Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin Means Change?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The leaders of the gay community are outraged, and rightly so, by Barack Obama's choice to lead the invocation at his inauguration on January 21st. Rick Warren, an evangelical minister who has, among other charming statements, compared abortion to the Holocaust. Sarah Posner summed it up nicely in her article in The Nation yesterday: "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."

Warren, who loudly opposes gay marriage and believes that the assassination of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sanctioned by the Bible, will be sitting alongside Aretha Franklin and Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when Obama delivers his inaugural address. If this is bipartisanship, then we are falling onto the other side of the political aisle, not standing in the middle. I admire Obama's efforts to put right-wing and evangelical Americans who may not have voted for him at their ease. But if it comes at the expense of people who formed the core of his base, and who trust him to seek the basic human rights that they have been denied, then he's dangerously compromising his own morals, and creating new divisions.


At December 18, 2008 at 3:09 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

it's this kind of thinking that creates divisions in the first place....

At December 18, 2008 at 5:51 PM , Blogger Sam said...

"A right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder". As if the two are somehow irreconcilably at odds.

While I disagree with many of Rick Warren's views, he has generally shown himself to be open to civil discourse on these issues, and I think civil discourse is exactly what is needed right now. He is a well-respected pastor who represents the views of a large portion of American society, and as such I think offering him a part in the inauguration is a wise move for a president who wants to be a uniter.

Saying you are open to bipartisanship doesn't mean much unless you're actually willing to respect those who disagree with you.

At December 18, 2008 at 6:15 PM , Blogger Amelia said...

There are many right-wingers who are do-gooders. The point is that Rick Warren isn't one of them. His views are radical and very offensive to people who were integral to getting Barack Obama elected. He doesn't represent middle-of-the-road evangelicals, just a small and very vocal sect, and in pandering to them, Obama is alienating people who were loyal to him. Steven Waldman of the Wall Street Journal has a good analysis here ( if you want to take a look; this is a man whose views are too strident to be anything but divisive. As a feminist, I'm most offended by this comment:

"If you truly believe that life begins at conception --which I do because of my commitment to the scripture -- then that means 40 million Americans are not here who should be here. That’s a Holocaust. That’s 40 million Americans who could have voted for Obama or for McCain who aren’t here."

These aren't the words of a uniter.

At December 18, 2008 at 7:56 PM , Anonymous Dan said...


I don't see why you think that being a feminist is a reason for you to be offended by the notion that life begins at conception. There are many pro-life feminists, myself included, who would take issue with your statement. It is a mistake, and a disservice to feminism, to tie feminism to abortion rights.

I am not disputing the fact the you are offended by Warren's comment, but please don't cite feminism as the reason.

At December 18, 2008 at 10:27 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I understand that you disagree with him, but like it or not he shares the views of a large portion of America. Polls show 30-40% of Americans disagree with Roe v. Wade, and 40-50% think abortion should be legal only in "certain circumstances" (incest, rape, mother's life). These are real, caring, thoughtful, experienced, intelligent people who deserve as much respect as you or me.

Everything I've read or seen of Rick Warren seems to show that he is tempered and not hateful with his rhetoric. The WSJ article you cite paints him as a moderated and respectful conservative, not a right-wing fanatic.

If we're ever going to heal the deep divisions our country has over this issue we need to learn to respect those we disagree with. I think Rick Warren is an excellent ambassador for the views he represents, and that recognizing him in this way is a good first step towards open, respectful national dialogue.

At December 18, 2008 at 11:10 PM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

@Dan: There are pro-life feminists out there, and I think I speak for Amelia as well when I say that we respect them and their views.
But I don't think it's unreasonable to be offended by the comparison that Warren has attempted to draw between abortion and the Holocaust. There's no comparison to be made between the agonizing personal choice made by women in the face of serious and life-changing circumstances with the systematic attempted annihilation of a race. Warren's comparison cheapens the experience of European Jews and totally misrepresents women who get abortions: a woman doesn't get an abortion because she wants to end a life or stop potential life from coming to fruition. A woman gets an abortion because she knows that she can't be the kind of mother that every child deserves to have. There's no comparison between that choice, which is very often one of compassion for the child that would otherwise be, and the genocide inflicted on the Jews during World War II.

At December 18, 2008 at 11:26 PM , Blogger Amelia said...

@Sam: I agree completely with Chloe; anyone who compares abortion to the Holocaust is not after rational discourse. Instead, Warren is equating an incredibly difficult and personal decision with genocide, a comparison which only creates intolerance. And if you want more proof that Warren is a pastor who is uses religion as a front for a very political, and very right-wing, agenda, here are some more of his beliefs. Warren compares gay marriage to incest, and very publicly took sides on Prop 8, saying, ""About 2 percent of Americans are homosexual, or gay and lesbian, people. We should not let 2 percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not just a Christian issue, this is a humanitarian issue."

Apart from the fact that Warren is completely wrong in his statistics, this is not kind rhetoric. Casting heterosexual marriage as the victim is misleading and completely unreasonable. This isn't a question of my disagreements with pro-life feminism or people who oppose gay marriage; as you will see if you continue to read the blog, Chloe and I are sympathetic to the views of people who are interested in discourse. But Rick Warren clearly is not. And for that reason he should not be invited to speak at such a seminal inauguration.

