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Rick Warren

Obama’s Selection of Rick Warren for Inauguration Incites Criticism

December 19, 2008 01:24 PM
by Christopher Coats
The choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give an invocation at Obama’s inauguration has produced his first real rift within his party, though criticism is hardly relegated to the left.

Warren and Gay Marriage

Eliciting criticism from within his own party and charges of opportunism from opponents, President-elect Barack Obama has been put on the defensive about his choice of Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration in January.

Responding to critics this week, the President-elect sought to calm those in his party worried about Warren’s stance on homosexuals, especially concerning the question of marriage in light of the recent success of Proposition 8 in California.

“It is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans,” Obama told a press conference in Chicago, adding, “It’s important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues.”

However, opponents of Warren’s inclusion have called the California pastor’s description of Proposition 8 and his broader definition of marriage misleading, and proof enough that he should not lead the invocation.

Echoing a number of gay rights groups across the country, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom expressed frustration that Obama would chose a pastor who had held such a prominent position in the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in November.

“Rick Warren is not someone who has been a champion of gay rights, and the president-elect could not be naive to that, yet he felt that the other attributes outweighed that,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Warren, who is pastor of the 20,000 congregant-strong Saddleback Church in Southern California, is most widely known as the author of the enormously successful book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Although he did not endorse a political candidate during the election, inviting both Barack Obama and John McCain to his church for interviews, Warren was an outspoken advocate of California’s proposition to define marriage.

His staunch support raised the ire of the gay community; a situation made worse in the eyes of many by Obama’s selection.

Offering sharp words for the Obama selection, The Nation’s Sarah Posner remarked, “Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats’ religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful.”

A vocal opponent of Warren’s inclusion, Andrew Sullivan, also found fault in the pastor’s embracing of the “ex-gay movement,” noting that The Saddleback Church hosts Friday evening sessions to help those with “same-sex addictions.”

Reaction: Objections from all sides

However, criticism surrounding the choice of Warren has not been limited to Obama’s party. Anti-abortion conservatives have questioned Warren’s acceptance of Obama’s invitation given the two men’s differing views on abortion.

Citing a slew of e-mails expressing outrage at Warren’s inclusion in the ceremony, the Christian Broadcast Network News reported a growing discontent about the pastor’s willingness to associate with a pro-choice political leader.
Further, AOL Political Machine columnist Matt Lewis suggests that those conservative Christians already wary of Warren’s embrace of more “compassionate” issues such as AIDS relief and fighting global warming could be further alienated from the pastor by his inclusion in the inauguration day ceremonies.

“Some conservatives will also view his presence as a tacit endorsement of Obama’s policies,” Lewis wrote. “Devout pro-Lifer’s will surely object to this, though the counter argument is that it is better to have at least one pro-Life voice whispering in Obama’s ear than to surrender this opportunity for influence.”

Opinion & Analysis: Politics over ideology

Finding fault in criticism from both sides of the isle, Marc Ambinder suggests that Obama’s choice of Warren was more a shrewd political move than ideological statement or sign of future policy decisions given the pastor’s broad appeal.

“Obviously, Obama disagrees with Rick Warren on important issues. He has said so, many times, and publicly,” he wrote in The Atlantic. “And he agrees with him on other important issues. And ignoring something like Warren, a mainstream figure who commands the respect of million of Americans, would be foolish.”

Related Topic

Although Warren has garnered the most attention given his stance on gay marriage, he is not the only religious leader chosen to take part in the inauguration day ceremonies. Rev. Joseph Lowery, the 87-year-old civil rights leader, will offer the event’s benediction.

The retired minister was a vocal supporter of Obama during the election, though he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he harbored no desires to work in the White House.

“We have not had any discussions,” Lowery told the paper. “I’m retired.”

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