Some very thoughtful people argue that Rick Warren is an evangelical moderate, one of the “good guys” trying to broaden the evangelical “social evils” agenda beyond abortion and gay marriage, to include attention to poverty, hunger, AIDS, malaria, etc. Here’s Juan Cole on the topic; here’s Steven Waldman. Melissa Etheridge says he has a big heart. Geoffrey Garin thinks Warren’s willingness to share the stage is a big coup for Obama and the progressive agenda (hat tip to SB&KE):
Rick Warren is the one who is making the bigger statement here. In no uncertain terms, the best known pastor of our time will be telling his followers and fellow evangelicals that there is nothing ungodly about a president who believes that government shouldn’t interfere with a woman’s right to choose and that gays and lesbians deserve the protection of our laws as much as any other American. That’s a moment progressives should celebrate.
Andrew Sullivan sees it as a teachable moment, when gay and lesbian people of faith – in particular – can insist on respectful dialogue:
Gay people contribute disproportionately to the religious and spiritual life of this country and we seek no attack on free religion freely expressed and celebrated. I find the idea of silencing my opponents abhorrent. Many gays voted for McCain. I believe in family, which is why I have tried my whole life to integrate my sexual orientation with my own family and finally two summers ago, to become a full part of it as a married man. I love my church, however much pain it still inflicts on itself and others. And I am not alone in this, as I have discovered these past two decades.
If I cannot pray with Rick Warren, I realize, then I am not worthy of being called a Christian. And if I cannot engage him, then I am not worthy of being called a writer. And if we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is.
The bitterness endures; the hurt doesn’t go away; the pain is real. But that is when we need to engage the most, to overcome our feelings to engage in the larger project, to understand that not all our opponents are driven by hate, even though that may be how their words impact us. To turn away from such dialogue is to fail ourselves, to fail our gay brothers and sisters in red state America, and to miss the possibility of the Obama moment.
I find points of agreement with each of them. But let’s not fool ourselves about Rick Warren: he is not a moderate. Americablog unearthed a piece from Episcopal Cafe that should knock those particular sugarplums from your head. And I wonder if Melissa Etheridge read Warren’s glowing Time magazine column about Nigeria’s obsessively homophobic Anglican Archbishop, Peter Akinola*: “I believe he, like Mandela, is a man of peace and his leadership is a model for Christians around the world. ” (*If you don’t know who Peter Akinola is, this old entry from Thinking Anglicans has some choice and representative tidbits.)
I want to trust Obama’s instincts on this, because his instincts seem to be quite good. But for now, Glenn Greenwald is making more sense to me:
There is a respectful and civil (even if clearly wrong) case to make against gay marriage, or against abortion, or in favor of a hard-line towards Iran. But in each case, Warren opts for the most hateful, not respectful, rhetoric to defend his position. Embracing someone like Warren is no more “inclusive” than inviting a White Supremacist or, for that matter, a Christian-hater to deliver the invocation. People like that espouse views that are shared by many Americans; why not include them, too, or have Pat Robertson deliver a nice prayer? Obama’s “inclusiveness” mantra always seems to head only in one direction — an excuse to scorn progressives and embrace the Right. Not even Bill Clinton’s most extreme Dick-Morris-led “triangulation” tactics involved an attempt to court Jerry Falwell.
Of all the preachers Obama could have selected to elevate and validate (and, in every sense, it was Obama’s choice), Warren is one of the most destructive — not only having been one of the most vocal supporters for Proposition 8, but also using the most inflammatory rhetoric on gay issues generally, expressing anti-abortion views in the most fanatical terms possible, and even sitting with Sean Hannity recently and urging the murder of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (making his prominent inclusion in Obama’s inauguration — as Atrios notes — a rather odd step for a President who claims devotion to a diplomatic resolution with that country).