I greatly respect both Barack Obama's genuine desire to ensure that Americans of every stripe have a voice in our new government and his political savvy in reaching out to his ideological adversaries. But none of that makes me feel any better about the fact that Pastor Rick Warren -- he of those insipid Purpose Driven Life books and the Saddleback Mega-Church in Orange County, California -- has been picked to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration.
That Warren's hyper-conservative beliefs stand in such stark social and cultural contrast to Obama's own worldview would be reason enough to question the choice. It's easy to understand why some Obama supporters -- particularly gay voters, who see Warren and his flock as having been instrumental in the passing of California's Prop 8 -- feel like it's a very personal betrayal.
My discomfort, though, has less to do with any one issue than it does with the idea of the highest office in the free world once again cozying up to the lowest common denominator among America's faithful -- validating that group's absurd, irrational and often aggressively exclusionary belief system. While having someone like Rick Warren -- a man who's bested only by Jesus and Elvis in the hearts and minds of the NASCAR demographic -- up there next to our new president on inauguration day does send a clear message that all views will be given consideration from this point forward, it may also send a signal to those who happen to hold the one view that's been allowed to dominate the discourse for the past eight years that they'll continue to be deferred to.
It's not so much that Pastor Rick is getting an audience with the new president of the United States -- it's that he'll be seated at his right hand on day one.
This could very well be part of a smart strategy, showing even those who stood against Obama during the campaign that, as president, he wants to take immediate steps toward healing the nation -- or it could just be that since Obama and Warren are reportedly friends, the choice makes a certain amount of sense. Regardless though, and as much as I trust Barack Obama's judgment, it ties my stomach in knots to watch another political administration treating the Rick Warrens of the world as if they're anything more than simply the CEOs of Jesus Inc. -- carnival barking purveyors of "Evangelitainment," with ostentatious, monolithic temples and excellent PR firms.
Warren's undeniably overpowering presence on inauguration day makes it seem as if God -- specifically the Pentecostal or Southern Baptist version of God -- will continue to be granted ascendancy within our government.
And after what this country has endured the past eight years -- the heinous sins committed by those who claim to be acting on God's behalf and who seek the unconditional allegiance of those who worship him -- this should be the last thing any clear-thinking, rational American wants to see.
What follows is a related piece published here in August of this year. It was written the day after Pastor Rick Warren's "Compassion Forum," held at his Saddleback Mega-Church, in which both John McCain and Barack Obama answered questions put to them by Warren. They were questions dealing mostly with "values, virtue and character," and ones which needed to be answered because, in the words of Rick Warren, "God says so."
I think Joan Walsh perfectly put into words my feelings and fears about last night's command performance by Barack Obama and John McCain at the Saddleback Mega-Church in Orange County, California. The candidates came to prostrate themselves before Pastor Rick Warren and, by proxy, his legion of disciples and their particular belief system. This morning in a Salon.com piece entitled "Are We Now Officially a Christian Nation?" Walsh wrote this about Obama, who's taking the walk-of-shame this morning after being used like a drunk sorority sister last night:
"(Obama) did reasonably well, though not overwhelmingly so. I loved his saying he wouldn't have appointed Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, and his firm support of choice and gay civil unions. He seemed very comfortable talking about his Christian faith. On the other hand, that bothered me a little bit too. I'm not sure why Obama voluntarily sat down for a nationally televised conversation about his private religious faith with a relatively conservative Christian leader, as though that's a reasonable station of the cross, so to speak, for a major American presidential candidate. There's no doubt Rick Warren's congregation has done good things on social justice issues, especially AIDS, but Warren has made no secret of his extreme views on abortion and gay rights (as well as his support for the Iraq war.) Obama visiting the church, speaking there? Smart politics. Attending a nationally televised forum, almost as big deal as a debate, at such a church? I think that was wrong."
Her point, put bluntly: Why should either Barack Obama or John McCain -- let alone both of them -- have to answer to a smugly self-satisfied Rick Warren and his flock? (Besides the most pragmatic of reasons: because they represent a large voting bloc.) If it truly is about a respect for their beliefs, which are no more sound than those of any other religion out there, then why not pander equally to Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or, for that matter, Atheists? Obama in particular is finding his Christian faith questioned and doubted at every turn by many of the very same people he was forced -- and yes, I'll use that word because it fits -- to put himself in the line of fire of last night.
If the question of why he allowed it to occur seems too obvious, then try this one: Why have we allowed it? We've seen what happens when our nation is hijacked by one faith above all others and its fundamentalist followers are given an inordinately booming voice in its government. We've lived with the results for eight years. So why aren't the rest of us, the millions and millions of Americans who don't worship at the various altars of Christian dogma, demanding that people like Pastor Rick Warren -- the Oprah of pop-Christianity -- sit the hell down and shut up? Or better yet, why aren't we demanding that our candidates simply not come running like obedient dogs every time someone like Warren snaps his fingers and invokes Jesus and votes and the connection between the two, which apparently will not be denied?
If we're going to continue even further down this path, though -- further than we've already gone -- let's at least be fair about it. I want Obama and McCain to appear before Tom Cruise at a "Scientology Symposium." Xenu commands it.
And after that, they can hit Albus Dumbledore's "Wizard-Con" at Hogwarts to discuss what they plan to do to help protect the country in the coming battle with the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Think this sounds silly? Ask Rick Warren and his church what they believe some time. Trust me: Disneyland isn't the only garish monument to a fairy tale in Orange County.