The selection of evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20 is absolutely astonishing and tremendously disappointing.
President-elect Obama's defense of the choice is ironic: claiming that he wants to honor and represent the diversity of America, he has gone with a pastor who has stood in public opposition to that ideal.
Rick Warren is entitled to his religious views that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture and to hold the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. He is even entitled to disregard all the available scientific research on the subject of sexual orientation and continue to maintain that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice" that can be "treated." He was entitled to support California's Proposition 8 and to campaign on its behalf.
What Pastor Warren was not entitled to do, however, was to participate in a campaign of dishonesty about the "threat" the civil marriage of same-sex couples posed to religious freedom and freedom of speech. He claimed that any religious figure who spoke out against homosexuality or same-sex marriage could be "charged" with hate speech and fed the silly fear that churches would be "forced" to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Either Mr. Warren does not understand his own first amendment rights that he claims to be so worried about, or he is a liar.
The legalization of civil marriage for same-sex couples does not restrict in any manner any person's fundamental right to speak in opposition. Just look how many people were censored or arrested for "hate speech" in California during the four months that same-sex marriage was legal there: zero. And how many pastors were forced to bless same-sex unions agains their deeply held religious beliefs? None.
It is true that Warren's rhetoric has been more moderate in tone than many other conservative religious leaders, but the content was no less poisonous. It is odious that in the name of "diversity" Barack Obama has given this honor to a person who used his pulpit to call for the elimination of existing rights for a minority population based on prejudice -- whether protected speech, or no.
Barack Obama's victory was in large part possible because the nation chose to soundly repudiate the politics of pander perfected by Karl Rove in targeting people like Rick Warren and his supporters. It is disheartening that this selection reinforces the notion that to be a credible religious figure in America one must be socially conservative. Why couldn't Obama have picked a progressive member of the clergy, like evangelical activist Jim Wallis? Or why not Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who is also a scientist? Or perhaps a prominent African American scholar like Harvard's Peter Gomes?
Consider me extremely disappointed.