Skip to main content

Rick Warren and Barack Obama's Inauguration

Like many in the blogosphere, I've been mulling over President-elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration in January. I've read lots of posts about it, with a wide range of views, with the main point of contention being Warren's views on gay and lesbian relationships. Some don't disagree with Warren's views and have no problem with him speaking. Some don't agree with his positions, but don't mind him praying at the inauguration. Some don't like him, and don't want him participating. And so on and so forth.

My first reaction was to think that Obama's choice wasn't really a big deal. Where was all this controversy when Obama and McCain were hosted by Warren during the campaign season? Yes, I know that's not the inauguration, but I don't remember everyone being up in arms. Obama and McCain both clearly established some sort of relationship with Warren then, so it doesn't seem surprising for him to choose Warren now.

But more than that, I have a hard time saying that we can't allow someone to pray and lead in worship with whom we disagree theologically, even deeply. I have colleagues with whom I disagree sharply and frequently on most everything about faith matters. But we have core common ground that binds us together and would never allow me to reject them having a role in worship. They're the same principles that undergird my ability to participate in interfaith worship services. Obviously, in an interfaith service, we have folks with different, even conflicting beliefs. But we can worship together because of some common understandings, shared goals, etc. If Rick Warren will pray at Obama's inauguration, I can assume that at least to some extent, he shares a vision with President-elect Obama, even though they disagree on some issues. I think Obama has been fairly clear (in a politician-y sort of way) about his own views on rights for gays and lesbians. So I can be comfortable that it's his leadership that I'm concerned with, not Rick Warren's. Warren praying at inauguration doesn't make him my pastor.

And then on the other hand, as I've been reflecting, I wonder: I consider not allowing gay and lesbian persons to marry, or restrictions on adoption, or restrictions in the church on ordination, etc., to be oppressive human rights violations. Injustices. Inequalities that are wrong. What if Obama had chosen someone to pray at his inauguration who supported other violations of human rights? I find it harder to answer these questions. If John McCain had been elected, and chosen a pastor to pray who had racist views, would that be ok? Many people shy away from a comparison between racism and heterosexism, but I don't think the analogy is inaccurate. And so I'm just not sure, not sure what 'slot' to put my disagreement with Rick Warren in.

We have relationships all the time with people who hold views that we believe are really, truly, and deeply wrong, right? For example, I've been a vegetarian for 11 years now, and I really believe that (given my cultural context,) eating meat is wrong. Not just a bad choice, but wrong. I feel strongly about it. But what if I didn't interact with, or listen to, or learn from anyone who was a meat-eater? My social circle would suddenly grow much smaller (and I'd have to disown my one black-sheep meat-eating brother.)

So, I'm to the end of my post, with no real answers for myself. I don't know what to think about Rick Warren and the inauguration. But at this point, I believe it is going to happen, and so I guess that my hope will be that the backlash against his speaking will cause Warren to do some serious reflection and some careful listening.

What do you think?


Anonymous said…
I don't get it. Obama himself is not in favor of gay marriage, and he's the most liberal person ever elected to the office. Biden also does not support gay marriage. The hatred from the left directed at this preacher is misplaced. And, no, any attempt to draw a "distinction" here would be disingenuous -- but that's become a hallmark of the left.
Anonymous said…
Beth I think when you speak of coming together and working in and interfaith setting you hit on something very important.

there is no way that we will always agree with everyone we come together and worship with. the question becomes are the things we differ on game breaking. Or can we try and find the common ground and not focus on those things that are different.

We can never get to the place where we can DISCUSS our differences of we allow them to keep us from worshiping together, at least that is what I think...I think.
Michael said…
Folks please, please remember what Rick Warren has said about homosexuality - its akin to pedophilia and anything else that is vile and sick.

Its not just his opposition to gay equality that is an issue its his demonization of gays and lesbians at pretty much every opportunity.

Why should I be happy when a politician I worked for and gave money to provides a platform for an out and out homophobe to speak to the Nation? Why should I as a gay man be the only minority targeted during the Inauguration? If Obama wants diversity of opinion in his tent why not invite a racists or an anti-semite to speak to round out the homophobe he has already asked?

The idea of getting all the parties to the "table" to talk is fine but lets bring all the "haters" in - not just the ones that hate gays and lesbians.

