The news today is abuzz with talk of President Elect Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration in January. Very little of the talk is positive in the mainstream media; in smaller venues the talk is not as negative but it isn’t particularly positive. About the only place you will find praise for Obama’s choice is probably in Conservative Evangelical publications that tend to praise Mr. Warren on a regular basis anyway.
The problem that so many people have with this choice is that, back in November, Rick Warren spoke boldly and unwaveringly against gay marriage in California and in favor of Proposition 8. According to Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign,
By inviting Rick Warren to [the] inauguration, [Barack Obama has] tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at [his] table…In this case, we feel a deep level of disrespect when one of [the] architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of [this] historic nomination. (Source)
But is it really that big of a deal?
Mike Madden of Salon.com seems to think so. In his article, “How the hell did Rick Warren get inauguration tickets?,” as if the title didn’t make his opinion abundantly clear, he states,
[A]bout the only thing less surprising than the outrage that news of Warren’s selection to give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration is prompting among gay activists, liberals and Obama supporters generally is probably Warren’s appearance on the program in the first place.
Mr. Madden is no fan of Rick Warren for the very same reason that the Human Rights Campaign is no fan of him: he is perceived as a bigot and a divider, and not a unifier, as Obama claims to be.
But then, Mr. Madden quotes another spokesman for Human Rights Campaign. And at this point, the argument against Mr. Warren becomes a little more foggy.
[Warren’s] job there is to kind of represent the spiritual totality of our nation.
Doesn’t he, though?
When you look at research done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, much of what evangelicals claim to believe are represented in the teachings of the man Rick Warren. Broaden the scope, and you would even find, with the exception of belief in Jesus as the only way to heaven, that most religious people in the country are in total agreement on many issues. According to the most recent research, even Christians believe there are more paths to heaven than just having faith in Jesus Christ, for example.
So if people of all faiths, generally speaking in a broad sense, are in theological agreement, then it probably stands true that they are also in agreement on social issues. I am hazarding a guess here, but I am willing to say that the majority of Americans think we need to be better stewards of the environment, stop the spread of AIDS in Africa, work toward ending global extreme poverty, put a halt to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and maintain the traditional definition of marriage. I am willing to say that if Proposition 8 had been on every ballot in every state that the Proposition would have passed in the majority of states and that marriage would have been defined as being between only a man and a woman.
That being said, Rick Warren perfectly represents “the spiritual totality of our nation.” American religious people are, generally speaking, theologically liberal, whatever their religious flavor while being simultaneously socially conservative. They love their god, but also feel that poverty should end, but also feel that gay marriage should not be legal. And Rick Warren is a perfect representative of this theological position. And being that Obama is a Christian, and in fact the majority of Americans claim themselves to be Christians, it makes perfect sense that he would choose a Christian to represent the spirituality of the American people in prayer before God at his inauguration.