Extremist pastor is an insulting choice

December 23, 2008|By Katha Pollitt

To understand how angry and disappointed many Democrats are that Barack Obama has invited evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural, imagine if a President-elect John McCain had offered this unique honor to the Rev. Al Sharpton - or the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. I know, it's hard to picture: John McCain would never do that. Republicans respect their base even when, as in Mr. McCain's case, it doesn't really return the favor.

Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters - feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war - by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead.

Most Americans who have heard of Mr. Warren know him as the teddy-bearish, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing head of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, Calif., and the author of The Purpose Driven Life. Perhaps they also know he's the rare right-wing Christian pastor who sometimes talks about poverty and global warming and HIV. His concern for those issues has given him a reputation as a moderate.

But on the signal issues of the religious right, he is, as he himself has said, as orthodox as James Dobson.

And as inflammatory. Mr. Warren doesn't just oppose gay marriage, he has compared it to incest and pedophilia. He doesn't just want to ban abortion, he has compared women who terminate pregnancies to Nazis and the pro-choice position to Holocaust denial.

And forget about evolution; the existence of homosexuals, Mr. Warren has argued, disproves Darwin. And while we may not know how old the Earth is, the Saddleback Web site assures us that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

Mr. Warren claims that his views are mainstream, pointing out that in 30 states, the majority of voters have banned gay marriage. Popular doesn't mean right, of course, but regardless of what Americans think about gay marriage, on other so-called social issues, he's way out in far-right field.

Take abortion. Most Americans, whatever their personal feelings, are pro-choice. On Election Day, anti-choice initiatives went down to defeat in all three states where they were on the ballot. Most Americans do not think the one-third of American women who terminate a pregnancy are running a concentration camp in their wombs.

Or take marriage. At his Saddleback Church, wifely submission is official doctrine: The church Web site tells women to defer to their husband's "leadership" even when the husbands are wrong on important issues, such as finances. Never mind if she's an accountant and he flunked long division, or if she wants to beef up the kids' college fund and he wants to buy shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. Is elevating this male chauvinist how President-elect Obama thanks women, who gave him more than half his votes?

Or take foreign policy. In electing Mr. Obama, Americans overwhelmingly rejected President Bush's Wild West approach. Apparently Mr. Warren didn't get that memo. Unlike many evangelical preachers, he issued a statement against torture, but despite his access to Mr. Bush, he told Beliefnet.com that he never raised the subject of torture with him.

In a news conference last week, Mr. Obama defended the choice of Mr. Warren: "It is important for the country to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues." That's all very well, but excuse me if I don't feel all warm and fuzzy. Mr. Obama won because of the strenuous efforts of people who have spent the last eight years appalled by the Bush administration's wars and violations of human rights, its attacks on gays and women, its denigration of science, its general pandering to bigotry and ignorance in the name of God.

I'm all for building bridges, but honoring Mr. Warren, who insults Mr. Obama's base as perverts and murderers, is definitely a bridge too far.

Katha Pollitt, a poet, essayist and critic, writes the "Subject to Debate" column in The Nation magazine. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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