The Selection of Rick Warren

The hysteria on the Left, especially gay rights activists, over President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of mega-church pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural ceremony is comic. For those who care about the rights of gays and lesbians, however, the hysteria is also tragic, exposing just how poorly served the cause is by its apparent leaders.

Rev. Warren, unsurprisingly, supported Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned the ruling of the California Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage. The Catholic bishops and most other religious organizations also supported the measure and, on election day, so did a majority of voters. Unprepared for this outcome, gay activists have been mounting protests since election day, targeting the Mormon Church especially and now Warren as well. But, where were the leaders of gay civil rights organization BEFORE the election making sure that in California of all places, they should have won at the ballot box?


The Human Rights Campaign Fund is the nation’s leading gay rights organization. They throw fancy fundraising dinners and have a fancy headquarters in Washington, but they have done precious little to actually promote civil rights. And, why they jumped on to the gay marriage bandwagon (which lacks majority support) when they had not succeeded in passing a federal non-discrimination bill (which enjoys majority support) is beyond me. HRC’s president Jay Solomonese issued a barely literate letter (syntax anyone?) to Obama opposing Warren’s selection.

The gay marriage movement was misguided from the start. Part of playing politics is calculating the reaction to one’s position and the consequences that flow therefrom. But, Andrew Sullivan decided he wanted to be a bride and – voila – an issue was born. Sullivan has always had a tin ear for American politics so perhaps he can be forgiven for failing to anticipate how and why attacking a central totem of the culture would provoke a backlash. As a result of the push for gay marriage, more than thirty states now have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and civil unions but Sullivan and his partner were able to exchange vows in Provincetown.

Gay marriage advocates do not want to admit it but they have made life harder for gays in most states in America. When the Massachusetts Court first ruled in favor of gay marriage, I was living in Little Rock, Arkansas and my gay neighbors understood the significance of the decision for them immediately. They knew the backlash would make it less likely they would ever get the legal protections afforded by civil unions. "Is it really that hard to be gay in Boston?" one of them asked. Civil unions may be half of a loaf to gay marriage advocates, but is it right to insist on a full-loaf when your insistence robs others of even their half?

California voters could also be forgiven for objecting to the role of their courts in all of this. By pursuing a strategy of winning the right to marriage through the courts, gay marriage advocates have alienated those who simply object to the most non-democratic branch of government changing cultural norms on a 4-3 vote. The Constitution requires super-majorities for certain fundamental acts, like a constitutional amendment, so why should a 4-3 vote of a court be able to make such a sweeping change? And, the Court’s ruling was offensive. It declared support for civil unions and opposition to gay marriage the equivalent of Jim Crow’s "separate but equal" segregation of the races. Mind you, Obama holds this position: he supports civil unions but opposes gay marriage. Does anyone really think gays in 2008 face the obstacles, legal and cultural, that blacks faced in the South in the 1950s? Are gays legally oppressed in any meaningful sense of the word? Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Solomonese don’t appear oppressed: They appear on cable news.

To be clear, the anti-gay marriage movement has its own problems. Gay marriage is hardly the "threat" to traditional marriage that divorce is. I don’t see Rev. Warren arguing for a proposition to repeal California’s liberal divorce laws. And, their concern for traditional marriage should not, and need not, exclude the extension of civil rights to other unions. In Ireland and Latin America, Catholic bishops have actually led the effort to find a compromise that extends benefits to people who are domiciled together, whether they are gay partners or cousins in difficult economic circumstances, while retaining the linguistic and cultural uniqueness of traditional marriage in their countries’ laws. Yes, gay couples will likely enjoy basic rights in Uruguay before they do in Arkansas.

There are many more aspects of the Warren selection that deserve attention. It is striking to me that evangelicals did not bolt the GOP fold in significant numbers while a significant – and in some states decisive – number of Catholic voters did switch from red to blue, yet Rev. Warren got the nod rather than, say, the Archbishop of Washington. The heat that Warren is getting from his right flank is also worthy of note. And, the basic ignorance of Western intellectual history displayed by several leftie talking heads should make one laugh the next time they accuse the right of being anti-intellectual: Kathryn Kolbert from People for the American Way gets the gold for her caricature of basic Christian theology.