At December 19, 2008 at 1:19 AM , Blogger LSG said...

I get where Obama is coming from, and I don't think he's cynically trying to manipulate evangelicals into thinking he's on their side -- I think he's impressed with Warren's work in trying to introduce issues like fighting poverty and AIDS into the Christian right's agenda, and I think he's earnestly trying to reach out to people who didn't vote for him.

Leaving aside the abortion issue for now and focusing strictly on the issue of gay rights: this is a civil rights issue. Unity is good, yes, but compromise has a price. Intentionally or not (and I think it's not), Obama is sending a message to the already-wounded gay community: he cares more about working with the evangelicals than standing up for gay rights.

Sam, you write that we must learn to work with and respect those we disagree with. You're right: I can work with and respect people who I disagree with about labor, about the best fix for the education system, about Social Security, about national security, about the auto bailout, even about abortion. I respect the views of many people who disagree with me on many issues. But not all "positions" deserve respect -- I shouldn't dismiss someone else's position out of hand, but you can't demand that I respect a position I find logically flawed and morally repulsive. Just because somebody really strongly believes gays don't have rights doesn't mean that their belief demands my respect merely because it exists...a position's respect must be earned, it's not automatic.

I do not -- I will not -- respect Warren's position on gay rights, I find it morally repugnant and irrational. To make nice with that position for the sake of "unity" creates a false, hollow unity -- or the wholesale abandonment of the rights of a significant number of American citizens.

One more think -- let's not forget that this wasn't a choice between Warren and Dr. Dobson, or Warren and Reverend Wright. Obama had a chance to pick any religious leader in the United States. I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

At December 19, 2008 at 7:31 AM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Oh, and also, you accuse Obama of coming dangerously close to compromising his own morals, but if he truly is open-minded and this is part of his moral framework (which I'm sure it is as he was a professor), then he is not in fact compromising anything, only some made-up moral framework that you assume he may have, that you think he should have (perhaps because it conforms to your moral framework and are scared that you voted on this framework and it may not be what you think he was advertising, though if you did think this was going to be the "change" that usually comes from political cycles, I think you were mistaken, I think Obama was running on, or at least had in mind, a much more fundamental idea of change).

I hope Obama can succeed in this new type of change, in a spirit of discourse at the political level which previously was only seen at the academic and philosophical level (where the best professors, mind you, understand that one must be charitable to others' arguments for fear of making "straw-men" arguments). Finally, a president that doesn't just change things, but changes how things are implemented. instead of just changing policies to appease those who voted you in, a changing of policies because that is what more and more people find rational and right. 'Cause I would much rather live in a country that implements abortion rights after I have realized that they are actually better than abortion bans, rather than just forcing abortion rights down my rational throat without understanding my arguments or talking to me at all.

compromising his own morals indeed...

At December 19, 2008 at 8:33 AM , Anonymous Chi said...

@LSG: "Obama had a chance to pick any religious leader in the United States." This is what bothers me most about this decision. While I do admire Warren's humanitarian work with regards to poverty and global warming, his views on gay folk and women who choose abortion are extremely troubling. Sure, it's important for Obama to bring evangelicals into the fold, but really, were there no better choices?

For the sake of playing Devil's advocate, however, Warren DOES support civil partnerships for gays. He also, as I stated before, has participated a great deal in anti-poverty efforts. His decision to "reverse-tithe" and give 90% of his church tithes away is pretty groundbreaking for a mainstream Christian church. Hell, he's even chided the American evangelical community for what he sees as an emphasis on issues like gay marriage over things of considerably more importance (i.e. AIDS, global poverty, climate change, etc.).

Cut long story short, I still can't decide whether to be horrified or ambivalent about the choice of Warren, but I can see why he fits into Obama's "consensus" paradigm. For all his faults, he does seem to be more open to progressive causes/values than your average conservative evangelical minister. I can also understand why many are disappointed by this choice. After all, the man holds some views that are pretty damn objectionable.

Then again, is it possible that this ultimately matters very little? Warren's leading an inaugural invocation, not influencing policy. On the other hand, symbolic gestures (i.e. who you invite to an inauguration) can be quite telling of a person's values...

At December 19, 2008 at 2:20 PM , Anonymous Daniel Y. said...

Hey Amelia,

Yeah, I'm not sure how I feel about this either.

Even apart from my, ahem, LARGE, social/political disagreements with Rick Warren, from a theological perspective, I find Warren to be pretty unimpressive. Clearly I'm not an evangelical, but even within the evangelical community he seems to be part of this recent trend that sticks Christianity into bestselling books and faddish excitement. He's sort of part of the "let's use Jesus for self-help" attitude. As an earlier commenter said, seeing as he could pick any American religious leader, this choice is pretty disappointing.

At December 19, 2008 at 7:49 PM , Anonymous Dan said...


I believe the use of the term "Holocaust" was intended to reflect the scale of the annihilation that has taken place through abortion. I'll grant that the analogy is not perfect, but the killing is very real to those of us who believe that life and personhood begin at conception.

By the way, you might be interested in this blog:


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