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The Long Road to Change: Choosing a Convocation Speaker

Published by marco on

Most of the news coming from the Obama transition team is about appointments to various positions within the administration. For those who voted for Obama because they thought he was a progressive, the appointments provoke reactions ranging from disappointed to appalled. For those who listened to the words coming out of Obama’s mouth during the campaign—instead of hearing a prettified translation in their own heads—Obama’s mostly center-right choices are unsurprising. Some are more utterly mystifying than others: a prime example is the choice of Rick Warren to give the convocation at the inauguration. In other words, Obama—or his team of advisors—has selected Mr. Warren as the representative from the American religious community at his inauguration.

Rick Warren talks a good game and seems to have a very broad, open, social agenda wherein he wants to help AIDS victims in far-off countries. He’s a Mother Theresa, he is. At the same time, he’s a vocal opponent of gays and lesbians, though when questioned, he claims that he is not. He expends considerable will and effort supporting a ban on gay marriage in California, but claims he’s a big fan of Melissa Etheridge. She is, after a few meetings with him, apparently a big fan of his as well. This despite the fact that she can’t officially marry her longtime partner in part due to the efforts he made on behalf of his bigotry.

Can’t Obama find someone who helps poor people all the time and doesn’t hate homosexuals? Why do we settle for these half-ass representatives and public figures? It’s not like we know them; if they were in our family, then we’d do our best to maintain a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner by ignoring Uncle Rick’s bigotry, but we don’t owe these public figures anything. We don’t owe them our allegiance because they’re mostly Ok except for the tendency to persecute people that aren’t like them. There is a word for people like Warren: con man. In other words, he’s a strong personality who gets people to forget what they hate about him because he’s so damned likable. The degree to which we are willing to lower our standards in the States is ridiculous. Forget this guy; we deserve better. Don’t give him any national exposure or more airtime.

Saddleback’s Mission

Warren’s positive contributions—mostly done under the auspices of his church, the Saddleback Mission—seem, taken at face value, impressive. He writes of admirable goals, like feeding the poor and healing the sick. The following citation comes from the article, Rick Warren: “I love Muslims . . . I happen to love Gays and Straights” by Juan Cole (Informed Comment):

“[He and his wife] started going to southern Africa [to help the] 12 million children in Africa who had been orphaned by AIDS. […] He has identified 5 major problems he wants to address: Spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, disease pandemics, dire poverty, and illiteracy. He wants to do job creation and job training. He wants to wipe out malaria in the areas where it is still active. […] He is active in South Africa, Rwanda and more recently Uganda”

This sounds good, but it also comes straight from Saddleback’s materials about their own efforts, which are naturally going to be heavy on intent and light on accomplishment. Other sources—some of them from other charities operating in Africa—say that Warren’s charity stops far short of actually doing very much other than recruiting to his ministry and that he provides almost no data by which his mission’s progress can be measured. For specifics about Warren’s involvement in combatting not only AIDS, but also homosexuality and birth control in Africa, see How Rick Warren Is Undermining AIDs Prevention in Africa by Max Blumenthal (AlterNet). Another article, Shame on You, Rick Warren by Christopher Hitchens (Slate), notes deficiencies that are even more deeply-rooted:

“It seems to have been agreed by every single media outlet that only one group has the right to challenge Obama’s promotion of “Pastor” Rick Warren, and that group is the constituency of politically organized homosexuals. But why should that be? Last week, I pointed out that Warren maintains that heaven is closed to Jews and that his main theological mentor was a crackpot “end-of-days” ranter. Why is this not to count against him as well? Do we need our presidential invocation to be given by a bigmouth clerical businessman who is, furthermore, a religious sectarian?”

Charisma and Flim-flammery

If a man like Warren wants to be accepted on the national stage, we should pressure Obama to make him apologize for the anti-gay rhetoric before he gets up on that stage. Why are we so willing to give people what they want first in the hopes that they will change later? People don’t change unless they are forced. Tell him that he has to change his public attitude toward same-sex marriage or he doesn’t get the gig. He should be happy that his bigotry doesn’t disqualify him outright[1]. That isn’t how Obama’s handling it, of course. Instead, Obama’s calling for people to come together even though they differ on issues. Issues like whether gay people are equal human beings or not. WTF.

In doing so, Obama is putting his charisma to work for Warren, for whatever reason. This is the cult of personality to which people are senselessly addicted. It was there with Clinton, it was there with Bush II. It is there with Obama as well. We are willing to forgive them their faults, but without requiring that they do anything about those faults before we hand them the keys to the castle. Hitler was kick-ass for the economy; got that motherf%#ker rolling along righteously. He had some unnattractive viewpoints, but what can you do? Pobody’s nerfect. And the thing is that we continue to believe what we want, even when it’s contradicted by the person him- or herself. The article, Obama Fans Suddenly Outraged by Bigotry by Steven Salaita (Antiwar.com), points out that Obama, in his entire two-year campaign, at no point indicated that he supported gay rights. It was just assumed that the leftie—as the media insisted on calling him—was bound to support the homosexual agenda, as it’s so generously called.

