The entire progressive political world has got its panties in a large and uncomfortable bunch over Rev. Rick Warren giving the invocation prayer at Barack Obama's inauguration next month.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year, Warren's written a couple of books about living with purpose and he's got a mega-church somewhere west of here (California) and preaches to thousands each Sunday in what looks like a converted multiplex theater. He gets all het up and paces and shouts, a lot like black preachers sometimes do, but this guy's white, so conservative white people like him instead of fear him. Here is the Wiki page on him. Research at your own leisure.
The queer activists are in a lather. I mean a LATHER. See, Warren is a bit of a dope on queer issues. He's a bit of a dope on a lot of issues. He is against a woman having control over her own reproductive process, he is against gay rights and certainly gay marriage, he has espoused some pretty conservative views on women's role in society, Jews, and all the usual hot-button issues. He is on tape comparing gays to pedophiles, and incestuous siblings and all sorts of nonsense. He says homosexuality can be cured - prayed away, if you will. Anyone with any sense knows he's full of shit on these issues.
The list-serve I belong to has been rife with talk and sputter about this guy and Obama's choice of him. How could he betray us, the glbt community, by giving this guy a podium at our party? How could Obama talk about equality for us but then invite this schmoe to give the invocation?
What is interesting is that I have heard nary a peep from the conservatives about Obama's choice for the benediction, one Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowrey. Lowrey is a black preacher and a progressive who supports equality for the glbt community. He gave the eulogy at Coretta Scott King's funeral a while back and was widely acclaimed as a voice for progressives of Christian faith in America. (If you need a wiki reference for Mrs. King, please leave this site now. Get out. You're nowhere near smart enough to be here. )
So back to Rev. Warren. You might remember that he hosted a kind of forum/interview thing with John McCain and Barack Obama this summer. He invited each to his church and interviewed them separately on issues that were of importance to a lot of people in America, but particularly to evangelical Christians. Both men performed pretty well, and while McCain gave answers that I am sure were much more in line with the views of Warren's congregation, Obama held his own, explaining his moral bases for the positions he takes, and he did not alter his philosophies in order to accommodate the tastes of that audience.
Appearing on that program was considered risky by some, brave by others, and a sell-out by others still. Warren was criticised by the left for spending too much time on gays and abortion while in the Obama interview, and by the right for having him on the program at all. For McCain it was win-win. He showed up, was a grumpy old white conservative and probably didn't lose any votes for his effort. Obama had a lot more at stake at the time.
In all of the back-and-forth that has been going on this week, I find myself in an unusual position at the less liberal end of my queer caucus. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is worked up about this thing. The embittered Hillary supporters have been shouting that she never would have done anything as bone-headed as this (bullshit). I have not seen emotions this high amongst my crowd since the caucuses. It's nasty out there. People are protesting in the town square and planning personal viewing boycotts of the inauguration.
And you know what? I don't get it. It's not worth dying for. Our community has been through so much worse, and at the hands of people who claimed to be our allies (think Clinton administration, DOMA, DODT, etc.), that this is really minor. Bill Clinton had Billy Graham give his first inaugural invocation. Irony, anyone? At least this Warren guy preaches against violence against us. He preaches against discrimination. He does not damn us to eternal flames or a watery grave as other evangelicals do. Let's back off a bit, kids.
I live in a very progressive world. I work for myself and much of my work comes by word-of-mouth referrals, so it often involves friends and like-minded people. My community has two world-renowned genetic research laboratories that attract a highly-educated, world-class, generally liberal staff of scientists and support staff. There is also a very hippy college with one major - human ecology. So yeah, I live behind the tofu curtain. I regularly participate in my list-serve, also filled with like-minded souls, many of whom cut their teeth in the women's lib movement of the 60s and 70s and all of the other assorted liberal/progressive things that happened in those years. I am steeped in my liberal world.
Only my liberal world is not universal. The rest of America looks quite different from the world I live in. In fact, just after the 2004 elections, when Bush won so handily, I remember thinking "who are these people who like this guy? Where do they come from?" Honestly, I knew maybe a half-dozen people who voted for Bush in 2004. Everybody I knew was voting for, volunteering for, getting out the vote for John Kerry. On the day after the election, it was as though I woke up in a foreign land.
