Barack Obama and reverends just don’t mix. I’ve been amazed that Obama’s controversial selection of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at this month’s inauguration has been such a recurring conversation topic. This issue boils down to one question: should Rick Warren remain the invocation speaker or should Obama rescind the invitation?
The notion of tolerance is being used to justify both sides’ opinions. On one hand, an editorial that ran in the Detroit Free Press (Pomp and Poignancy, 01/04/2009) described Warren’s inclusion as “proving that the American tent can be large enough for nearly anyone.” But some argue that tolerance should be a criterion for inclusion in the inauguration, meaning that someone who has used his religious platform to discriminate against homosexuals doesn’t quite pass the tolerance test.
In the previous election cycle, the LGBT community endured grievous marital and adoption restrictions, and more than 40 states now restrict LGBT marriage in some way through bans or laws. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you may think that it’s no secret where Warren stands on this issue, but I’m not so sure. An interview with Beliefnet.com epitomizes why some want Obama to choose another pastor. In this interview, Warren makes the conclusion that marital incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child” is equivalent to same-sex marriage.
The notion that two consenting, homosexual adults and an older man who preys on children are the same is understandably appalling. However, this came as no surprise to me considering that sexual policies supported en masse by Warren and his conservative ilk are in accordance with the sexual value system that University professor Gayle Rubin identified in her 1984 essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” She states, “According to this system, sexuality that is ‘good,’ ‘normal,’ and ‘natural’ should ideally be heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, non-commercial… coupled, relational, within the same generation.”
This is the rationale that has made stalemates of abortion and gay marriage issues and has restricted contraception and adolescent sex education. Anything from marital or child sexual abuse to gay marriage is equally transgressive in the eyes of line-towing conservatives because it deviates from this “vision” — which is Rev. Rick Warren’s professed belief.
But what surprised me is that before he made this gay-marriage, older-guy marrying-a-child comparison, he asserted that he believes in “full equal rights for everyone in America,” including partnership benefits.
In truth, Warren may share a lot with some evangelicals, Christian fundamentalists and secularists who have various reasons for opposing gay marriage. But Warren’s anti-equal marriage stance and his declaration favoring equal rights for all means that he also shares something fundamental with every democratic contender for the presidency this past election cycle, including Obama.
As it stands right now, we live in a country where many believe it is politically unsafe to publicly support equal marriage, which explains the suspicious unanimity amongst every presidential contender this past season. But unfortunately, it’s also costly to have dissenting opinions from one’s political group. And perhaps this business of disagreeing agreeably presents an opportunity for Obama to impart a lesson about inclusion.
It’s also reasonable to speculate that appointing Rick Warren as the invocation speaker is a way to mollify conservatives now for what is yet to come. When Barack Obama was contending for the presidency, he vowed that passing the Freedom of Choice Act was the first thing he would do as president. This is a policy measure that would ensure that every woman had a fundamental right to choose birth or an abortion. The 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is two days after the inauguration, and editorials are being written daily from conservatives who are anxious that Obama will stand by his word.
Obama’s recent choice to appoint Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopal Bishop, to deliver the invocation this Sunday mitigates some of the blow that Rick Warren’s Tuesday invocation appointment dealt the queer community. However, I still cannot stand behind Warren as the invocation speaker. Warren has abused his mantle in the public arena to a degree that is reprehensible. To assert that child abuse is akin to sexual relations between same-sex adults isn’t just offensive — it also raises the question of his ability to deliver a national message that respects both the gay and straight of our country. Someone who has a question like that looming over his head should not have the privilege of addressing the nation at the most televised inauguration of our lifetime.
Rose Afriyie is the Daily’s sex and relationships columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.