Is it possible to reconcile the selection of Rick Warren, a divisive clergyman from a splinter sect of the Protestant Jesus-based religions, and the corollary exclusion of all other religions, with the Obama message of hope and inclusion? Logic says such reconciliation would be impossible.
President-elect Obama has now chosen one Protestant clergyman for his inauguration’s invocation and another for its benediction, a clear indication that Obama intends no real change from lame duck Bush’s recent efforts to blend religion into public and official life. Obama’s choice also signals a total failure of religious inclusiveness, by excluding all other, e.g., Judaic religions, Muhammad-based religions, Buddha-based religions, Joseph Smith-based religions, and Papal-based religions, as well as the upstart pirate-based Flying Spaghetti Monster religion.
The Constitution of the United States contains an important section, the First Amendment, which begins:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
In selecting Rick Warren, Barack Obama has de facto anointed and elevated a specific, narrow form of Jesus-based religion for a very official U.S. government function—the Inauguration of our 44th President—despite a clear Constitutional prohibition of any establishment of religion.
Too bad the Framers of our Constitution didn’t think to write “Neither Congress nor the President nor the President-elect shall take official actions that establish any religion.” Their naïve oversight thus allows the religious zealots who may read this OpEd piece to claim, predictably, that Obama’s selection of a Christian cleric does not contradict the First Amendment’s absolute, unequivocal intent to separate any government activity from all religiously-based behaviors. Those readers who doubt this intent are hereby referred to Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Church, a missive which employs an explanatory analogy for the language of the Constitution as a “wall of separation” between religion and all official activities of state, like legislation, elections, and inaugurations.
Unfortunately, we have seen far too many clear associations between religious figures and official acts of state (not to mention the ignominy of having clerical persons appointed “chaplain” of the Senate and House of Representatives, having an explicitly religious phrase on our coinage, using a King James Bible in courtrooms, having an Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and suffering the enduring shame of “under God” brutally inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)
Is there any legitimate place in public life for religion? Many would argue against that proposition, seeing instead that all religions, and many religious leaders, exert a mostly pernicious influence that corrodes our social and cultural lives.
Few clergy demonstrate this corrosive tendency better than Rick Warren, who presides over a large church in Lake Forest, California. As pastor of Saddleback Church, “He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia,” Sarah Posner writes in The Nation magazine. “He has repeated the Religious Right’s big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.” Ms. Posner terms Obama’s selection of Warren as a “slap in the face,” and calls Warren the “absolute worst” pick.
On Anderson Cooper’s recent TV show Rick Warren explicitly conflated older Mormon men who marry 10-12 year old girls with two loving adults of the same sex who freely choose to plight their troth in marriage. Warren also compared gay marriage to incest, saying on the same show that “having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage” is analogous to a marriage of two unrelated adults of the same sex. It is difficult to imagine more hateful, less “Christian” sentiments than Rick Warren’s virulent condemnations of loving, life-long partnerships. For this reason alone it would be preferable that president-elect Obama omit any religious tainting of his historic Inauguration by Warren or any other religious figure.
There is also a consistent pattern of intrusion by both distant and domestic Roman Catholic officials into secular life in the United States. The latest Vatican document on bioethics, entitled Dignitas Personae, was released just last week. It injects the church’s condemnation of embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, the “morning-after pill” and other techniques of biological science into our secular public dialogue. Never mind that Catholics comprise less than a quarter of the population; their (all male) clergy seem to find sufficient time to impose narrow and dogmatic religious strictures on the majority of U.S. citizens but make too little time to weed out documented, institutionalized rape and pederasty by their fellow clergymen.
Adding insult to injury, a number of Roman Catholic officials, like Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., brashly exposed their prejudices during the Presidential election when they threatened their parishioners with excommunication and loss of salvation. (Ow! That hurts!) Other priests advised their flocks to seek absolution in confession if they had strayed by voting for Mr. Obama. Egregious, yet totally ignored by the I.R.S., these outrageous sorties into secular life by church officials should have resulted in immediate loss of tax exemption.
Each of these examples would be sufficient by itself to make the case that religious intrusion into secular life exerts corrosive and destructive influence. Taken altogether, these few instances reflect just how pernicious is the effect of organized religion in perverting public discourse.
But another reason—the essential Christian hypocrisy embodied by Rick Warren—is an equally compelling basis for this new administration, which has promised major changes from the old ways, to avoid the contamination of Obama’s inaugural ceremony by religious association.
Consider the typical socio-religious charade in the Christian sect of Sarah Palin’s church, where great attention is paid to a collection of ancient texts commonly called the Bible (from the Greek biblios, or “the books”). The congregation in Palin’s Wasilla, Alaska church believes overwhelmingly that the Bible reveals exact messages (literal truth) from the very God their pastor claims can exorcise devils from unwitting sinners.