Rick Warren crashed George and Ali Stephanopoulos’s Christmas party last night. Not in the flesh, of course, but as a topic of conversation. Washington’s glitterati could not help themselves. With the nation in the throes of a full-fledged economic crisis and with American troops still firing in anger on two fronts, Barack Obama’s choice of a pastor to offer one of two prayers at the Inaugural ceremony was all the rage. Who says symbols don’t matter?
In fact, I am required to make a correction to my post on this topic last week because of something I learned last night. I correctly pointed out that one of the problems with the anti-gay marriage brigade is that they fail to recognize divorce as the greater threat to traditional marriage marriage than anything gay people do. E.J. Dionne, who is not only one of Washington’s smartest commentators, he is also one of the nicest, told me that Pastor Warren actually has made a similar statement and so I apologize for painting the entire anti-gay marriage movement with such a broad brush.
The general consensus of the crowd – other than how good the ginger bread cookies were – was that the main political significance of the choice was to create a divide within the evangelical community. Warren has been roundly criticized by some more extreme evangelicals for accepting the President-elect’s invitation. This is an argument evangelicals should have not least because it is almost impossible to imagine what Bible quotes could serve as proof texts for the argument. Calvin may have condemned human reason as utterly depraved, but his heirs must put it to good use to debate and decide the issue. That is a good thing. And, at the end of the day, I hope they will realize that there is more that unites them as Americans and as evangelicals than what they think of Rick Warren praying over the incoming President and the country he will be serving.
Something similar happened within the Catholic Church this year. Some bishops took an extreme position arguing that the only issue that mattered was abortion, and that only their approach to the issue was morally acceptable. Others said abortion was a huge issue but stood alongside others and that different approaches might be possible. After the election, no one left the Church over the squabble. There are more important things to know about a man than whom he voted for on November 4 and there are ties that bind, rooted in an event in a manger two thousand years ago, which are stronger than mere partisan ties.
There remains some debate about whether or not Warren should apologize to gays for comparing their unions to polygamy, incest, etc. I have listened to the quote several times and confess I am not sure an apology is necessary. His comparison was clumsy but it is also clear that he was trying to say that he believes marriage is one way and not any possible other way, and like it or not, those other types of sexual unions are the available alternatives. It is not clear to me that he was trying to be offensive.
It is clear to me that some would find the remarks hurtful. Now, there is a petty tyranny of those whose feelings are easily hurt, and they hurl their hurt into public debate as if it were an argument. Some conservatives consider the tyranny of "political correctness" to be more pervasive than it is, and more of a threat to right thinking (in both sense of the word "right") than it really is. It is, as I say, a petty tyranny and bloggers must be completely free from it or our writing would bore us all.
Warren, of course, is a pastor not a blogger, and trying to find ways to explain oneself that others will not find hurtful does seem incumbent upon a Christian minister. And, as a Catholic who enjoys going to confession, I think Warren should apologize because it is always a good thing to do and often facilitates a deeper and more profound Christian respect to emerge.
And Obama supporters - of all religious persuasions and whatever their sexual preference - should delight in the fact that we have a President-elect with the good sense to choose a preacher whose selection is forcing the evangelical community to think more deeply about its relationship to the political realm. That is a good thing. A very good thing.