Monday, March 23, 2009

Reaction to post at about Rev. Warren

A student included this post from the website for their policy proposal analysis exercise:
I am so very saddened by the choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. I cannot fathom your insensitivity on this matter. I have been such a strong supporter of you and for you to disrespect gays and lesbians in the way you have is a slap in the face to all those supporting human rights. My wife was disabled and very active in the disability right movement yet she believed that to oppression of one group is to oppress of all. I fear that this is a continuation of all our oppression

Would you have chosen someone that advocates segregation to deliver the invocation, or someone that denies the holocaust, or someone who strongly advocates the cloistering of all people with disabilities? Yet you have someone like Rick Warren with his open and strong anti gay views to deliver the opening remarks at your inauguration.

I am shocked and saddened Mr. Obama. I hopped for so much more from you.

Carl Doering
The student wrote this response:

I would have to say that I agree with the poster. I really think that it is a slap in the face to all of Obama’s gay and lesbian supporters. If he would have chosen someone else who was denying the holocaust or was a person who discriminated another group, all hell would have broke lose. By Obama choosing who he did to deliver the inaugural invocation, it made a lot of people question how much equality he really wanted. Or maybe he does want equality, just not for gays and lesbians? Who knows, only time will tell us. We will have to watch and see how everything unfolds. I still am a big Obama supporter and I think he will do just fine.

Here is some of my response to the student:

Okay, let’s look at this policy.

Carl Doering is suggesting that Obama ought to have a policy of supporting the rights of persons to have the state recognize same-sex marriages. And, as a corollary of that policy, Doering is suggesting that Obama should only allow ministers who agree with that policy to give inaugural invocations. You are agreeing, and suggesting that by allowing a person who was a vocal and powerful opponent of equal rights for homosexuals (Warren endorsed Proposition 8) Obama has made a policy blunder.


Rick Warren is one of those persons who bases his ethical beliefs and ideas about what is right and wrong on the New Testament of the Bible, which includes some letters supposedly written by the Apostle Paul in which male homosexual behaviors seem pretty clearly to be condemned. There are many Americans who share Rick Warren’s beliefs, and I notice that Warren bases his public opposition to gay marriage and his support for Proposition Eight on the idea that “majority rules.” He points out that “most Americans” say marriage is, by definition, an institution that joins a man and woman. Warren also says that only 2% of Americans are homosexual (a reasonable estimate), and he says that such a small minority shouldn’t be allowed to push their views on the great majority of Americans (he ignores the fact that a much larger minority of us want the 2% to be allowed to marry persons of the same sex with government recognition).

Carl Doering is suggesting that Obama’s choice of Warren is an insult to many of Obama’s supporters. Mr. Doering compares the invitation of Rev. Warren to a hypothetical invitation to a racial segregationist, a holocaust denier, or a person who rejects the values of “least restrictive environment” and “inclusion” in terms of how we as a society treat persons with disabilities.

What is the underlying ethical expectation here? What value or state of goodness are you and Mr. Doering suggesting Obama has violated? It seems that Mr. Doering is concerned that Obama has violated expectations of loyalty, and has betrayed persons who had a reasonable expectation that Obama would not invite persons with conservative religious views based on Biblical (or Qur’anic) scriptures to give a prayer or invocation at the inauguration. Mr. Doering and you evidently also make a distinction between the odious view that people of different racial phenotypes or ethnic heritages ought to be kept apart, and the widely accepted view that politicians ought to maintain a sort of ideological purity, and avoid any inclusion of political leaders with morally reprehensible views in situations that would seem to offer honor, respect, or collaboration with those misguided leaders. For example, should Obama shake the hand of Hu Jin Tao of China when meeting him at international gatherings, when the Chinese government represented by Hu has enforced a tyrannical rule over Tibetans and supported the genocidal government in Sudan?

