Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Rick Warren Invocation Imbroglio

Oh my my my my my. This topic is everywhere - EVERYWHERE I tell you -- though I suspect many people have moved on by now. I'm just always late on these things. Been thinking about it, though, and in case this is your only source of news, the "it" to which I refer is that Barack Obama invited Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at the inauguration.

In offering these thoughts, I do so understanding very well that the wounds of the passage of Proposition 8 are very, very fresh and painful, very personal in a way that gives this selection more punch than it might otherwise. But I also, in trying to find out who gave the inaugural invocation in years past, found this tidbit from the Christian Century of 1993:

A group of antiabortion activists has called on Billy Graham not to participate in the inauguration of Bill Clinton as president. Leaders of the group, many of them associated with Operation Rescue and the Christian Action Council--an organization that Graham helped form in 1975--said they would flood the evangelist's Minneapolis headquarters with letters and phone calls demanding that he refuse to pray for Clinton. They also planned a prayer vigil in front of Graham's headquarters.

In a letter to Graham, Mahoney and Bill Devlin, executive director of the Christian Action Council of Philadelphia, said that the evangelist's praying at the inauguration "will be far worse than indifference and compromise; it will be taken as a positive endorsement of Mr. Clinton's anti-Christian agenda."

I note that it wasn't assumed that in selecting Billy Graham, it was assumed that Bill Clinton endorsed Billy Graham's agenda. Now, there were reasons for that: Billy Graham had been involved in the inaugural proceedings for a long time. But I think the sense is the same: just because you pray or are asked to pray at the inauguration doesn't mean you're on the same page in regards to policy.

Peter Gomes, Dean of the Chapel at Harvard, and a gay, African-American Baptist minister, prayed at the inaugurations of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Now, granted, he didn't come out as a gay man until 1991. But I still find it delightful that a gay, black Baptist minister was called upon to be at the inaugurations of two Republican presidents.

I guess one of the questions I am asking myself is, Why are we giving this selection so much power? One of the commenters on one of the blogs I read said, "This is going to be the only thing I remember about this inauguration because I'm going to refuse to watch it." I find that very sad. And again, I can understand why it hurts so much. It must have come as an incredible shock: the very person you thought was on your side, was going to support and help you, has invited someone who hurt you to the feast.

But isn't that what we aspire to do? Eat with tax collectors and sinners? "If you knew who that was, you wouldn't be eating with him," seems a common Biblical refrain. Also that whole pesky "Praying for those who persecute you" thing. I think there's a feeling that if Barack Obama really, really knew what Rick Warren was like, he wouldn't invite Warren to pray for him. One thing I think I know about Barack Obama is that he's not stupid. I think he knows perfectly well what Warren is like and he's invited him anyway.

Another fear I suspect this raises is that maybe we were deceived in Obama's support of gay and lesbian rights. After Prop 8, after the initiatives in Florida and elsewhere, I'm sure gays and lesbians are (alas, rightfully) fearful that even what they have will be taken away. And I suspect that in selecting Rick Warren, people feel they've had the rug pulled out from under them. It must have been such a shock. But I guess I'm OK with the choice because I don't think I was deceived. I could be wrong, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, I think the way to neutralize the selection is not to say, "Don't invite him!" Instead, it's to say, "Great! Invite him and we'll show him the best crazy liberal hospitality we can offer!" Haven't we learned well enough that exclusion and hatred is not the way to win the hearts of people with whom we disagree? I hope we'll be smart enough to break that pattern.

1 comment:

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