Should We Trust Obama on Rick Warren?

Shortly after this issue hits the stands, I’ll see whether I had any handle on (then) President Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his January 20 inauguration

I first was appalled, then considered: Was Obama being canny? No way can he burst upon the scene, the freshly minted Commander-in-Chief, and put all gay issues on the front burner. If they are to be addressed, then so, too, must be the acknowledgment and inclusion of right-wing evangelicals.

I doubted—and still do—that Warren will be unleashed to rail against gays. Maybe being in the national spotlight can make him pause and consider some of his views—or, more realistically, modify their expression.

Warren is founder and pastor of the mega Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California (fourth-largest church in the United States), and author of the 20-million-copy devotional best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life. Because he’s in a position to affect millions of adherents, any change in tone or intensity can make a difference to his listeners.

If, as some maintain, the very act of observing changes the observed, possibly to be seen by the entire country—the world—it will push Warren to begin to see himself through a more inclusive lens. Or, that might just be my own blue-sky view.

I’ve encountered widely varying opinions on Warren, including a straight friend who thought Obama had made “a terrible mistake.”

Vince Sgambati, a gay dad whose column “In a Family Way” appears in Lavender, wrote to the Reader’s Page on December 26, 2008, asking, “…do you really expect my family to be led in prayer by a man who would not allow us to be members of his church unless Jack and I repent our ‘lifestyle,’ or who compares our 32 years together to incest and pedophilia (having a 12-year-old child, I find such a comparison especially abhorrent), or who used his power to strip LGBT couples in California of their rights?”

On the other hand, Mark Segal, Publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, wrote in part: “The Rev. Rick Warren…community, get a grip!….This can be viewed as a misstep or a shrewd political move, depending on how much you trust the candidate you worked so hard to elect. So do you want to believe you were correct in your support or you were fooled? This is a trust issue.”

Segal added, “Personally, this is a small issue. One minute at the inauguration will not amount to political change, but instead leave the impression that the man who promised to bring us together is making an attempt to show those who didn’t support him he’s reaching out to them.”

Call me wishy-washy, but I can see both sides. I prefer to err on the side of trust, but we’ll see. Only time will tell.

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