Really, I don't get this controversy, which is going on its third week.
For those distracted by the holidays, you're not missing much. Basically, it's this: President-elect Obama picked Pastor Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration. Pastor Rick Warren opposes gay marriage. Gays are upset, seeing this as a symbolic slap in the face. Today, for example, WaPo columnist Richard Cohen discusses his (gay) sister's reaction:
Not that he was planning to attend, but Barack Obama should know that my sister's inauguration night party — the one for which she was preparing Obama Punch — has been canceled. The notice went out over the weekend, by e-mail and word of mouth, that Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation had simply ruined the party. Warren is anti-gay, and my sister, not to put too fine a point on it, is not. She's gay.
She is — or was — a committed Obama supporter. On the weekend before the presidential election, my sister and my mother drove from the Boston area, where they both live, to Obama's New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester. There my mother made 76 phone calls for Obama, which is not bad for someone who is 96, and gives you an idea of the level of commitment to Obama in certain precincts of my family.
I can understand Obama's desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, "we're not going to agree on every single issue." He went on to say, "We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans." Sounds nice.
But what we do not "hold in common" is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.
Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue — the rights of gays to be treated equally — as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that's nothing to celebrate.
The party's off.
That is one person's take, and not an invalid one.
But I still see the "offense" as symbolic at worst. That's why I can't get all exorcised about it. Isn't the problem real honest-to-God discrimination against gays? Isn't that something that needs to be addressed, rather than getting bent out of shape about the cosmetic battles involving invited speakers to ceremonial events?
And Warren? My understanding is that he is not one of your froth-out-the-mouth close-minded evangelicals. He's the newer breed. Not quite a Jim Wallis, but certainly no Falwell.
But see, I'm not gay. So I haven't walked a mile in those (exquisitely tasteful) shoes. So, I tell myself, maybe I'm just missing something.
And along comes Melissa Etheridge to set me, uh, straight:
I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.
When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.
Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.
That strikes me as correct. The notion of censoring those you disagree with is so… so…. so… 2000's Republican. Bigotry, including bigotry towards gays, has ignorance at its core, not hatred. And the way you combat ignorance is to engage those who disagree with you, not isolate them.
So let Warren speak. Have the public dialogue. Educate him, educate his reasonable followers (because, as I said, he's not like Falwell et al). That's the only way to bring about change, which (as I recall) was what the Obama campaign was all about.