Many gay and straight people who support gay marriage are furious with the President-elect for asking Reverend Rick Warren, who has expressed negative views about gays and gay marriage, to give the inaugural invocation. They see it as a betrayal of their support of Obama and believe that it is an unnecessary accomodation to the evangelical right. Warren has made some disparaging comments, comparing gay marriage to pedophilia and polygamy. He denies making these comparisons. Like any other person in the public eye he should be held accountable for his opinions. However, those opinions we disagree with should not solely define who he is and what he means to us progressives.

While I support gay rights and gay marriage, I also supported Obama because he has the ability to build coalitions between groups of people with competing interests. His willingness to stick his neck out on an issue before he is even inaugurated is exactly why many of us voted for him. Rather than howl, let’s think.
 

First, let’s recognize that Warren is a maverick among evangelicals. There, I said it. The “m” word. He supports a much more moderate-to-liberal social agenda than his evangelical counterparts, with the exception of gay marriage. Trying to include him in the Obama conversation not only reinforces Warren’s support for issues such as AIDs, poverty, and the environment, but also helps sap some of the strength of the more vituperative right wing evangelicals who have called the tune since the late ’70s. Fostering a political schism between moderate evangelicals and the most conservative evangelicals is politically advantageous to us in the long run, and we must think strategically, not tactically.

Second, one does not build bridges or advance a cause by playing it safe and preaching to the choir, pardon the phrase. If the Obama administration only reaches out to those who already agree with its social policies, little will change and the opportunity to expand the progressive base and further a more progressive agenda will be lost. Ironically, there are now some evangelicals who are concerned that Warren may not be sufficiently religious in his inaugural prayer. They believe that he should close his prayer with “in Jesus’ name we pray.” Apparently prayers that don’t end this way don’t get priority shipping to the Big Ear in the sky.

Finally, while I understand the anguish of those who are decrying Warren’s choice, he is only praying at a public ceremony, not making public policy statements. Let’s give the man an opportunity to say on a world stage what he is praying for and not get too bogged down in the presumed symbolism of Obama’s choice. If Warren makes offensive statements, and I can hardly believe that he will, then we can respond to them. Until then, let’s reach out to him and show him what we are made of, and show those who disagree with us that we are not so rigid and doctrinaire that we cannot give a little to eventually get a lot. That’s evolution, not revolution.

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