The most important point, however, is that Obama is showing himself to be a deft politician. Warren’s blessing will mean more to him than the current kerfuffle from gay rights activists. Warren is an avenue to those evangelicals who might yet be persuaded to come into the Democratic fold. That is Obama’s political objective and he took a big step towards it with his choice.

Michael Sean Winters


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 1 month ago
Greg writes: "What is the hope in reaching out to this man? That he is going to change his mind? Not gonna happen. That he will compromise? Not gonna happen, he's said so repeatedly." This sounds a lot like what I've heard from pro-life friends of mine, who object to Warren appearing in public with pro-choice Obama...
10 years 1 month ago
There is nothing at all untoward about minority groups going to the Courts to enforce their constitutional rights. The point of a legal strategy is that equal protection rights are already there and to deny them by legislative action is itself illicit. Even constitutional plebicites must take a back seat to the basic rights of minorities - especially on the federal level. The death or resignation of one Supreme Court Justice on the right will likely see this issue go forward - all the way forward. The conservatives are likely counting on this, at it gives them both an electoral issue and the only chance they will ever get to pass their slate of constitutional amendments at the federal level (marriage, life, flag burning, school prayer). Even if they don't win ratification, it will do wonders for their organization and fundraising. Follow the money if you don't believe me.
10 years 1 month ago
The reaction of the gay rights activists and others supporting them to the selection of Rick Warren reminds me of the way many American Jewish groups react to anyone who is openly critical of Israel's policies, particularly toward Palestinians, whom they reflexively call Anti-Semitic. Despite their protestations, this is about Warren's support for Proposition 8 in California. To those who would disagree, I would ask, ''Can you name me a minister who believes in the objective wrong of homosexual acts whom you could support to be on the podium with Barak Obama?'' I would ask a similar question of Jewish activists, if they could name a (non-Jewish) critic of Israeli policy whom they would not call Anti-Semitic. If they cannot come up with credible examples, then this is simply an issue of political correctness for them, not human rights.
10 years 1 month ago
I must have been one of those gay neighbors in Little Rock you didn't consult, Michael. If you had done so, I'd have told you that the language with which you start this reflection is offensive to me and many other gay folks, as well as to women. The term "hysteria," which is rooted in the Greek word for "womb," is a pseudo-scientific term which suggests that women's "emotional" over-reaction to issues is pathological and biologically determined rather than rational. Applied to gay folks, the same word usually tries to marginalize the insights of gay men by suggesting that gay men are feminine and prone to being "reactive" and "emotional." As these preliminary observations suggest, perhaps the biggest problem the debate about the Rick Warren selection is bringing to light is the inability of many folks outside the gay experience to understand where gay folks come from, and why we come from there, when we react so strongly to choices like the choice of Rick Warren. There is a . . . tone-deafness . . . on the part of many non-gay political and religious commentators to these issues, particularly on the part of married straight men, because there has been too little listening. The attempts to understand the reaction of many gay folks to such choices, beyond the superficial dismissal of that reaction as hysterical: these haven't been there nearly enough such attempts in many religious and political circles. Until it's there, gay folks and our anger will continue to appear to many political and religious commentators as if we/it come from another planet. That seems to me to be unhealthy for our nation, if human rights issues are at the heart of this debate.
10 years 1 month ago
FYI-Rainbow Alliance:
10 years 1 month ago
You wrote .... "The Catholic bishops and most other religious organizations also supported the measure and, on election day" You left out the Episcopal Church - all the California Bishops of that Church publically opposed proposition 8 You wrote .... "Andrew Sullivan decided he wanted to be a bride and – voila – an issue was born." Be careful - your contempt is showing. You wrote ..... "Are gays legally oppressed in any meaningful sense of the word?" Even you admit that gays have more chance of attainng legal rights in South America than here. And in the Catholic world, they are characterized as unworthy of being priests, getting married or raising children. Given the level of loathing among people like you, gays have worries that transcend mere legal rights - think of Matthew Shepard - but legal rights are important nonthe less. And finally, you wrote ..... "Obama is showing himself to be a deft politician. Warren’s blessing will mean more to him than the current kerfuffle from gay rights activists. Warren is an avenue to those evangelicals who might yet be persuaded to come into the Democratic fold. That is Obama’s political objective and he took a big step towards it with his choice." I voted for Obama, and what this say about him to me is somewhat different. It says he is willing to step on the backs of those who can do him no good in order to consolidate his power. It says he is an opportunist. BTW, in case you're wondering, I'm heterosexual.
