Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pastor Warren’s Obsession

I pretty much said all that I wanted to say last week about the invitation by Barack Obama to Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration next month. Yet the controversy continues, and as I noted in the Short Takes this morning, more and more voices are being added to the pros and the cons… and some in the middle. And as I noted before, Mr. Warren is catching a lot of flack from his right flank who think he’s a traitor to their cause for accepting the invitation in the first place. In their mind, no “true Christian” would lend credence to the inauguration of a president who plans to kill babies and bless the marriage of sodomites. Of course, their definition of what a true Christian is is a study in irony and hypocrisy.

What I think is the most telling element of this discussion is how many people in the gay and lesbian community were seemingly caught off guard by this invitation. I can’t blame them for their feelings of betrayal and outrage — after all, it’s not my place to judge someone else’s feelings — but I am surprised that they didn’t see it coming. After all, President-elect Obama made it quite clear in the debates that he was willing to sit down with leaders of other countries who disagreed with us, such as Iran, Cuba, and North Korea. He got a pretty strong beat-down by the GOP and his primary opponents for it, calling him naive and gullible, but a lot of progressives, including those of us in the gay community, applauded him for being willing to take the leap. (The sticking point in meeting with Castro or Kim Jong Il was whether or not there would be preconditions. You can bet there are some preconditions set out with Mr. Warren.) Why then should it be unexpected that he would ask someone like Pastor Warren to be a part of the inauguration, and why is it suddenly unacceptable that Mr. Obama should do it?

Let me hasten to say that I’m not comparing Pastor Warren to Fidel or Raul Castro. But in terms of opening his administration and his surroundings, Mr. Obama has indicated that he has the self-confidence in his own leadership and his intentions that allowing room on the dais for Mr. Warren doesn’t mean that he’s going to give in to him on any of his demands — and I don’t see anywhere where there is a quid pro quo for his appearance — or suddenly embrace his evangelical mythology about gay people and their civil rights.

If we are going to make progress in our quest for equality, it can’t be done solely in the courtroom, the voting booth, or chanting in the streets of San Francisco. It’s going to require education on both sides and an appreciation — if not acceptance — that there are strong opinions on both sides. But if we see them only as intractable and they return the favor, we’re not going to get anywhere. By the way, has anyone taken into consideration the fact that Mr. Warren might — just might — change his opinions thanks to this experience?

I’m not telling anyone to “get over it” or “let it go.” Each of us must deal with it in our own way. But obsessing about the invocation at the inauguration and the man who delivers it makes it so granular that we run the risk of losing perspective and an understanding that there will always be obstacles on the road to equality. But that is what makes the journey worth the effort.