Walking a tightrope in a time of high-stakes issues is never easy and it’s too early to tell but safe to say this: with his choice of prominent evangelical minister Rick Warren of California’s Saddleback Church to deliver the invocation at President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, Obama is now walking a mighty shaky tightrope.
THE SIGNAL OBAMA WANTS TO SEND is that Warren, who hosted him and then-rival Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in a major presidential debate, symbolizes Americans who feel frozen out by the Democratic Party in the past and that they’re welcome under the Obama era’s bigger umbrella.
THE SIGNAL THE LEFT AND GAYS ARE GETTING FROM OBAMA is that he has a tin political and, in their view, moral ear, since Warren opposed Proposition 8, the California measure that scuttled gay marriage in the state.
THE QUESTION IN HARD-NOSED POLITICAL TERMS is whether Obama is now going to start his term with some Democratic progressives poised to spring against him on other issues — and whether his new coalition could shape up as being a hard-core centrist (center-left, center-right, center) who might not totally agree with him and with the right and left furious at him and opposing him.
THE QUESTION IN MORAL TERMS will be debated since both sides on the gay marriage issue insist they are correct and the other side is morally blind. To many on both sides, there is no compromise on this issue or enabling the enemy on the other side in any way.
Barack Obama’s choice of a prominent evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that – in the wake of a gay marriage ban in California – is looking for a fight.
Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other evangelicals’ staunch support for economic conservatism. But it’s his support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday.
“Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans,” the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote Obama Wednesday. “[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”
The rapid, angry reaction from a range of gay activists comes as the gay rights movement looks for an opportunity to flex its political muscle. Last summer gay groups complained, but were rebuffed by Obama, when an “ex-gay” singer led Obama’s rallies in South Carolina. And many were shocked last month when voters approved the California ban.
In the view of conservative blogger Glenn Reynold’s there is another issue dealing with elections:
… Obama To Gay Rights Progressives: Drop Dead. You know, as I’ve noted before, the reason not to get too excited about elections is that the guy you like generally turns out to disappoint you, and the guy you don’t like generally turns out not to be as bad as you feared. A lot of Obama voters are encountering the downside of this phenomenon. . . .
The Huffington Post sees a real rift with progressives this time:
Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, the media has been pining to write a story about liberal dissatisfaction with his transition efforts. By and large, the meme has been blown out of proportion, as the press overestimated how divisive Obama’s cabinet choices were for progressives.
The press may now have its conflict moment. And it comes in the form of the spiritual leader chosen to launch Obama’s inauguration.
On Wednesday, the transition team and Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced that Rick Warren, pastor of the powerful Saddleback Church, would give the invocation on January 20th. The selection may not have been incredibly surprising. Obama and Warren are reportedly close — Obama praised the Megachurch leader in his second book “The Audacity of Hope.” Warren, meanwhile, hosted a values forum between Obama and McCain during the general election. Nevertheless, the announcement is being greeted with deep skepticism in progressive religious and political circles.
“My blood pressure is really high right now,” said Rev. Chuck Currie, minister at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon. “Rick Warren does some really good stuff and there are some areas that I have admired his ability to build bridges between evangelicals and mainline religious and political figures… but he is also very established in the religious right and his position on social issues like gay rights, stem cell research and women’s rights are all out of the mainstream and are very much opposed to the progressive agenda that Obama ran on. I think that he is very much the wrong person to put on the stage with the president that day.”
At issue, however, is a different way that Obama looks at the big umbrella: he is wants to let some come under it even if some of those may not yet let everyone come under their umbrella:
Warren does have a rather peculiar relationship with the incoming president. The two share a general ethos that political differences should not serve as impediments to progress. On topics like AIDS and poverty relief, they see eye-to-eye. But Warren’s domestic and social agendas are at odds with Obama’s. And for the gay and lesbian community in particular, the choice is a bitter pill to swallow.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.