Right now Obama has dis-invited the LesBiGay community from the Inauguration. With Warren speaking there is no reason for "us" to be listening - there's enough hate in the world already without being subjected to more. If Obama really respected us he would have never invited the the monster Rick Warren to the Inauguration.
Anonymous said…
It is not likely that Rick Warren will have any policy role in this administration whether you think that is a good thing or not. I sincerely doubt that Warren will "use" his two minutes to tell President Obama what he should do about any LGBT issue. A lot of this seems to be impotent rage about Prop 8 instead of anything rational. This fracas is "political correctness," the "thought police" and idle hands gone wild.

Obama said that he wanted to work to bring people together. He acknowledged that Warren and he don't agree. He even said that during the campaign while he was at Saddleback--not many politicians would do that, even fewer would do that and win.

Obama is being sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts who disagrees with Obama on virtually every issue and will have an impact on that agenda. But, Obama is being sworn in by Roberts because of Roberts' position in the law and in spite of Roberts' positions on public policy. Rick Warren is the successor to Billy Graham as America's "preacher-in-chief." Obama is having Warren give the invocation at the Inaugural because of Warren's position in the Christian community and in spite of his public policy views.
Anonymous said…
It comes all down to this I think. If you do not respect human rights, and you think you have the right to make differences and set up standards so that human beings have different human rights, you don't deserve any of my respect. If you think that having that position is one you can disagree with but treat with respect like Obama, you have lost my respect. You are worse than the person who differentiates human beings. You are not a Mensch. Would he so easily brush of his respect for others and tell them they have to agree? No, he wouldn't. Besides, that the GLBT community is by far not the only group of people that Warren would like to see have slightly different rights. Everyone with a vagina for example shouldn't be all so inclusive about this either. Everyone pretty much. I don't want to be inclusive towards people who put my rights and my worth and my life up for discussions. I'm not a lamb that is going to the slaughter so Obama has chances at the next election. The whole word has put up with the Evangelical Right Wing Fundamentalists for a long time now, and now, when he could have made it a point to invite moderate Christianity to the table he shuns them for the ones who work hard to destroy the world? Please. Yes, respect a person who just has given Bush a "peace medal", because so many dead Iraqui children and so many young people who have been abused by a system that forced them to give their life for the rich think the same way.

I'm European, and we don't see the Evangelical Right Fundamentalists as worthy of any inclusion. We seem them as dangerous. If you are studying to become a minister here, you dismiss them completely, because that is what they are Fundamentalists. They are not respected in the least. But the Americans...well, they see Fundamentalism a little different. They would have almost elected Palin. So.

Besides, I have spent time talking with Warren's followers. It felt like the children of the corn. Believe me, these people believe your human rights don't count, and they are convinced of this with a holy purity.
Anonymous said…
But wait, there's more:

"Black community invites Rick Warren to give keynote at annual MLK service"
Michael said…
Anonymous said...

But wait, there's more:

"Black community invites Rick Warren to give keynote at annual MLK service"

Yes, but he doesn't hate them -

No one has said he is a racist just a homophobe.
Michael said…

Please consider signing the petition at Turn Back Hate.

Anonymous said…
Rick Warren says...civil unions are okay by him. Not same sex marriage....The internet goes crazy....
Our President Elect says the same thing long before he is the president elect...and he becomes the president elect?

And it also seems like with most people in the world Rick Warren is changing and evolving....isn't that what we want from leaders.
Anonymous said…

A fundamentalist believes the following:

(1) the Bible is the world of God
(2) Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin.
(3) The belief that Jesus death was the attonement of sin for fallen man.
(4) The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
(5) That Jesus shall come to earth again.

The last time I checked, these five beliefs are held by the Roman Catholic Church, almost all major Protestant Churches (Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, etc.), as well as the Greek and Russion Orthodox churches.

Which of the above do you take issue with?

You said yourself that you see no right to persons who believe the above as worthy of any inclusion...

By your own words, you are no better than a bedsheet wearing Klansman. And yes, I've seen them up close and personal in my hometown.


I am a died in the wool, meat eating Republican. But I voted for Sen. Obama. I think reading Blog's like your's and your brother's probably had a lot to do with that. I am happy with the Obama's cabinet picks as well. I think he has done a good job to reach out to both his own base and folks such as myself.

My political views are probably just as conservative as Pastor Warren's. Would you feel better if President Elect Obama had chosen me to lead the invocation prayer?

Seriously. It is just a silly prayer. It is not policy. I don't even consider it a real prayer when I think about what the Lord said about public prayer.
Unknown said…
Thank you Beth, for your insightful post and for trying to get conversation flowing with folks. I am intrigued by the varied responses and I think this is exactly the kind of conversations that Obama ideologically and practically supports. Agree or disagree, the conversation is where the transformation between the us and within us take place.

