Rick Warren crashed George and Ali Stephanopoulos’s Christmas party last night. Not in the flesh, of course, but as a topic of conversation. Washington’s glitterati could not help themselves. With the nation in the throes of a full-fledged economic crisis and with American troops still firing in anger on two fronts, Barack Obama’s choice of a pastor to offer one of two prayers at the Inaugural ceremony was all the rage. Who says symbols don’t matter?

In fact, I am required to make a correction to my post on this topic last week because of something I learned last night. I correctly pointed out that one of the problems with the anti-gay marriage brigade is that they fail to recognize divorce as the greater threat to traditional marriage marriage than anything gay people do. E.J. Dionne, who is not only one of Washington’s smartest commentators, he is also one of the nicest, told me that Pastor Warren actually has made a similar statement and so I apologize for painting the entire anti-gay marriage movement with such a broad brush.

The general consensus of the crowd – other than how good the ginger bread cookies were – was that the main political significance of the choice was to create a divide within the evangelical community. Warren has been roundly criticized by some more extreme evangelicals for accepting the President-elect’s invitation. This is an argument evangelicals should have not least because it is almost impossible to imagine what Bible quotes could serve as proof texts for the argument. Calvin may have condemned human reason as utterly depraved, but his heirs must put it to good use to debate and decide the issue. That is a good thing. And, at the end of the day, I hope they will realize that there is more that unites them as Americans and as evangelicals than what they think of Rick Warren praying over the incoming President and the country he will be serving.

Something similar happened within the Catholic Church this year. Some bishops took an extreme position arguing that the only issue that mattered was abortion, and that only their approach to the issue was morally acceptable. Others said abortion was a huge issue but stood alongside others and that different approaches might be possible. After the election, no one left the Church over the squabble. There are more important things to know about a man than whom he voted for on November 4 and there are ties that bind, rooted in an event in a manger two thousand years ago, which are stronger than mere partisan ties.

There remains some debate about whether or not Warren should apologize to gays for comparing their unions to polygamy, incest, etc. I have listened to the quote several times and confess I am not sure an apology is necessary. His comparison was clumsy but it is also clear that he was trying to say that he believes marriage is one way and not any possible other way, and like it or not, those other types of sexual unions are the available alternatives. It is not clear to me that he was trying to be offensive.

It is clear to me that some would find the remarks hurtful. Now, there is a petty tyranny of those whose feelings are easily hurt, and they hurl their hurt into public debate as if it were an argument. Some conservatives consider the tyranny of "political correctness" to be more pervasive than it is, and more of a threat to right thinking (in both sense of the word "right") than it really is. It is, as I say, a petty tyranny and bloggers must be completely free from it or our writing would bore us all.

Warren, of course, is a pastor not a blogger, and trying to find ways to explain oneself that others will not find hurtful does seem incumbent upon a Christian minister. And, as a Catholic who enjoys going to confession, I think Warren should apologize because it is always a good thing to do and often facilitates a deeper and more profound Christian respect to emerge.

And Obama supporters - of all religious persuasions and whatever their sexual preference - should delight in the fact that we have a President-elect with the good sense to choose a preacher whose selection is forcing the evangelical community to think more deeply about its relationship to the political realm. That is a good thing. A very good thing.

