Inauguration Thoughts: LBJ, Graham, BHO, Warren

December 19, 2008

Now that it’s been announced that anti-gay pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s Inauguration, the activists are in an uproar and the blogosphere is in flames.  Many GLBT people are feeling personally offended and slighted by the decision, and they are expressing outrage in their usual hyperbole.

I have a different view: I’m not ready to get mad yet.

Last night I was reading about LBJ’s 1965 Inauguration.  At the time, the marches from Selma to Montgomery were going on and people were being beaten and killed.  Segregationists were actively standing against equality in the courts and in the streets, by words and by violence.

LBJ gave his speech in front of all of Congress — Strom Thurmond, John Stennis, and the rest — and he demanded the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  He used his considerable and Machiavellian political skills on behalf of civil rights.  I don’t know if Obama is as skilled as LBJ, but he just might be.  I’m willing to judge Obama by what he actually says and does, and if he fails to come through on ENDA, DADT, DOMA, and his other promises on civil rights, then I’ll hold his feet to the fire.

As for Rick Warren, he’s now being called the new Billy Graham.  Graham was an ardent anti-segregationist.  He preached with Martin Luther King at a 16-week revival in 1957, and they were close friends.  Yet, even Graham was known to have made anti-Semitic remarks.  Warren, known for combining attention to progressive issues such as global warming, poverty, and HIV, has spoken at the United Nations, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the African Union, the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, TED, and Time’s Global Health Summit.  He is a man of stature and influence, not just another Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts.

Warren has said that his opposition to same-sex marriage is “non-negotiable” and has compared gays to pedophiles and polygamists.  This is by no means unusual for an Evangelical preacher, and I do not defend his position.  It’s offensive and wrong.  He’s also said his positions on abortion and other “hot button” issues are “non-negotiable”.

Yet, Warren has invited Obama to speak at his church in the past.  Unlike the more hard-line Evangelicals, Warren is willing and able to talk and share a platform with people he disagrees with.  “Non-negotiable” he may be, but he says this in the context of detente, not the endless culture war that has stymied progress so long.

For Obama, who has repeatedly pledged to bridge the cultural divide and bring people together, and who has said that he would even meet foreign anti-American leaders “without precondition,” bringing a moderate Evangelical like Warren onto his platform seems like a natural step.

These divides are huge, but they can be bridged.  It will require a leap of faith and yes, some trust, from all sides.  In the meantime, I hope that the rest of the Religious Right could step back and think about what Billy Graham said when he refused to join the Moral Majority:

I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.

Of course, I’m not an Evangelist, at least not in any religious sense.

I don’t even call myself a Christian.

But I stand in the middle, too.

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One Response to “Inauguration Thoughts: LBJ, Graham, BHO, Warren”

  1. Zorya Says:

    I’ll wait and see what happens. If you’re not angry then I don’t need to be angry on your behalf.


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