Rick Warren's conservative. So what?

December 19, 2008

While members of the religious right are upset that Rick Warren accepted President-elect Obama's invitation to give the invocation at his inauguration, much of the left is upset that Obama asked him in the first place.

The latter group's criticism focuses on statements Warren's made about abortion and gays and lesbians, and on the role he played in organizing support for California's Prop. 8. Couldn't Obama have asked someone a bit lower-key?

But
it seems to me that the more basic question is this: Is it appropriate
for the clergy involved with the day's program to include a
representative of the country's (many) evangelicals? Okay, so the really
fundamental question is, why do we have to go and baptize civil events
in the first place? But leaving that aside, why not an evangelical?
During the election—which, of course, he won—Obama continually
reached out to evangelicals and talked about making common cause with
them. Inviting an evangelical leader to give an invocation—which, by the
way, isn't exactly a seat at the policymaking table—fits right into this theme.

And if asking an evangelical makes sense, why not Warren? He's no moderate,
but he's not a religious-right thug, either. His culture war bona fides
are weak compared to other evangelicals. Yes, Obama could have asked a
liberal pastor to participate—actually, he did, and it's reasonable to balance this with an evangelical.

Warren
has an enormous following, and his work has never been primarily
political in nature, despite recent shoulder-rubbing with political
power. He's a bit like Billy Graham, who was cozy with a long,
continuous string of presidents starting with Eisenhower.

Why is Warren such a controversial choice?