Obama, in a colossal blunder, named the Rev. Rick Warren to preside over the inaugural. Some of you have asked me about my opinion on this, and in the intervening weeks I've been trying to get my thoughts in some sort of order.
Some things are clear: 1.) Really smart, astute people can make really bad decisions; 2.) pandering isn't just for the Clintons; and 3.) It's still perfectly acceptable to tell gross lies about gay people - about who we are, about what we do, about how we live our lives - under the guise of religion, even among "progressives." Perfectly acceptable.
Who is Rick Warren?
Allegedly the fuzzy (not Fozzie, sadly) bear of the Religious Right, Warren is pastor of the Saddlebcack mega-church in Orange County. He invited Obama to come speak at the church in November of '06, an invite which Obama accepted. Now, Obama has invited Warren, the popular author of A Purpose Driven Life, to preside over his, Obama's, inauguration. Pro quo for his quid.
So what's the problem?
Well, he is not a new warm and fuzzy kind of Christian pastor. He doesn't allow gay people to become members of his church, a fact he then he tried to cover up by removing that language from his church's website once it was picked up on nationally read blogs. (Nice belief in your convictions, Rick. Way to stand firm. Guess that invite means more to you than the so called "truth" you're about?) He has said, more than once, and re-confirmed this week, that he believes that being gay is curable (his church helpfully has a ministry to do so, in the face of all science) and that it's the moral equivalent of child molestation and incest. He also, helpfully, told me that I need to restrain my urges (at around 1:10 on the clip, where he talks about his sexual urges; what is it with these guys?) - just cuz I may be wired this way (i.e., gay) doesn't mean that I have to act on the urge (i.e., have sex with dudes. Or have a long term relationship with a dude.) Well, what was that about the splinter in your neighbor's eye and the plank in your own (Matthew 7:3)? Nice self restraint you've got there, buddy. When was the last time dude stepped away from a buffet? If food was sex, he'd be working Sunset after sundown, making Ted Haggard seem as chaste as St. Maria Goretti.
Sorry... ingratitude and hypocrisy make me a little crazy. Where was I?
Right, our new President elect, bad judgment, pandering, and queer folk being inconsequential. So why did Obama do it?
An early thought, and one I've come back to many times, was about Henri of Navarre, King of France. (It's really discursive, so it's at the bottom of the column if you want to read it in full.)
So, my thought was that Obama was throwing a sop to the Christian right and going to do things in office that would really have a positive effect on my life and the life of other GLBT folks who are not yet full participants in American democracy - the Rick Warren invitation was his "Mass for Paris", so to say, and once in us gays would get our own Edict of Nantes.
But here's where it breaks down - Obama didn't need to do it. He's already elected. And he got elected through the hard work and financial commitment of many, many queer folk, including me.
Can Obama actually agree with the guy? Warren doesn't allow gays to be members of his church. Read that again. Gays can come and worship at his church in the hope that maybe they'll be cured, but they can't be members. Not surprising, since Warren compares gays to child molestors. Obama doesn't agree with that, does he? That we can be cured? That we are the moral equivalent of chld molestors?
No way. I don't think that for a second. He's roughly my age, I'm sure Obama knows at least some gays personally. I suspect that he finds that repugnant.
It's a calculated, cynical political move - of course it is. He's pandering to the Religious Right, trying to prevent them from the mobilized loathing that they demonstrated against Kerry or Gore or Gavin Newsom here in my beloved California. And who is he offering up? The gays. Because we are politically expendable. And that's why I'm angry and disappointed. It's not that Warren is coming to the Inauguration; he's in an official capacity. And Obama, as Democrats do, is not taking care of the hand that fed him. Except this time it's because he feels he doesn't have to; I just don't quite matter enough.
Insult on top of the Prop 8 injury.
And, just for a second, think if Warren held these "strongly held religious beliefs" - which evidently gives you ideological cover to believe whatever the hell you want to believe in the absence of all evidence or rationality, in fact in the face of evidence and rationality, and the right to lie about people, other voters, other citizens, other taxpayers, in a way that actively works to eliminate their civil rights, because you're a so-called "man of the cloth" - about anyone else. Pick a group - any group. Like women - they are inherently inferior in the Bible, over and over and over; you can sell your daughter, you can buy a girl slave for less than a boy, a raped woman has to marry her attacker (but only after the rapist pays her dad five shekels; oh, it's in there! Deut 22:28-29). Would that be called "reaching out" to people who think differently? Or Jews - many right wing Evangelicals believe that Jews need Jesus to reach heaven. What if Obama named a pastor who actively believed that? He couldn't. Setting aside that most people consider those views to be barbaric, on a practical level he couldn't because women and Jews have too much power. Ah, but the homosexyuls can be thrown under the bus. And he did. IN this he has as much moral courage as Pastor Rick showed when he removed the "truth" of preventing active homosexyuls from joining his church. In a vain attempt to neutralize crazy Christian opposition to him he chose as the leader of the Inaugural prayer someone who has taken selective verses in the Bible and extrapolated them to mean that I am the moral equivalent of a child molestor.
Nice. Welcome to the Change We Can Believe In, gay folk!
So we'll see. We'll see if he rescinds the odious Executive Directive from the odious little man that preceded him at 1600 Penna, eliminating job protections for GLBT Federal employees. We'll see if he rescinds Don't Ask Don't Tell, put in place by that supreme Panderer-in-Chief Bill Clinton. We'll see if we get a commitment to a nationwide non-discrimination in hiring law, or a national hate crimes law, or requirements for companies bidding for Federal jobs to offer domestic partnership benefits, or any of the 100's of things he could do to have substantive positive impacts for me and my people.
We'll see if he's as smart as he thinks he is, neutralizing right wing opposition by naming "one of their own" and basically saying "Screw you" to a motivated, engaged and contributing part of his base.
Frank Rich in the NY Times doesn't think so.
Yeah, well, I don't either. Too bad I'm "nice enough".
More on Henri de Navarre:
For those of you who don't remember, Henri de Navarre was a crazy died-in-the-wool Huguenot, a French Protestant, who took an active role in the French wars of religion. Of royal blood, being descendant from the eldest son of Charlemagne, Henri, through no acts of his own but through lots of bloodshed on the part of others, came to be next in line to the throne. The problem? France, late 1500's, was Catholic. The solution? He is alleged to have said "Paris vaut bien une messe" ("Paris is well worth a Mass") in taking the French throne. Despite his long work for the Huguenot side in war, diplomacy and intrigue, Henri abjured his Protestantism at the door of the Cathedral of St. Denis in front of the Cardinal of Bourges, went to confession and then Mass, assumed the throne in 1594, and four years lated passed the Edict of Nantes allowing the free practice of Protestantism in France. (The story is a great read - there's regicide, Cardinals getting murdered and held prisoner, deranged monks killing Dukes, the Pope telling everyone in France that they didn't have to be loyal to the king since he wasn't Catholic, and lots of intrigue from foreign powers.)