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 12/31/2008 - 10:36am
Rick Warren is a homophobe, pure and simple. The fact that Mr. Warren says claims that he has "gay friends" means nothing. Many whites in the past maintained friendly relations with black people while still viewing them as being racially inferior. A polite and friendly bigot is still a bigot, and I find it deeply distressing that our first black president has chosen a bigot to pray at his inauguration. One day we Christians will look back at past Christian homophobia with disgust. Hopefully, that day comes sooner rather than later.
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 2:15pm
Didn't you also learn in Marriage prep that marriage is a sacrament, not a ''do what makes me and my family feel good'' event? Oh, and I like how you so maturely and definitively can decide what is important and relevant to the discussion. Sacraments are more than mere ''family dynamic issues.'' Proof-texting? Seems to me that's what you're doing with your Catholic education and Marital preparation program.
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 10:33am
continued Weddings provide families an opportunity to acknowledge, if not consent to, the new state of affairs. This, by the way, is why cousins or siblings who domicile together need not marry - they already are kin for the purposes of property and medical issues. No additional legal standing is necessary. This is not the case for gay couples (even straight lovers can claim common law marriage for purposes of gaining medical decision making power over the interests of the family). That is why the Church's stance on gay marriage is so troubling to some of us - we have gay siblings whose unions we could not celebrate as fully as we could our own, including offering prayers for them. We have not had the chance to formally accept our new brother in law (though we whole heartedly do) and renounce our say in the life of our brother. For those who would comment about this post, please don't bore us with Old Testament or Pauline proof texting on homosexuality. Either address the family dynamic issues or concede that you have no response.
Anonymous | 12/23/2008 - 12:39pm
I explained how the nature of sacramental marriage in the first paragraph. Don't confuse the ceremony and the sacrament, they are not the same. The ceremony is for the community, including and especially the families. When enough families realize they are being ripped off by the Church, it will change - which is what scares many conservatives. Those who are resisting change will be retired soon. To ignore the human dynamic in doctrinal development is to ignore most church history.
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 12:29pm
You are definitely correct about the divorce issue. It's a bit difficult to make the case for marriage as a sacred institution only between a man and a woman when some half of all straight marriages end in divorce.
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 10:36am
(My apologies for a lengthy post in two parts; the word-count feature caused me to have to cut my previous post in half). I, too, keep listening to what Pastor Warren says. As I do so, I notice a consistent strategy of changing the subject--that is to way, of deliberate prevarication. Asked about the morality of homosexuality, and he responds by talking instead about promiscuity, about his gay "friends" who tell him that they see no need to refrain from doing what is "natural" and sleeping around. Asked about gay marriage, and he talks about pedophilia and incest instead. What he never quite talks about is gay human beings, gay lives, the scriptures, or the morality of using human beings as demonized objects. He does not talk about these matters because doing so would demonstrate that there simply is no kinder and gentler face underneath the mask now being donned by the religious right. There is only the face of obfuscation, to convince us that a movement fueled by hate stands for something other than hate. Once again, I find it appalling to reduce the response of many Americans to such abuse of religion to "feelings"--to hysterical reaction. This reductionistic approach to critique of the religious right ignores the sound, compelling reasons many of us object to giving this movement such a central place in our cultural and political life.
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 10:35am
"His comparison was clumsy but it is also clear that he was trying to say that he believes marriage is one way and not any possible other way . . . ." "Warren, of course, is a pastor not a blogger, and trying to find ways to explain oneself that others will not find hurtful does seem incumbent upon a Christian minister." Perhaps I'm cynical, but I doubt Rick Warren is "trying to say" or "trying to find ways to explain" anything. I think he's very clear about what he intends to say. He WANTS to say--clearly so--that gay marriage is akin to pedophilia. He does so because, as a kinder-and-gentler member of the religious right, he wants to shift the conversation away from the scriptures, which are increasingly seen as a threatened foundation for the anti-gay ethic of the religious right, and towards insinuation. He wants to profit from insinuating hateful things about a group of people, while masking the hatred in evasive language. (Conclusion to follow)
Anonymous | 12/22/2008 - 10:32am
I suspect the other way to divide Evangelicals is over economics. There are some in the Evangelical who believe in the prosperity Gospel, wealth as a sign of God's favor and poverty a sign of sin. There are others who do not. This is actually the great divide in that community. I suspect that Warren is closer to Obama (who is also, as a Pentacostal - a member of the Evangelical community) on this than he is the GOP. If that is the case (I have not spent much time researcing Rick Warren and don't plan to, his 15 minutes are likely soon to be up) then selecting Rev. Warren was probably a good idea. As the issue of gay marriage, the fact is that marriage is not an issue at all. People are married when they say they are, regardless of what society says. When I was in Catholic High School and Catholic marriage prep, we were told that the Priest is the witness for the community - the couple marries each other. I see no reason that this is not true for gays. Society must respect this declaration. Whatever you feel about the sexual issues, when someone says they are married to someone else, both doctors, the courts and family members should respect that - and without having to go through more legal hoops to do so than a heterosexual couple.