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The Rick Warren Controversy and Barack's Bad Timing

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One of the many big political stories of the past few days is Barack Obama's newest pastor problem.

Obama has chosen Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation.

This is the same Rick Warren, of the ironically named Saddleback megachurch, who actively pushed for passage of Proposition 8, and has compared homosexuality to incest, polygamy, and child abuse.

Warren's respect for women equals his respect for gays. For instance, he recently compared reproductive choice to the Holocaust.

This guy is the king of zealous exaggeration and deceptive spin. But people follow him and absorb his every word. That makes him dangerous. And that danger led to disaster on November 4th, when his Prop 8 efforts succeeded in stripping gay couples in California of their right to marry.

This is the kind of religious political interference that we voted against when we elected Barack Obama as our next president. But now Warren will play a starring role at the inauguration of the president who promised change we can believe in.

So, naturally, Obama has come under fire in the past few days for this selection. And rightly so, in my opinion.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has responded to the controversy with a set of carefully constructed talking points, describing how this will be "the most open, accessible, and inclusive Inauguration in American history," bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and views.

While Obama does not share Warren's views on homosexuality, the talking points tell us, Warren "has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden," and "[h]e's devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis."

The talking points end with the rather tokenesque-sounding announcement that "for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade."


As Joe Soe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign put it, "The anger about this decision? Hey, we're also bringing a gay marching band. You know how the gays love a parade."

This makes me seriously question Obama's sensitivity to the LGBT community and its quest for equal rights.

I understand and appreciate Obama's agenda of inclusiveness. But, in seeking inclusiveness, did he really have to include someone so divisive, who is himself against inclusion of the LGBT community in one of society's most revered institutions?

And, while I appreciate Rev. Warren's work to fight AIDS and poverty, those good works do not erase the bad.

Perhaps in another era, the sting wouldn't hurt quite so badly. But Obama's choice here comes in the wake of Prop 8's passage, and that makes it particularly careless and hurtful.

By including Warren in the inauguration ceremony, Obama will be rubbing salt into the proverbial wound.

And it makes me wonder if he thinks the evangelical vote is more important to his political future than the gay vote.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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