National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Dismal Choice Of Rick Warren

The decision by the Obama transition team to invite the snake-in-the-grass Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church of Orange County, Calif., to deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration Jan. 20 has drawn fully justifiable, heartfelt pain and anger from Obama loyalists all across the land.

It is one thing to take a pragmatic approach to cabinet appointments, seeking a “team of rivals,” based on their experience and talents in governing.

It’s another thing, entirely, to reach out, embrace and give an unprecedented national spotlight to a man who stands as a bellicose spokesman against equal rights. Warren was a major ringleader of the effort to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian Americans in the passage of Proposition 8 in California last month.

His values, rooted in Christian “exceptionalism” and class-warfare hypocrisy, stand in stark contrast to those of the vast majority of the millions of Americans who, uplifted by the new hope they found embodied in the election of Obama, will be flooding the nation’s capital to catch a glimpse of the inauguration.

I wasn’t planning to battle the crowds, anyway. But were I younger, free to blow a full workday and willing to endure a severe shortage of porta-potties, my passion for attending in person would have been dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow by learning of the inclusion of such a bigoted thug as Rick Warren on the program.

Who knows, maybe Obama chose Warren in a deliberate attempt to thin out the crowds. Many, many Obama devotees feel as I do on this subject.

Obama and his team need to be more diligent, if indeed, they were suckered by Warren’s clever public persona as a softer, gentler form of bigot. Warren gives lip service to the environment, for example, but that’s because for him, it’s easier to love a salamander than a gay person or angry Muslim.

A little research would show Obama that Warren is the product of the same right-wing religious media machine that foists James Dobson and other more explicit haters on the American body politic.

These were the thugs that were defeated in the historic November presidential election. Or so we thought.

When it comes to religion, there is a basic litmus test that can begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, to separate the religions that aim to protect the privileges of the elites, and those which strive up to uplift and empower everyone.

At their base, the distinctions are as follows: religions of the privileged claim that core values lie in personal morality; religions of the people claim that core values lie in social morality, including economic justice and the uplifting of the dispossessed.

The former promotes charity, but on conditional terms. When push comes to shove, its goal is to keep people in their place, albeit a little cleaner and maybe with some new shoes.

The latter, with which the great Dr. Martin Luther King aligned, stands for universal justice and equality. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

In Washington, D.C. Tuesday, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, delivered a profound address on the “role of religion in the public square,” designed on the eve of the Obama inauguration, I can only presume, to begin cleansing government of the rancid influence of the right-wing religions of the privileged.

Her remarks on behalf of the “prophetic religious tradition” focused on enfranchising the disenfranchised were heartening, true, and in the spirit of Martin Luther King. Hopefully, they’re a harbinger of the direction the new Obama administration will take on matters of faith and the role of religion in government policy.

President-elect Obama and his advisers should get their hands on a copy of Bishop Schori’s remarks and study them well.

The day of the right-wing evangelical proponents of personal guilt and class-warfare are numbered, because it was the sentiments of Bishop Schori that pushed Obama into office. Now that such a faith-based progressivism has begun to find it voice, the thuggish domination of the religious dialogue by the right-wing apologists for the powerful elites is ending, notwithstanding the dismal choice of Rick Warren for the inauguration.