Disappointed by Rick Warren

The divisive, self-aggrandizing right-wing evangelist was a terrible choice to give Obama's invocation.

Published December 19, 2008 11:41AM (EST)

Even on vacation, I can't quite get over the choice of pastor Rick Warren to give Barack Obama's inaugural invocation. I'm all for Obama (and Republicans, for that matter) reaching out to the other side. I am not theoretically opposed to Obama choosing an antiabortion gay-rights critic; I'm opposed to Warren himself. He's a poster boy for kinder, gentler 21st century bigotry, and Obama shouldn't validate him with this lofty symbolic role.

I tried to keep an open mind when Obama began courting Warren three years ago; Salon sent a reporter to cover the popular young Democrat's first visit to Saddleback Community Church, to talk about its laudable AIDS work, in 2006. I believe in seeking common ground, and I was curious to see what Warren – and Obama – were up to. I watched carefully when Obama went to Saddleback for a presidential forum in August, along with John McCain. As I wrote at the time, I think Obama got punked; Warren spent an inordinate amount of time at the forum on issues like abortion and gay rights, and the promised focus on poverty reduction and social justice got short shrift. At Saddleback services the next day, Mike Madden didn't find one worshiper planning to vote for Obama. One day after that, a self-satisfied Warren told Beliefnet he couldn't say for sure whether Obama could compete for the evangelical vote, but he insisted that an antiabortion voter backing a pro-choice candidate would be like a Holocaust survivor voting for a Holocaust denier.

Beyond his noxious political views -- Warren has compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality, supports the Iraq war, and, in fact, just gave George W. Bush his first-ever "international medal of peace" (yes, peace) -- I have come to distrust Warren personally. He looks to be from a long line of religious leaders more concerned about their own glory than the glory of God. I didn’t like him high-fiving with Obama about their million-dollar book deals, or complaining with McCain that $250,000 isn't rich in Orange County. I didn't like him misrepresenting the rules for the August forum -- he claimed McCain had been in a "cone of silence," but when that turned out not to have been true, he accused Obama supporters of "sour grapes" for complaining. It became obvious to me that the well-fed, well-coiffed Warren is full of himself, and Obama shouldn't contribute to his campaign for self-aggrandizement, especially at the expense of gay people and women, two groups who gave Obama strong support.

On MSNBC this afternoon my friend Chris Matthews kept saying that Obama has upset gays with this choice, but I'm not gay, and Warren's anti-gay rights stands are only part of my reasons for opposing his selection (although his leadership in the fight for the noxious Proposition 8, which Obama opposed, is certainly a reason to oppose his being given this special symbolic spiritual role). I object to the full Warren package, I think he's a force for division, not inclusion, and a terrible symbol for this inspiring new administration. And once again, I see an arrogance and/or naiveté on the part of Obama, when he defends his choice of Warren -- and it was his choice; read Madden's fine story -- as showing "we can disagree and not be disagreeable." I'd tell that to Rick Warren, not his critics.

On Thursday night Warren issued a short statement praising Obama for bucking his liberal base to invite him to give the invocation. Obama likewise made a big deal of Warren facing criticism for inviting Obama to his church. It's clear both men are using one another to prove their alleged political courage, and that's their choice; I object to Obama using the rest of us. This is a political and not a spiritual choice, and it stinks.

Is there someone you wish Obama had chosen to give the invocation? Use the comments section of my blog to share some better ideas.


By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections