Thursday, December 18, 2008

Talking Points Justifying Rick Warren as Obama's Pastor: Insult Added to Injury

In response to criticism about the choice of Rick Warren as Obama’s inauguration pastor, the Obama inauguration team has released a set of talking points about the selection. These are appearing on various websites today. I’ve taken the list below from Huffington Post (

The talking points follow (with my emphasis added to some sections):

• This will be the most open, accessible, and inclusive Inauguration in American history.

• In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world's most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.

• Pastor Rick Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. He's devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, the President-elect recently addressed Rick Warren's Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health to salute Warren's leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and pledge his support to the effort in the years ahead.

• The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community. They disagree on other issues as well. But what's important is that they agree on many issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, including poverty relief and moving toward a sustainable planet; and they share a commitment to renewing America's promise by expanding opportunity at home and restoring our moral leadership abroad.

• As he's said again and again, the President-elect is committed to bringing together all sides of the faith discussion in search of common ground. That's the only way we'll be able to unite this country with the resolve and common purpose necessary to solve the challenges we face.

• The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight.

• And for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade.

Sorry, but these talking points just don’t do it. They make the problem worse, Mr. Obama.

To state that Pastor Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden and of performing good works for the poor adds insult to injury.

Given Rick Warren’s undisguised opposition to gay rights and to gay human beings, one can only speak of his concern for the disadvantaged, downtrodden, and poor alongside that atrocious record re: gay human beings if one assumes—and wants to communicate—that gay human beings are not among the disadvantaged, downtrodden, and poor.

To say that you agree with Rick Warren on issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, when he actively opposes social justice and fundamental rights for gay Americans, is to imply that gay Americans and our needs are outside the scope of social justice.

These statements are affronts to gay and lesbian Americans. They overlook—they make invisible—the very real suffering we endure on a routine basis because we are denied rights. These include but go far beyond the right to marriage.

They include the right to protection from being fired solely because we are gay or lesbian. They include the right to protection from physical assault because we are gay or lesbian—a right enjoyed by other demeaned minority groups. They include the right to dispose of our property as we wish when we are in committed relationships, to make decisions about the medical care of partners, the right to adopt children including children of our partner, the right to visit partners in the hospital.

They include the right to fair treatment in housing and employment—the right to be considered for employment on the basis of our merits and not our sexual orientation, the right to be treated honestly and fairly by supervisors regardless of our sexual orientation. In sum, throughout this nation with the soul of a church, we who are gay or lesbian often do not enjoy human rights essential to the pursuit of a humane existence.

The reading of the Jewish and Christian scriptures your talking points and your choice of Rick Warren as your pastor imply is a truncated, selective reading, which applies the term “poor” only to sanitized groups of the disadvantaged and downtrodden. The concept of the “poor” in the Christian scriptures—the concept Jesus himself employs—is rooted in the Jewish scriptures’ reflection on the anawim.

The anawim are those pushed outside community life. They are those denied the rights others enjoy, those who do not have access to power in the social structures within which they live.

Despite what many evangelical Christians choose to believe—and what members of some minority groups one would expect to understand the process of social marginalization believe—not all gay Americans are privileged, wealthy, and/or living in places in which we enjoy a wide range of social and legal protections. Many of us, in fact, live in the more than 30 states that have no legal protection at all for gay citizens in the areas of housing and employment.

Rev. Warren and his allies actively promote this arrangement of inequity and discrimination. They actively target gay Americans, participating in our oppression while pretending to honor scriptural imperatives that tell us to take care of the poor and to combat oppression.

Your choice of Rick Warren as your inauguration pastor is indefensible. It sends a clear signal of second-class citizenship to your gay supporters. And your talking points compound the problem: they add insult to the injury already done by your choice of Rev. Warren.