Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rick Warren Invocation Comment

Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation has made a lot of people angry. Most frustrated are those from a protected universe that cannot imagine the whole country is not as blue as they. They haven't a clue how sincerely a great population of Americans feel about "liberal" social questions in general as well as homosexuality and abortion in particular. I know about these people. I live and move among them and they are not the hate-filled fundies they are being made out to be. When I read the shrill, hurtful criticisms steaming up from the most modern of LGBT spokespersons I ask myself if they have ever been close to any of the ignorant people about whom they complain.

I was relieved this morning to come across the Melissa Etheridge essay at Huffingron Post.

I hadn't heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same 'ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?

Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. ...

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

There's more, but that captures the spirit of her message.
To see evidence of that isolated, protected universe to which I referred scan the comments.

I would have let it pass without comment until I came across this at Coming Anarchy by Younghusband. My memory flashed back to Scott Simon's use of "cunning" in describing Barack Obama as I read...

...I too had a serious WTF!? moment when I saw the announcement.

However, on further thought, I am starting to think that this is another sign of Obama’s pragmatic politics (a.k.a. what some idealists are calling “post-partisan politics”). Rick Warren is no ally of Obama, and a large portion of the American population is backing Obama. I think this is a matter of Team Obama kicking the ball downfield on the first down to wait and see whether Team Evangelist will fumble it. Obama offers Warren the chance to kiss the ring and come on board, and if Warren shoots his mouth on at the wrong time he relegates his team to the bench in the eyes of the American people (how were those last sentences for literary clich├ęs?). If Warren plays along then Obama can continue his post-partisan policy-making without the direct opposition (an tacit support) of the evangelical movement that has so infected American politics.

Pragmatism, Machiavelli-style.

This move by Obama is nothing less than a very shrewd political move.


Addendum, December 27...(Hat Tip Waldo)

Houston Chronicle:
"Rick Warren’s biggest critics: other evangelicals"

On paper, Warren might look like any other religious traditionalist. He is the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, graduate of a Southern Baptist seminary, and his megachurch in Orange County is part of the conservative denomination.

But Warren holds a different worldview than his roots suggest.

He has spoken out against the use of torture to combat terrorism. He has joined the fight against global warming and, encouraged by his wife, has put his prestige and money behind helping people with AIDS. The Warrens have done so at a time when a notable number of conservative Christians still consider the virus a punishment from God.

“If you want to save a life, I don’t care what your background is and I don’t care what your political party is,” Warren said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I think some of these humanitarian issues transcend politics, or ethnic or religious beliefs.”

While many religious conservatives openly condemn Islam as inherently evil, Warren reaches out to the American Muslim community. This past Saturday, he gave the keynote address at the convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, based in Los Angeles.

“His social consciousness is somewhat left of center, but his theological, ethical stance is right of center,” said the Rev. William Leonard, a critic of the Southern Baptist Convention and dean of Wake Forest Divinity School in North Carolina. “That’s the thing that makes him potentially a bridge person.”

More at the link.

I very much want this to be a tempest in a teapot. My hope is that serious Christians of a conservative temperament can be gently but firmly led from the political bondage of partisan arguments to a more ecumenical understanding of the Great Commission. I have watched helplessly for the last two decades as well-meaning pastors and other influential leaders have allowed themselves to be seduced into believing that politics might succeed where the Church seems to be failing.

Caring Christian see all problems through the lens of faith. Unfortunately they are tempted to believe that by rendering unto Caesar they escape the tougher corollary to render unto God what is His. Money is a comfortable substitute for time, energy and personal service.

Rick and Kay Warren, unlike their peers, practice what they call "reverse tithing." Instead of living on ninety percent of their income and giving ten percent to the ministry, they live on ten percent, leaving ninety percent for their ministry budgets.

The Warrens have taken evangelism to a new level.


Anonymous said...

Did you hear Rick Warren's invocation!!? What uninspired drivel. I was digusted and embarrassed for Obama/Biden to go out on a limb and look at what he does on a global platform! This is where you heed the words 'don't throw your pearls before swine'. Warren was given a pearl of an opportunity and snorted like a pig! And why not ask about the idea of a pagan magical act of Invocation!! Look it up..

Hoots said...

Yes, I heard Rick Warren's invocation. I also listened to his sermon last night at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in honor of MLK Day. I guess I've lived too long among old-fashioned Christian Evangelicals so I didn't think either appearance was all that bad. But I'm biased having learned of Rick and Kay Warren through Krista Tippett's radio program.

I would recommend you give it a listen, but from the tenor of your comment your mind is too made up to change. You need deliverance from a vindictive spirit. Rick Warren clearly failed to reach at least one pagan.

Bill in Seattle said...

Hoots - I'm sure Anon is happy to have your judgment laid upon him (needing deliverance from a vindictive spirit crap). Isn't there something in the bible about 'judging lest ye be...??'. oh well, the bible really hasn't mattered much to most so-called christians anyway, except when they can grab a snippet and use it against people they disagree with.

I agree with Anon, the invocation was crap, regardless of what i think about the person delivering it. For those who are interpreting it as being open and inclusive, simply saying god loves everyone doesn't cut it. Religious types have been saying that to us gays for years; it is code for 'we have to say we love you to get into heaven but in our hearts we hate you, or at least that which primarily defines who you are'.

So spare us the sanctimony - Warren is a money-grubbing bigot and his pious holier than thou phoniness just doesn't fly. As for Melissa Etheridge, I think it's sad that she could so easily fall into the "identity" trap. I do agree that that an open, outstretched hand, as obama said, is useful, but I'll pick my battles, and the likes of Warren isn't on my list of causes worth my effort.

bill in seattle

Hoots said...

Bill, if I come across as sanctimonious I'm sorry. Four years of blogging has jaded what little Christian charity I had left after dealing with thousands of the retail public for forty years. Moderating the comments at my most frequently read post also hasn't helped.

If you have taken the time to drill into the links I posted and listened to Krista Tippett's program nothing I write here will change your mind.

Thanks for visiting anyway and taking time to leave a comment. I learned years ago in the food business every negative feedback I receive represents many others I never know about from people who, for whatever reason, never speak up. In this case the failure to reach out is not only Warren's but mine as well.

I'm trying, in Obama's words, to disagree without being disagreeable.