It is misguided to view the persisting flap over the inclusion of the Rev. Rick Warren in the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as primarily a gay rights concern.
In fact, it is a matter that cuts to the quick of the 233-year cultural struggle since 1776 from which Obama emerged as America’s president-elect this November, and that’s why it really does matter so much.
That said, one should ask whether, in the name of embracing differences, it would be appropriate to open the inaugural ceremony with an invocation by an outspoken racist.
Prejudice is prejudice, and bigotry is bigotry, especially when directed against an entire class of persons with perceived undesirable attributes, be they skin color, nationality, religious preference or sexual orientation.
The same simple reality fundamentally applies to the subjugation or determination of the inferiority of women by men.
Rick Warren is the very embodiment of all the above, and not as some unenlightened plumber, but as a high-profile quasi-celebrity figure, who because he speaks from behind a minister’s collar using religious terminology, thinks he can get away with spouting barely-disguised hate with no consequence.
Apparently, at least in the eyes of whomever was responsible for selecting him to lead off the inaugural, he can.
But it is critically important, especially in the wake of the historic cultural paradigm shift signaled by November’s election, that this matter not be readily dismissed, but be treated as a prime example of what separates tolerance for different views from intolerance for hate and prejudice.
MSNBC-TV news commentator Rachel Maddow rooted out the core prejudice in Warren’s message in a national television piece recently, revealing through file videotapes and quotes from Warren’s Saddleback Church website that his views are extremist, inflammatory, dangerous and hateful.
His church does not allow homosexuals to become members. Warren is shown in a video interview equating homosexuality with incest and pedophilia.
And his prejudicial attitudes extend to women, as well. Abortion is akin to genocide, he contends, and a women’s womb is “like Auschwitz” when it occurs.
Moreover, he preaches that there are only two justifications for divorce: abandonment and infidelity. As Maddow pointed out, the fact that he does not include physical or other abuse is very telling.
Warren has publicly said that Jews can’t get into heaven because they do not embrace his brand of religion.
Warren was a very loud spokesman advocating the passage of Proposition 8 in California in November, aimed at overturning a California Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. It won, and sent a pall over gays and lesbians and advocates of civil rights and liberties all across the U.S., almost all of whom were staunch supporters of Obama.
So, it was like pouring salt on a gigantic, fresh wound ripped open in the entire pro-Obama body politic to have Warren promptly called up by the Obama team to participate in one of the most high-profile events in the world.
The reaction of far too many has been almost as troubling as that bad decision, itself. For example, there are those who contend that denouncing bigotry is a form of bigotry, itself. That is flat-out foul and twisted thinking.
In more cases, there is the argument that Obama should be given a pass on this one, that there are far more important matters to focus on. Many gay and lesbian leaders have made the mistake of suggesting their gay and lesbian colleagues effectively shut up about this. What is to be gained by criticizing people for expressing their gut feelings on this matter, and what is to be gained by burying it?
As a seminary graduate, I have always viewed the “battle for the mind and soul” in the sphere of religious and cultural values as profoundly important, in fact at the very root of humanity’s struggle between progress and enlightenment, on one side, and reaction and barbarism, on the other.
It is from this perspective that the Rick Warren matter cannot be taken lightly, or dismissed in the name of simply embracing differences. Good and evil may still co-exist in reality, but they shouldn’t.