So what did liberals do? The shrub had a majority in both houses and "political capitol" to spend. We were screwed. The usual circular firing squad was formed and blame was flung in all directions. But after we got done with that, when we were shut out of every part of government, we got pissed and then we got organized. We suddenly got over our petty shit and worked together and came back with a vengeance. We kicked ass this year and wrote down names. We didn't just remove the boot from our throat, we broke the leg it was attached to.
Now we must be careful. If we do not want to lose this all again in eight years, we've got to be careful not to do what Chimpy did and get all arrogant and pushy.
Yes, I live in a liberal world. But I am sure there are many hundreds of thousands of Americans who live in a very conservative world. You could take five members from each camp, set them in a room together and all parties would leave convinced they had just visited space aliens. We are nearly that foreign to one another. I have no concept of the thought processes of a person who is anti-choice, anti-gay rights, pro-death penalty, pro-war, and who thinks the bible should be used as a guide for legislation and policy decisions. I just don't get that mindset. They, on the other hand, probably cannot grasp my world - non-christian, lesbian, working in a male-dominated field, anti-nuke, pro-choice, pro-gay everything who thinks that the bible is best filed under "fiction."
But both of us exist. And probably in similar numbers. American politics is, after all, something like a bell curve, with similar amounts on the edges of each end (that's me on the left) and the majority of folks in the middle somewhere. This year, the bulk of that big bulge in the middle shifted incrementally to the left. We are still much too far to the right as a nation for my tastes, but the pendulum is beginning to swing back my way. I want to make sure it's going to keep swinging our way for many, many years. We have a lot of making up to do since Reagan got elected in 1980.
So anyway, those conservative evangelicals have got to be looking at this Obama thing and wringing their hands in grief and anxiety. The whole administration is going to be filled with those godless heathens who want to take away our guns! Oh woe!
That happened to us eight years ago. What did we do? Got pissed, got organized, remember? Right. So how do we keep them from getting pissed, getting organized, and throwing us out on our ass after eight years?
Rick Warren is not darling of the religious right, but he's closer than anything we've got. They don't love him, but he pisses us off - a lot - and that endears him to them, certainly. He would not be their choice, but they trust him to speak their language and to carry their message to that seething liberal pit that has become their government. The conservative religious portion of America sees Warren probably as we see some of our not-as-liberal-as-we'd-like-them-to-be-progressives. No, he's not all aces, but he can go places the more strident of us cannot. He will make progress that we can agree with. If he compromises on a thing, we might complain, but he'll explain it so it doesn't stink so bad.
And that is what Barack Obama is counting on. This guy has the ear of the religious right. He is not their leader nor their emissary, but he can sway some of the masses. In order to affect lasting change, Obama must garner the support of ALL of the people, not just the ones who think like him. That's what the current occupant did. He got to the point where he just passed stuff over our protests. So what? he said. You haven't got what it takes to override it or even filibuster, so go pound sand. It is because of that attitude that progressives were able to take power. Obama is doing everything he can to avoid that kind of bully behavior. He must be a president for ALL Americans, not just the ones I happen to agree with.
Would Warren be my choice? No. Gene Robinson, maybe. Some wiccan crone, perhaps. Whoopi Goldberg, maybe, or Wanda Sykes. Donna Brazille - nah, I'd just get flustered and distracted. But then, it would be a strange day indeed if I were elected president. That's fluff in the clouds.
What is reality is Barack Obama trying to bring together a nation that is more fractured and more divided and more rancorous than it has been in any year since Nixon was impeached. He's not going to march to my drumbeat. Like he has done through his entire campaign, he is going to march to his own drum, play his own game, work his own strategy, and achieve many, if not all, of his goals and objectives. This is not new behavior for him. People who have known him for years say he's running true to his history and true to his pragmatic nature. He will get stuff done, and much of it will please us, however his methods might make us scream.