Obama’s choice of inaugural pastor angers gay activists

January 16th, 2009 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 16 (DPA) US president-elect Barack Obama angered many liberals and the gay community who worked to elect him by choosing a prominent evangelical pastor who has campaigned against abortion and gay marriage to offer the opening prayer at his inauguration.To gay activists, the brief but prominent role given to Rick Warren is seen as a betrayal. But for the next US president, it’s a culmination of what he said while campaigning: It’s important for Americans to come together even if they disagree on some social issues.

Warren, whose Saddleback Church in southern California has 22,000 members and whose book, The Purpose-Driven Life, is a bestseller, is an influential new leader of evangelical Christians, a key constituency of the Republican Party largely on moral issues such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Warren also advocates Biblical creationism over evolution to explain how life developed on Earth.

The gay rights movement, which suffered a major setback last November after the victory of a constitutional amendment in California to ban same-sex marriage, which Warren backed, is incensed. They call him the Creationist who compares gay marriage to incest and paedophilia.

Joe Solmonese, president of the largest gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, wrote to Obama that by inviting Warren “you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table”.

While acknowledging Obama’s promises to combat homophobia, Solmonese said: “We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”

Goeff Kors, executive director of Equality California, described the Warren pick as a “profound slap in the face to LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) Americans and all who stand for equality”.

Striking a conciliatory note after weeks of acrimonious debate, New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who was named the world’s first openly gay bishop in 2003, has been invited to give a prayer at the inaugural kick-off event Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

Robinson described the opportunity as “remarkable, humbling”, and said his inclusion would be important to the gay community.

Obama and Warren have embraced their disagreements, acknowledged their commonalities and are probably more similar than their supporters would like to believe. Both have positioned themselves as agents of change.

Warren, who uses his massive reach to address issues like poverty, AIDS, climate change and illiteracy, said he commended Obama “for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue”.

There are many who fear that by letting him offer the invocation, Obama is bestowing on Warren an unmistakable legitimacy as America’s pastor.

Others like the Reverend Lyndon Shakespeare, who presides over the All Saint’s Episcopal Church in New Jersey, have a more pragmatic view. The days of national religious figures may be ending, he said.

“The landscape of American religious practice reflects the diffusion of any sense of homogeneity in American culture as a whole. Rick Warren, a nouveau evangelical with a social conscience, is not a universal religious figure, but he represents a kind of American religiosity that is more easily stomached than most,” he told DPA.

“To his credit, Warren oversees a cult of personality that is required to secure a seat on the national stage. He is not everyone’s choice, yet given the landscape, there are not many options,” Shakespeare said.

Obama has said his inauguration will incorporate a range of viewpoints and “part of the magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated and so that’s the spirit in which we have to put together … a terrific inauguration.”

It’s not as easily said for Equality California’s Kors, who insists what’s at stake is not differing views such as on the size of the financial bail-out. “This is about a minority group being excluded from the equal protection guarantees of the constitution,” he recently wrote.

“If president-elect Obama doesn’t understand the difference, then we are in for a very long and disappointing four years.”

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