Obama is not perfect. He himself said that. Warren is not perfect. None of us are. I am amazed by the amount of public and political slander and uproar that the media fuels. But hear me clearly, I'm not saying that GLBT rights aren't as important as any other human rights. Those who support or condone any human right has the right to do so. But I do feel that the position of president(-elect) gets unwarranted scrutiny regardless of the action or decision, simply by being the president(-elect).

I wonder if we will next be criticizing his choice of toothbrush.

And because of thing beyond my control, I must add: these are my own personal views and are not representative of any thing but that.

Julie O'Neal
Anonymous said…
During the campaign, Obama said he would talk with (gasp, "talk with") leaders of countries like Iran, Cuba, etc. Some of the people on the right went crazy... how dare he engage in communication and dialogue with people with very bad views? With people on the "other side?"

We liberals said, "cut it out, we never get anywhere in this world without at least talking, without at least trying to bridge that divide." And so on.

Then he was elected.

He decided to invite someone from the "other side" of the internal political divide to come and give a prayer at the inauguration.

And some people on the left are going crazy... how dare he cultivate a relationship with people with unacceptable views, people on the other side?

I'm not a big fan of Rick Warren. I don't like his views on a few very important things. But it seems that this is exactly the sort of thing that made me want to vote for Obama... the notion that maybe we'd get past trying to cut each other down at every step, the notion that it would stop being about who could flex the biggest muscle and beat the other side into submission for 2 or 4 or 6 years or however long it took for the pendulum to swing and seats to change.

Do we believe for a second that Obama is going to subscribe to Warren's philosophies? That he is going to drastically change position? Or are we just disappointed that he's a little less radical than some of us hoped (in spite of the fact that we kept saying, "no, he's not a radical, no he's not a radical")?

Some have compared inviting Warren to inviting a racist to speak. If there is a real comparison here, I think that we have to say that inviting Warren (with his anti-homosexual views) to speak is like inviting a racist to speak... 50 years ago. 50 years ago, when there was a divide, when we couldn't say that the majority were all on the same page philosophically, when baby steps were appropriate, when the whole thing could have fallen apart if pulled too hard in the wrong direction.

Popular posts from this blog

re-post: devotional life for progressive Christians

I posted this a while back before anyone was really reading this blog. Now that more people seem to be stopping by, I thought I'd put it out there again with some edits/additons since it's been on my mind again... Do you find it difficult to have any sort of devotional time? When I was growing up, I was almost compulsive about my personal Bible Study, devotion time, etc. Somewhere along the way, I got more and more sporadic. In part, I found myself frustrated with the devotional books that I considered theologically too conservative. I find it hard to bond with God when you're busy mentally disagreeing with the author of whatever resource you're reading. My habit was broken, and I've never gotten it back for more than a few weeks at a time. So, a disciplined devotional/prayer/bible-reading life - is it something I should be striving to get back, or something that is filled by other ways I am close to God? This is a debate I have with myself all the time. On the

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, "Hope: A Thrill of Hope," Mark 1:1-8

Sermon 11/26/17 Mark 1:1-8 Hope: A Thrill of Hope             Are you a pessimist or an optimist? Is the glass of life half empty, or half full? My mom and I have gone back and forth about this a bit over the years. She’s wildly optimistic about most things, and sometimes I would say her optimism, her hopefulness borders on the irrational. If the weather forecast says there’s a 70% chance of a snowstorm coming, my mom will focus very seriously on that 30% chance that it is going to be a nice day after all. I, meanwhile, will begin adjusting my travel plans and making a backup plan for the day. My mom says I’m a pessimist, but I would argue that I’m simply a realist , trying to prepare for the thing that is most likely to happen, whether I like that thing or not. My mom, however, says she doesn’t want to be disappointed twice, both by thinking something bad is going to happen, and then by having the bad thing actually happen. She’d rather be hopeful, and enjoy her state of

Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent, "Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright," Isaiah 11:1-10, Mark 13:24-37

Sermon 12/3/17 Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 11:1-10 Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright             “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon’ virgin mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”             This week, I read news stories about North Korea testing a missile that perhaps could reach across the whole of the United States.             This week, I spoke with a colleague in ministry who had, like all churches in our conference, received from our church insurance company information about how to respond in an active shooter situation. She was trying to figure out how to respond to anxious parishioners and yet not get caught up in spending all of their ministry time on creating safety plans.             This week, we’ve continued to hear stories from people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, as the actions, sometimes over decades, of men in positions of power have been