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Dialogue with Those Who Agree

Two blogs I read regularly provided contrasting responses to Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

First, Michael L. Westmoreland-White, who speaks from the left, expresses some anger because he sees Warren as someone whose views are opposed to those of many who made Barack Obama’s candidacy possible. As is usual, Dr. Westmoreland-White nuances his position and expresses it gracefully, even saying that some on the left would be willing to go along with the inclusiveness if Warren were giving the benediction, when many will have tuned out, rather than the invocation. I can understand that viewpoint.

On the other end of the spectrum, Drew, guest blogger at Pursuing Holiness, thinks that Warren should refuse to give the invocation, because he is tacitly approving Obama’s “immoral” positions, citing particularly gay marriage, abortion, and even tax policy. To accurately reflect the flavor, let me quote:

1 Corinthians 5:11 doesn’t explicitly mention “murder” or “stealing” or “blatant heresy,” but nonetheless…Warren should certainly hesitate before tolerating Obama’s gross immorality.

It’s not my purpose here to debate these issues, but I should note that I would certainly not make it through Drew’s morality filter, and in fact I don’t think that he has expressed a particularly Christian filter at all. I define “Christian” as one who places one’s trust in Jesus, not as one who takes a particular set of positions on public policy.

Though I’m clearly closer to Dr. Westmoreland-White’s position, my concern with both of these posts is similar in nature. I think we have a strong tendency to propose dialogue largely between groups of people who agree totally.

Considering that the left, not to mention much of the center, has not had a seat at the table for the Bush administration, it is not surprising that many not on the right want to grab hold of the power and exclude the excluders. It is also doubtless difficult to carry on dialogue with those who regard you as grossly immoral, which is the position in which the GLBT community is placed.

At the same time the challenge for Obama is to make whatever changes he can accomplish in Washington last more than one term and even more than two terms. In order to do that, he will need the support of opponents, and he will need to draw in more people. As such, his supporters might consider giving him more room.

But from Warren’s point of view, I think it is important for him to have a voice. I don’t think that offering an invocation indicates support for all the moral positions of the person, group, or event in question.

Dialogue needs to be between people who disagree. Bipartisanship needs to involve more than one party. Obama seems to be interested in both dialogue and bipartisanship. Let’s give him a chance to demonstrate an ability to lead in the midst of a chorus of diverse voices.

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  1. “It is also doubtless difficult to carry on dialogue with those who regard you as grossly immoral, which is the position in which the GLBT community is placed.”

    I initially read this wrong, but my misreading also applies: “It is doubtless difficult to carry on dialogue with those whom you regard as grossly immoral, which is how many in the GLBT community think about those who oppose gay marriage.” Most of the reactions I’ve read about the Warren choice was delivered in the same kind of morally absolutist and strident tone that is usually displayed by the religious right. The fact that the choice of Warren puts both rhetorically over-the-top sides into a reactive fit indicates to me Obama has likely made a good choice, both symbolically and practically..

    1. I agree it was a good choice, and I had intended to get both of your readings of my statement into my post, though I may have been less than successful. I’m glad you read it both ways and then made it explicit.

  2. I have no problem with reaching out to those with whom we disagree, but the invocation is the first words that will be heard on this day. It is a position of high honor–and that going to a man who compared same-sex marriage to beastiality, pedophilia, and polygamy. Also, he has called for the assassination of foreign leaders.

  3. I wonder what the reaction would have been if President elect Obama had chosen the current Pope to give the invocation. His positions on the issues that are creating so much controversy with Pastor Warren are the same. I personally think there wouldn’t be much controversy in the choice of the Pope (perhaps there would be some people upset that he picked somebody who wasn’t American, but that’s tangential to this issue). Which leads me to believe that a lot of people who are upset with the pick are upset with Rick Warren as a person rather than a simple ideological problem.

    We also forget that those Americans who aren’t religious or prefer separation of church and state could be just as equally outraged that there is even an invocation and benediction to begin with.

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