Friday, December 19, 2008

The President & The Pastor

President- Elect Obama is catching some flack from liberal groups for picking Saddleback Ranch pastor Rick Warren to lead the invocation at his inauguration. Warren is pro-life and anti-gay (he uses the same faulty arguments against gay marriage as Mike Huckabee).

Liberals waited to get one of their own in the White House for a long time, and giving such a high- profile honor to a social conservative has many groups uneasy.

Their disappointment is unfounded. Obama is committed to the power of what unites us. When you try to change the status quo in a profound way, you have to be. While there are fundamental differences between the incoming Obama administration and Warren and his flock, there are also important ties.

There are those who will say that it's easy for a straight person to think this way, and that a poor record on gay rights (human rights) should be a deal breaker. There are those who would accept a dialogue between Warren and Obama, but who will say that such a prominent role goes too far, that it's a slap in the face to those who fought to put Obama where he'll be on January 20.

To them, I submit that Barack Obama needs Rick Warren more than vice versa. Rick Warren is one of the most popular people in America, his readers and followers number in the millions.

He isn't going anywhere.

So, Obama can either bring him into the fold, enlist his help in the areas on which they can agree, or, he can marginalize Warren, brush off his congregation. Tell 'em to stick it, and wish 'em better luck in 2012. Then, Warren can spend his Sundays railing against the "liberals" in government and inflame his followers with exaggerations about their social agenda.

Having Warren lead the Inauguration's prayer is an attempt at unity. It's a new day for all Americans, not just the ones who voted Obama/ Biden. Just because there are fundamental disagreements doesn't mean that conservatives don't get a seat at the table. If they're shut out then real change either won't come or won't last.

And Warren, while socially conservative, is not over- the- top in his rhetoric or beliefs. This isn't Pat Robertson or Jerry Fallwell. So while the disagreements are vehement, Warren holds an ethos that's very much in the mainstream.

I'm old enough to remember the schisms that surrounded the last two presidents. One invoked conspiracy theories against his enemies, the other described the slimmest of victories as significant political capital, and governed from the extreme.

Change was temporary, achievements fleeting. President Bush in particular taught us the emptiness of the politics of division.

On Election Day, Americans chose a different path, and Obama is now leading the way. Liberals and conservatives alike should neither expect nor wish for anything different.

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