10 years 1 month ago
We all know for Rick Warren that ''faith and church'' are big business. Mr. Warren's actions do help a lot of people but so does Bill Gates!It's business.It's about the money and power. His selection by Obama is a reflection on Obama's spirituality and sensibilities not Warren's! The invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the inaugeration is a proclamation of an alliance bewteen the business of politics and the business of religion. Where's the theology here? It's about power and control. Sometimes it's not hard to envision Jesus just shaking his head in disbelief. Do you really believe that either Obama or Warren really care about the welfare of gays , the poor or the sick ?
10 years 1 month ago
I am a gay man and I am not angry that Obama has chosen Rick Warren to give the invocation. Also I have had the same partner for over 42 years and I live in San Francisco and voted against Proposition 8. I found this article by Michael Sean Winters insightful and I learned some things that I did not know. Evangelicals seem to more willing to work with others on social justice. I think that this is a hopeful development. Perhaps this will lead to more justice for poor people and immigrants. I belong to two minorities. I am gay and I am Latino. In the basement of my house I have a nice small apartment. Two undocumented immigrants live there rent free. I do this so that they can send more money to their wives and children back home in Sinaloa, Mexico. They also eat with me. I believe these men and poor people have a better chance with Obama. I hope evangelicals can help us. I certainly am willing to ask them for help Perhaps in time this will also lead to more justice for gay people. I am willing to wait if poor people and immigrants get more help in the meantime.
10 years 1 month ago
Interesting point of view and observations. Alas, it was a needless choice of words to say Andrew Sullivan wanted to be a "bride." Obviously, he is not a bride. Why go there?
10 years 1 month ago
Sorry, Rick Warren is a wolf in sheep's clothing. I simply cannot get around the idea of including someone in Obama's inauguration who adamently refuses to recognize the rights of fellow americans. Evangelicals, and religious people in general, should have a seat at the table of governing. But Rick Warren is undeserving of the great honor of being involved in what will be the most historic, and symbolism-rich, inauguration ever. What is the hope in reaching out to this man? That he is going to change his mind? Not gonna happen. That he will compromise? Not gonna happen, he's said so repeatedly. Bigotry is bigotry, no matter how fancy you dres sit up.
10 years 1 month ago
Re:Rainbow Alliance at Jesuit Schools FYI: The Rainbow Alliance is not consistent with The Word Made Flesh, God's Truth on Sexual Love. If you Love someone, you tell them the Truth. The Truth is consistent, Yesterday, Today, and Always. We can not transform Christ, it is Christ who transforms us.


The latest from america

Native American protestors hold hands with parishioner Nathanial Hall, right, during a group prayer outside the Catholic Diocese of Covington on Jan. 22, 2019, in Covington, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The furor over a chance meeting between Catholic high school students and Native American protesters underscores the need to listen and learn from indigenous voices.
Marlene LangJanuary 23, 2019
The staggering parliamentary defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May, seen here leaving 10 Downing Street on Jan. 23, pushed the country even further from safe dry land. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
After the stunning defeat of Theresa May's exit deal, Scotland is looking anew at independence, and the U.K. government fears economic disaster.
David StewartJanuary 23, 2019
Michael Osborne, a film director, documents the damage from a mud slide next to his home in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, after three days of heavy rain. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The conceit of California-as-disaster-movie is ridiculous. But maybe watching our fires and mudslides helps other states consider both their own fragility and their underlying strength.
Jim McDermottJanuary 23, 2019
A commitment to religious liberty demands that effort be devoted to resolving, rather than exacerbating, any real or apparent tension between religious obligation and civil duty.
The EditorsJanuary 23, 2019