Politics make strange bedfellows

by Kheven LaGrone

Rev. Rick Warren’s hour-long interviews Aug. 17, first with Sen. Barack Obama and, afterward, with Sen. John McCain, drew huge television audiences. – Photo: Monica Ahneida, New York TimesPresident-elect Barack Obama’s decision to invite Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural prayer set off a political firestorm. Some gay rights activists are angered and feel betrayed by Obama’s invitation to Rev. Warren; some accused Obama of giving an international platform to an anti-gay marriage messenger and homophobe.

Some gay rights activists seemed to believe that by their supporting Obama, they had made a pact with him to push the conservative right into a corner to wither away and die. They seemed to believe that the conservative right deserved no voice.

I heard a self-identified gay man call into a radio talk show and say that he regretted voting for Obama. As if McCain-Palin were pro-gay marriage and the man sacrificed his vote for Obama instead.

In the past, Rev. Warren had spoken out against gay marriage; however, recently he has said publicly that he does not hate gays or lesbians. Perhaps it is not a retraction of his earlier statements about gay marriage, but this recent public statement reaches out to gays and lesbians.

Nor does Rev. Warren’s recent statement mean that he has to support gay marriage. However, he does counter the notion that all opponents of gay marriage are homophobes. In fact, some people simply believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, together that man and woman make a lifelong commitment to raise the children that they bring into this world. Their opinion is neither faith-based nor homophobic. If anything, it is biology-based.

After Prop 8 passed, the pro-gay marriage movement seemed to be moving toward a pro-gay fascism. Some anti-Prop 8 protesters seemed to suggest that Christian conservatives should have no voice because their opinions were ill-formed and Bible-based. Some argued that to vote against gay marriage because of one’s faith violated “separation of church and state.” Some suggested that Christian conservatives who opposed gay marriage were just blindly following their religious leaders.

But whose vote is valid or invalid? Is a Christian’s basing her vote on her faith any different than a gay activist’s basing his vote on his gay relationship?

Some progressive critics dismissed Christian conservatives as “fanatical” or “irrational.” But was the privileged white American man wearing a suit and tie on national television and announcing that he was gay and an “oppressed minority” more rational?

Yet, Rev. Rick Warren may not truly be the voice of the Christian conservative. He had been attacked by fellow conservative Christian leaders for not being conservative enough and being “too soft on liberals.” Some pro-lifers were upset that he would agree to give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration.

Hence, conservative Christian leaders and these gay activists have become bedfellows in their criticism of the choice of Rev. Rick Warren’s to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration.

Obama didn’t betray the gay movement nor is he pandering to the conservative right. Using Rev. Warren, he is creating a bridge between two “warring factions.” Under the Obama presidency, gay activists will have to share the national platform with opposing perspectives – including those of the conservative right.

Conservative Christian leaders and gay activists have become bedfellows in their criticism of the choice of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration.

Demonizing conservative Christians by comparing them to the white segregationists during the Black Civil Rights Movement is shallow and misinformed. I’ve known some conservatives who don’t support gay marriage but do not hate gays and lesbians, so stereotyping the opponents of gay marriage is baseless and likely will not go too far.

A conservative Christian’s faith may be just as important and valid to him as sexual expression is to a gay activist. Therefore, marginalizing or invalidating the Bible will surely cause a backlash.

In fact, Obama has already begun bridge-building, as lesbian songwriter-singer Melissa Etheridge demonstrated in her Huffingtonpost.com article titled “The Choice Is Ours Now.” When she first heard that Rev. Warren would be giving the invocation, she called it “another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration.”

Later, she learned that Rev. Warren was to be the keynote speaker at a conference where she was to perform. They talked. She wrote about their conversation:

“He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with Proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about Proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church; I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids.”

Obama’s invite to Rev. Warren can bring the gay movement the visibility to counter homophobia worldwide. The gay movement will have the platform to counter the homophobic readings of the Bible and other religious texts.

And now, for balance, Obama can appoint an African American man who loves African American men or an African American woman who loves African American women to a position.

Besides, as Vice President-elect Joe Biden said, Rev. Warren is giving an invocation, not setting policy.

Kheven LaGroneKheven LaGrone, who can be reached at kheven@aol.com, is the editor of “Dialogue: The Color Purple,” a collection of writings by Asian and American scholars on the controversial novel. The book will be published by Rodopi Press and is coming out this spring 2009.