A series of questions rises to mind:

1) Many Republican leaders, and quite a few Democrats, share Rev. Warren’s views about marriage. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain supported Proposition 8. So did the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and so forth. So, should Obama have ruled out Catholics, Mormans, Orthodox Jews, etc. from being allowed to give an invocation at the inauguration? Should he have politically vetted the person giving an invocation to make sure their politics were okay, and they had no history of supporting conservative Republican positions?

2) The president serves in two roles: the President is both the leader over the executive branch of the government and the head of state. In places such as England and Canada these roles are split, with the monarch acting as the head of the state (figurehead for the nation) and a prime minister acting as the head of the government. As Obama fills his role as an occupant of an office that takes on certain ceremonial and institutional roles as a symbol of our nation, should he apply his role as the head of government to apply political standards to his decisions as head of state? Is the inauguration an aspect of the president’s head of state duties more than a manifestation of head-of-government responsibilities?

3) Clearly Americans have reached a near consensus on issues such as racial segregation (about 85% to 90% favor integration in principle, if not in practice). Almost all of us know the truth that the German Nazi party and European supporters of it’s military regime on the European Continent conspired and acted to destroy (kill) the Jewish, Gypsy, Communist, Pacifist, Disabled, Mentally Ill, and Homosexual populations of Europe. Almost all of us think that public resources should enable persons with disabilities to be included in mainstream American life and not excluded or given unnecessary socially-imposed handicaps. On these issues a speaker who was vocal in opposing the American near-consensus would be odd. Yet, a majority of Americans seem to share Rev. Warren’s position. Those of us who disagree with Proposition 8 may be offended by such opinions, but while a majority of our fellow citizens hold to those views, is it appropriate for us to claim that their views are as out-of-date and morally wrong as those 19th century apologists for slavery who said it was sanctioned in the Bible? The opponents against gay marriage seem to be making a claim that their religions give them a monopoly on the definition of a term, “marriage,” and they are not mounting successful efforts comparable to Proposition 8 to force the government to stop recognizing same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions (I’m sure they might like to, but those wouldn’t have sufficient political popularity outside of places like Utah and Oklahoma). It is only the government recognition of this term “marriage” that has these people riled up, am I right?

4) Do you think that since some religions accept same-sex marriage and some clergy conduct marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples, that the government must therefore recognize those marriages? Isn’t this a matter related to the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of state religions? And if so, isn’t it a matter to be settled by courts, and isn’t it the case that courts will eventually reflect changing standards in the general population? How is this different from our government’s refusal to allow plural marriages or bigamy, when such marital relations are permitted in some religious traditions?

5) As a matter of policy, a political leader should to some degree try to achieve purity, and show ideological loyalty to supporters. That is, a politician needs to have certain ideals, moral standards, and sentiments that they use to guide their behaviors and political acts. Also as a matter of policy, a political leader needs to create positive working relationships with the opposition. As Saul Alinsky suggested, we should have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Everyone can be a collaborator when we have aligned interests, and even a close ally can become an opponant on a particular issue. Are there many people who would oppose Obama on issues such as gay rights and women’s reproductive choice, but might support Obama on increasing spending for medical research, cutting the defense budget, and helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by introducing a cap-and-trade carbon emission limit that would double energy costs? It might make good political policy sense to reach out to our opponents on gay marriage if we can win them into a supportive relationship with us on other issues where they are so far neither friends nor foes.

6) Was inviting Rick Warren to give his invocation really likely to have benefits in terms of winning over the middle ground of potentially supportive Evangelicals and serious Christians who mildly support Republicans, and were those benefits greater than the losses of support from Obama’s anti-Proposition-8 base?

Incidentally, another question is whether Rev. Warren was able to give a good invocation. Here is the text of his prayer (taken from the official Catholic Church website
Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, ‘Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’ and you are the compassionate and merciful one and you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African American President of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African Immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or by blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us.

When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet.

And may we never forget that one day, all nations, all people will stand accountable before You. We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the One who changed my life—Yeshua, Esa, Jesus, Jesus—who taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Incidentally, another good invocation (Recessional) is this one by Rudyard Kipling, which seems appropriate:

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

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