Pastor Warren at the Inauguration
By Jerome Grossman
On January 20, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America. Surprisingly, Obama has invited conservative evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the religious invocation to the two million people attending the ceremony in Washington, the 300 million Americans watching on television, and the billions around the world watching and listening as power changes hands in the world's unchallenged superpower.
Important political and social groups in the coalition that won the election for Obama are deeply disappointed at the choice of Warren. The pastor is a key figure in the opposition to gay rights, gay marriage and a woman's right to choose abortion. His rhetoric is exceptionally harsh, comparing gay marriage to “An older guy marrying a child" and to "One guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage", as well as comparing gays to pedophiles.
Gays and lesbians and supporters of abortion rights contributed mightily to Obama's campaign and gave him almost all their votes. Other enthusiastic supporters, civil libertarians and believers in the constitutional separation of church and state are stunned by the Warren invitation, that this man will address the world on behalf of Obama and the United States.
But they shouldn't be: they haven't been paying attention. During the campaign, in his march from liberal to the right, Obama vowed to expand President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative. In July, 2008, Obama proposed "Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships" that would include $500 million a year to faith-based service programs across the country. The plan would expand Bush’s programs that have been widely criticized for violating traditional separation of church and state by subsidizing religious institutions.
The Bush program also faced accusations of favoritism, especially toward evangelical groups. By appointing Warren, Obama is sending a message to those groups: the money will continue to flow, not only to the evangelicals but also to the African-American churches, not particularly rewarded in the Bush administration. As Obama subsidizes all religious institutions, the black churches will have the opportunity to catch up for past neglect. Honoring Warren is one way to begin the process. It won't be exactly a bailout, but it puts all the God-fearing on the gravy train. Let the strict constitutionalists worry.
On July 2, 2008, the Wall Street Journal printed an editorial entitled "Bush's Third Term" arguing that Obama was embracing a sizable chunk of President Bush's policy supporting retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, backing off from immediate and complete US military withdrawal from Iraq, modifying his position on NAFTA, supporting the death penalty for rape, spending more money on faith-based charities, supporting the landmark controversial 1996 welfare reform etc. The Journal was obviously trying to diminish Obama but the honor to Warren gives their analysis some credibility.
However, calling Obama’s reign the equivalent of Bush's Third Term is too great a stretch, carrying the political analysis too far and insulting to the new president. There never was a president as inept as George W. Bush, who set records for incompetence and lack of understanding. Obama may fail to satisfy his basic constituency on some issues but he will know what he's doing at all times.