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December 23, 2008
Rick Warren and Obamas
Continued Pastor Problems
the past week has made clear, it might be time for Barack Obama to steer
altogether clear of pastors. For a politician who rode a nearly
mistake-free run all the way to the White House, it seems preachers
regardless of their race, denomination or political hue are his
Kryptonite. Call it a good argument for separation of church and state.
After the Jeremiah Wright fiasco, the president-elect found himself at
the center of another clergy-centric controversy last week, when it
became public that he had invited Pastor Rick Warren the leader of
California's Saddleback Church, author of The Purpose-Driven Life
and one of the nation's leading evangelical pastors to give the
invocation at his inauguration next month.
This decision has led to big-time hand-wringing from some segments of
the left, whether from gay rights and abortion activists upset with
Warren's very hard-right statements on both in the past, to secular
types who object to any religious content in politics, to general
liberals who are wary of any sort of compromise whatsoever with the
traditional right. Others, meanwhile, have asked how Obama can revisit
Warren, when the summertime "Saddleback Forum," moderated by the pastor,
was one the low moments of his campaign.
Had it been up to me, Warren would not have been invited. I certainly
disagree with and find abhorrent many, many things that he has said in
the past, and I especially understand how members of Obama's coalition
might object to the decision, especially so soon after Warren played a
major role in the passing of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in
Despite all this, I'm not convinced this is the biggest deal ever, and
it may even be a shrewd political move on Obama's part.
First of all, it's only a prayer. Warren is not being given an
administration job or a policy role. Had Warren or someone with his
views on abortion or gay rights been named, say, Secretary of Health and
Human Services or White House domestic policy advisor, then I may have
joined the calls of outrage. But all Warren is doing is saying a brief
prayer. The inauguration will be an historic day, and Warren's
appearance will almost certainly not be more than a footnote.
Not to mention, Warren is a very different figure than, say, Pat
Robertson or other evangelical leaders who have engaged in politics in
the past. For one, he's not a pure Republican party hack, tailoring his
message to the electoral needs of the GOP. In addition, Warren's message
has been focused on issues far afield from culture-war political issues,
such as poverty and AIDS in Africa.
Also, as Alan Wolfe eloquently put it in the New Republic last
week, the fact that the nation's leading evangelical Christian pastor is
agreeing to appear at the inauguration of a liberal, pro-choice,
pro-gay-rights, Democratic president is a much, much bigger deal than it
was for Obama to invite him. Indeed, Warren was criticized by some on
his own side earlier this year when Obama appeared at his church.
And besides, does anyone really believe that Obama's invitation of
Warren is his way of telling us that he's ready to ditch social
liberalism altogether? Nothing he's ever said or done has indicated
That Barack Obama knows and has had communication with both Jeremiah
Wright and Rick Warren should not be seen as an indication that he
agrees with those with radical political views, both on the left and the
right. After all, who believes both? Instead, see him as a president
willing to listen to wildly divergent views, and make up his mind based
on a myriad of different influences. After eight years of often
dead-wrong certainty in the White House, isn't that what America needs?
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