Friday, December 19, 2008

The Warren Commotion

Perhaps it would be easy to overestimate the importance of Barack Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the 2009 Inauguration. Warren is the bestselling author of The Purpose Driven® Life, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and outspoken critic of gay rights and same-sex marriage,.

It’s not as if Warren’s been asked to join the President’s Cabinet, after all. And, besides, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association is invited to march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade, having played only on the sidelines for the two Clinton Inaugurations.

Warren compares homosexuality to incest, polygamy, and adultery. He makes false claims, such as that marriage between one man and one woman has been the model of all religions for five thousand years (polygamy, for instance, has routinely reoccurred as an element of religious observance, and revered patriarchs such as Jacob, Moses, and Solomon practiced it, and even today a number of religious groups and Christian denominations accept same-sex marriage).

Still, Rick Warren is not Fred Phelps—Warren, like former governor and current Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, presents a friendlier, even-tempered, and apple-cheeked face to bigotry.

It’s fairly clear to me what Obama is trying to do—reach out to social conservatives and evangelical Christians who have, as Warren supposedly has, expressed an interest in dialogue with those who do not share their views.

But Warren has not been open to such dialogue, particularly with gays. What Warren wants, like many evangelicals and conservatives, is a platform for criticizing other people’s lifestyles, while claiming to be persecuted if his own life choices and opinions are criticized or even questioned.

What Obama fails to recognize is that sitting down to dialogue is one thing, but it’s something else entirely to give a platform to a man who calls for the continued political disenfranchisement of a small but significant part of Obama’s base. Obama did the same thing back in October 2007, when he led a “gospel tour” on the South Carolina leg of his Presidential campaign, fronted by Donnie McClurkin, who wrapped up every show with a 15-minute “prayer” thanking God for delivering him from the debasement of homosexuality. When GLBT activists objected, Obama’s people used the “dialogue” defense and then told the GLBTs to pipe down and stop being “divisive.” Some dialogue.

Undoubtedly one reason gay people don’t get much respect from political candidates or representatives in government is that we’re a minority—representing perhaps less than the proverbial 10 percent of the total population. On top of that, we are one of the merely two or three minorities (off the top of my head, I can’t think of another one, though) one can safely ridicule and denounce in sweeping blanket generalizations—not to mention find defenders for physically assaulting, even killing. In fact, when gay people simply complain that they are mistreated, they are accused of being politically divisive and small minded, endangering children, and persecuting Christians.

Part of the problem, too, has been sloppy strategizing by gay rights activists. The whole issue of whether gays are born gay or choose to be gay is irrelevant to whether gays deserve the same rights as any other citizen or human being. Did biological determinism do anything really to speed up women’s and blacks’ struggles for justice and equality? If one could choose to be black, would such a choice justify discriminatory practices against that person? Even if God can and does “cure” the habit of gossip or the desire to eat shellfish (both condemned in the Bible), would such miracles justify passing laws and amendments that forbid basic legal privileges to shrimp-loving blabbermouths?

It’s also a bit insensitive for Obama to ask a vocal supporter of California’s Proposition 8 to speak, since, for many lesbians and gays, it rehashes and confirms the conflicted feelings of elation and insult that the November victories of Obama and 8 evoked. If Obama sympathizes with gay people’s struggle for equal treatment under the law, as he claims, why is he insensitive and/or indifferent to their concerns and interests?

Sometimes I have to wonder whether Democrats choose to be hypocrites or whether they’re just born that way.

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