I guess I'm behind in the news, because I just read about Obama's decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. This invitation has liberal bloggers up in arms. Warren, apparently a friend of Obama's, has distinctly different views on stem cell research, women's rights, lesbian/gay rights, and abortion. (And distinctly different from my own views!)
The press and the right wing have been chomping at the bit to create a maelstrom of liberal dissatisfaction about Obama, and now they have their watershed moment. Daily Kos and Huffington Post, among other sites, are full of posts expressing their grave disappointment in Obama (and full of very colorful language!). Conveniently being overlooked is the point that Obama also asked a prominent civil rights activist and friend to the lesbian-gay-transgendered community (Joe Lowery) to give the benediction.
I am of two minds about this decision. On one hand, it is very disappointing that Obama would give credence to Warren's views by inviting him to address the nation at such an important moment. It's also irksome that right-wing fundamentalists are claiming this as a victory and a recognition of the importance of evangelical Christians in this country! On the other hand, it reminds me of Obama's willingness (expressed during the campaign) to sit down and talk to Iran. McCain and Palin were shocked and horrified by his willingness to do so. But isn't talking to the Iranian government better than just sticking your tongue out at them?
Some bloggers (such as Aravosis at americablog.com) are asking whether Obama would be just as willing to invite a racist or anti-semite to participate in such a moment. That argument just doesn't compute for me. Racists and anti-semites believe that black and Jewish people are subhuman and do not deserve to live, and should be completely separate from "Aryan" people. Warren is not expressing such views about women who have abortions or gays and lesbians. Clearly, he doesn't have their best interests at stake and I believe he is truly misguided on the issues that matter...but I don't think he's a Hitler or David Duke.
I completely disagree with Warren and would personally never have invited him to give the invocation at my own inauguration (!), and I do believe that it's appropriate for people to express their dissatisfaction at Obama's pick.
However. I believe that this is one more example of Obama's ability to reach out to people who disagree with him and his desire to strike a balance between different perspectives. He is a bridge builder and wants to build on commonalities instead of separating on differences. Personally, I really admire this ability of his. As for me, I do not have it in me! I am not one of those people who listen to or read Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, or Bill O'Reilly for laughs, or so I can know what hatred they are spewing. I cannot even go there. I am unfortunately fairly transparent when I disagree with someone. So I wish I could be a little more like Obama in negotiating and having open discussions with people different from me. It's the only way to wage peace and understanding in the world. If we don't talk to people who have different views from ourselves, how will we ever get along in this world?
It makes me think of a certain former coworker and friend I have, whose viewpoints on religion, politics, and gay/lesbian issues are the direct opposite of my own. We used to be able to have open, respectful discussions about our differences in opinion. I do not have very many relationships like that, because I only want to engage in respectful discussions and choose to avoid angry, tense debates.
So let's all take a deep breath and give Obama a break. We need to understand what he is trying to do here. The only way to build relationships and trust with "the other side" is to put aside our own egos and engage them. Maybe by doing so, they will one day realize that we are right and come around! :)