Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief

(Mr. Hendrix-All Along The Watchtower)

Many liberal bloggers have gone "WTF?" over the selection of Rick Warren to pray at the Obama inauguration ceremony:
Dr. Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” will deliver the invocation.

It's not all bad news, however:
Aretha Franklin and Dr. Rick Warren, an evangelical minister of the Saddleback Church, are among the select group of people who will participate in Barack Obama’s inaugural swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20.

Mr. Obama has also chosen Elizabeth Alexander, an African-American poet at Yale University, and some of the world’s premier musicians, including Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma, to share the podium with him.

In honoring the civil rights movement, Mr. Obama has asked the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, dean of the civil rights movement and co-founder with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to deliver the benediction.

That's a fairly diverse group. The musicians are African-American, Israeli-born American, and Chinese-American. And contra Warren, Dr. Lowery understands something about discrimination.

Pastor Dan at Street Prophets wrote a well-considered critique of the Warren invitation. Please read the whole thing, not just the few words I copied and pasted here:
My tingling pastor-sense tells me that he selected Warren because he likes him and feels comfortable with him on a personal level. That's not as much of a stretch as it might seem; Jeremiah Wright and Trinity UCC are both much more evangelical than the rest of the UCC. Warren probably resonates with Obama in ways that somebody like myself never could.

. . . Nobody likes Warren. The Religious Right think he's a flake because he's too liberal, and everybody else thinks he's a flake because he's a shallow idiot. From where I'm sitting, as the victim of an extremely expensive and extremely rigorous theological education, Obama could have gotten a better invocation from Stuart Smalley. It would have as much depth, and at least it would be doing a Democrat a favor.

I have a couple of thoughts on this, and yes, I may be naive.

First, as many have suggested, this may be a genuine attempt to try and attract the reasonable younger evangelicals that are slowly splintering from the base movement of Falwell and Robertson. I think that will have extremely limited success, because for many of those folks, everything starts and ends with Choice v. Abortion. If Charles Manson ran for President, and claimed to be Pro-Choice™, they would vote for him.

Second, Warren will deliver a generic invocation. Obama will likely make some very inclusive statements during his speech, and may even mention gays and/or the LGBT community. If he does this, he pwns Warren, puts him in a box. In a way, it reduces Warren and his bigotry to the role of "the hired help". It's saying "we'll let you come to the dinner, but you still have to sit at the little kid's table".

Third, it may even be a more confrontational calculus: "OK, big shot, you want to be the Next Big Thing™ in evangelical Christiandom, and you want an audience, come speak at my Prom. I'll invite you, but many here among us don't like what you're selling".

Or Pastor Dan could be right in the end:
Mainline Protestant pastors are opinion leaders in their communities, and they tend to appreciate their GLBT friends and not appreciate slick weasels like Rick Warren. I was hardly the only pastor to support Obama, or to stick up for his vision of hope and reconciliation. Obama just spat in our eyes, and it's going to take a while to get over it.
Here's the thing about Warren. The main evangelical movers of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, in terms of TV exposure, were indeed Falwell & Robertson. Clearly they wanted political power. However, the evangelical leaders who were doing the work of 'saving souls' were, among a few others, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel and John Wimber of the Vinyard. The main difference between the last two names and the first two were that CC and VCF sprouted many franchises, small churches all over the country, in their attempt to bring people to Jesus and salvation.

CC & VCF annointed many new pastors, and sent them out to preach and save people. Other '70s and '80s churches, like Kenneth Copeland in TX, built empires based on a single personality. Joel Osteen in TX has done the same recently. No real attempt at spreading their message to reach more people than the basic, albeit large, congregation.

Warren is the contemporary result of Copeland, and Osteen. He has built a huge campus, spent $$$'s in state-of-the-art audio & video equipment, and packs thousands into several services every Sunday. But he hasn't spread his ministry into franchises. It's all Warren, all the time. His message, his book, his ministry.

And he seems to love his power, even as he clearly favored McCain during Saddleback Church's Candidates debate forum. And Obama may actually like the guy, as many have suggested. But I don't think many on the far-evangelical right will take to Obama, and many of those same folks will see Warren as craven and manipulated.

I hope so. Still, he's a bigoted lying hate-monger.