Obama and Rick Warren to reunite on Jan. 20

The evangelical pastor whose Saddleback Civil Forum came off like an ambush will give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration.

Topics: War Room,

When Barack Obama and John McCain had a “joint appearance” (code for a debate where the candidates don’t appear on stage together) at the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in August, the verdict afterwards was that Warren had ambushed Obama. The appearance, where Warren got both men talking about their faith and their values, could have been a good chance for Obama to try to introduce himself to the suburban Christians Warren ministers to — mostly people who, unlike more traditional evangelicals, don’t spend all their time obsessing over gay marriage and abortion. Obama was clearly comfortable with Warren, but his fumbling answer about when life begins — he said the theological and scientific arguments about that issue were “above my pay grade” — became immediately infamous among conservatives. Just afterwards, Warren told BeliefNet that for a Christian who opposes abortion rights, voting for Obama would be like a Jew voting for a Holocaust denier. Many of Obama’s own supporters were left wondering what Obama was doing hanging out with Warren in the first place.

Now he’ll have to hang out with him once again. CBN’s David Brody reports that Warren will give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration next month. (The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights hero, will give a benediction.)

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, run by the House and Senate, announced the program for the swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday. (It also includes a musical performance by Aretha Franklin; here’s hoping she doesn’t reprise the 2005 inaugural performance of John Ashcroft’s “Let the Eagle Soar”).

Still, it will be interesting to see how Obama supporters react to seeing Warren — who was, apparently, hoping the other guy won — prominently featured on Jan. 20. From a governing standpoint, playing nice with Warren probably makes more sense than campaigning at his church’s forum did from a political angle. But after the stunt he pulled in August, what might Warren turn around and say afterwards this time?

UPDATE: This post initially reported that the JCIC picked the participants for the program. Actually, Obama provided the JCIC with his choices, including Warren, and Congress handled only the logistical pieces.

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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