of the religious right came from the fear that their voice was not being heard and were therefore marginalized somehow.

As an agnostic (at best)I am for less religion in the public sphere. But I also respect those who disagree and opening a dialogue is much better than constant bickering.

Know Hope!

Drew said...

Yeah, I am with you on the giving the benefit of the doubt to Obama - the equivalent of not second-guessing him.

And, he did open up this press conference with a loud support for the LGBT community, something no President has offered before, or at least to this level.