Instead, here’s Obama on gay marriage:

“I’m a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

In the article by Juan Cole cited above, he has Warren dismissing the furor over his appointment as a media fabrication (what else?) and regretting the “increasing rudeness and rancor of public life in the United States, and urg[ing] greater civility and willingness to work with people across the spectrum of opinion”. Curiously, Warren failed to retract comments he had previously made comparing homosexuality to “pedophilia or incest”. That’s not rude or rancorous at all.

Cole, however, makes the classic error when dealing with powerful personalities: he dumbly nods in agreement that said personality should get whatever it wants immediately (the speaking engagement at the inauguration) and we should all hope that Warren will, at some point and without any pressure, “back off some of the hurtful things he has said about gays and rethink his support for Proposition 8”[2]. If we do, we’re just a bunch of patsies and we honestly have the government that we deserve. Warren is grinning ear-to-ear because he doesn’t have to concede anything and America rolls over and acts like a victim of domestic violence once again.[3]

Other Examples (Huckabee and Ratzinger)

It would be somewhat understandable if Warren had only slipped up once or twice, but he waged a whole campaign against homosexuals and is partly responsible for people in California being threatened with state-imposed divorce[4]. And it’s not as if there are two viable viewpoints here: there is acceptance of homosexuals as human beings … and there’s everything else. And everything else is not morally justifiable. The article, Where is the love? by Maria (Crooked Timber), describes the twists and turns through which the author, a Catholic with a conscience, goes in trying to reconcile a faith supposedly based on loving one’s fellow man with one that sees fit to classify some people as sub-human. An abject hatred for gays has been recently re-ratified by Pope Ratzinger[5]; the author responds thusly:

“The violence of the rhetoric belies the strength of the reasoning. There can be no truly Christian argument against gay marriage. Even if you genuinely believe your own straight marriage is somehow lessened because gay people can marry too, why does it follow that you wouldn’t suffer it anyway in order to give other people that joy?”

To focus on another former American public official, what does Etheridge or Obama think of Mike Huckabee? In a recent interview, Mike Huckabee Pt. 2 | The Daily Show | Comedy Central (Daily Show), Huckabee struggled to find cogent examples to justify his gut feelings against homosexuals. Jon Stewart failed to succumb completely to his nice-guy vibe—though he did suck up once or twice pretty gratuitously—and absolutely destroyed him on the right-to-marriage. And yet, Huckabee was hired as an analyst at Fox News and is considering a run for the presidency in 2012. He is ridiculously under-equipped mentally, nice guy though he might be. Would Obama appreciate the effort Huckabee makes in even talking about why he thinks gays are inferior? How bigoted is too bigoted for people like Obama?

Watch the video to see Huckabee struggle to formulate his bigotry so that it sounds rational and scientific. He and Warren—as well as other leading lights of the religious intelligentsia like James Dobson—believe that homosexuality is a choice. They simply don’t believe that people are born as homosexuals and think that those people made the wrong choice and should be condemned for it. Well, what about choosing a religion?[6] No one is born Muslim or Jewish or Catholic; they are born into Muslim, Jewish or Catholic families and learn how to be practitioners of that faith. But guys like Warren, Dobson and Huckabee feel perfectly comfortable in claiming that their religion is unassailable, but that homosexuals can be treated as second-class citizens for their “choice”. All this despite the fact that most of these proponents have probably never had actual contact or friendship with a gay person. If these idiots aren’t persecuted for having chosen to be ignorant, they should give homosexuals the same leeway.

Why don’t our officials (e.g. Barack Obama) extract promises to reform from people before they grant them a privilege or honor? In this case, making Warren apologize for his behavior seems kind of useless, as he’s already gotten what he wanted viz. gays aren’t allowed to marry in most states in the U.S. Well, because Obama is a politician. He doesn’t care enough about gay rights—as he stated in an interview with Warren during the campaign, he does not support gay marriage—to make it an issue. Warren claims to be a guy who does a lot of good for a lot of people, unless they’re faggots. That makes his choice for the invocation look progressive to those with rose-colored glasses and appeases Obama’s fan base. Warren also appeals to the evangelists, in whom Obama is also very interested, in order to shore up support “across the aisle”. So Obama gets the most possible support from the most possible people by letting them all think he actually supports them, when, in fact, he supports nothing of the kind. It is—and has been—a winning formula for him.

[1] Though in the author’s humble opinion, it should.
[2] Defenders of Proposition 8 say that the people have spoken, but that is far too simplistic. The people are not allowed to make illegal things legal. They can’t vote to allow the murdering of redheads, for example. Just like they can’t vote to enact a law that repeals basic rights granted in a state constitution. That’s why the courts sometimes overturn legislation when they discover that it contradicts existing law.
[3] i.e. “He didn’t mean it! He loves me!”
[4] Seriously. Is this what America has become? Some parody of a late 60's Eastern Bloc nation?

Perfectly aware that he’s called Pope Benedict now, but I’m not letting him get away from that name that easily. Especially not after his most recent statement, in which he said that:

“(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration. “The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

In the Pope’s opinion, in the same way that ecology purifies the planet, the role of religion is to purify mankind. In this specific case, it is homosexuality that must be purged as it is, in the words of another high-level Vatican official, “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”.

[6] Taking the argument that Jon Stewart used in his discussion with Mike Huckabee.