Rev. Rick Warren and the Question of Challenging our New President

Tobias Wolff Kate Kendell

Just as the Equal Justice Society was last month closing up shop for the year, two of our beloved board members, Tobias Wolff and Kate Kendell, blogged about their opposition to Rev. Rick Warren’s selection by President-Elect Obama to deliver the invocation for the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremonies.

Read Tobias’s “The Voice That Will Inspire” on the Huffington Post and Kate’s “Not a Disagreement among Friends…” on the NCLR blog.

You can also read them together on the same page.

Tobias, a law professor and civil rights lawyer, served as the chief advisor and spokesperson on LGBT issues for Barack Obama throughout campaign. Kate is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a key leader in the marriage equality movement.

EJS’s strong support for LGBT civil rights most recently included opposition to California’s Prop. 8 and, following its passage, support for legal action to overturn the initiative.

In addition to our opposition to Rev. Warren’s role in the inauguration ceremonies, we discussed internally how this issue sparks new questions for us on the best way to simultaneously support the Obama Administration’s overall efforts while vigorously opposing decisions that we believe are fundamentally and ideologically wrong.

In contrast to the relative ease in opposing the Bush Administration’s agenda, we find it uncomfortable to oppose a decision by President Obama in whom we have the highest aspirations and in whose administration we wish only great success.

But there will surely come another time when we will disagree or be disappointed. No one person can solve or even lead the way to solving every social injustice. EJS exists to move a social justice agenda forward, to partner with key allies and to hold accountable our leaders—no matter who they may be.

What is the best way to challenge President Obama on certain key issues? Do we register our protest and move on? Or do we keep pushing … and how much?

We throw these questions out to you. Please read Tobias’s and Kate’s thoughts on the issue and share your comments with us here.

18 thoughts on “Rev. Rick Warren and the Question of Challenging our New President

  1. While Mr. Wolff makes a case for Rev. Lowery, he purposely side steps the likely damage to the celebration that Rick Warren brings to inauguration day. Kate Kendell is on the front lines of the GLBT movement daily and clearly understands the slap in the face our community feels when people like Warren are given an opportunity to further spread his hatred of GLBT people and our struggles.

  2. While Mr. Wolff makes a case for Rev. Lowery, he purposely side steps the likely damage to the celebration that Rick Warren brings to inauguration day. Kate Kendell is on the front lines of the GLBT movement daily and clearly understands the slap in the face our community feels when people like Warren are given an opportunity to further spread his hatred of GLBT people and our struggles.

  3. Type your comment here.
    Every one has had their say! Enuff already!!!
    Obviously, “O” disagrees w/Rick Warren on this
    issue, but who knows,—– “O” may be able to influence him to change his mind.

    Let’s not ‘unass’ our new President arguing about symbolic issues that do NOT define our
    new leader, as he tries to bring the country
    together. Even in families, members disagree while still supporting each other.
    Keep Ur Eyes on the Prize & Keep Rollin’—

  4. Type your comment here.
    Every one has had their say! Enuff already!!!
    Obviously, “O” disagrees w/Rick Warren on this
    issue, but who knows,—– “O” may be able to influence him to change his mind.

    Let’s not ‘unass’ our new President arguing about symbolic issues that do NOT define our
    new leader, as he tries to bring the country
    together. Even in families, members disagree while still supporting each other.
    Keep Ur Eyes on the Prize & Keep Rollin’—

  5. I was alarmed to read in the EJS email the words: “we find it uncomfortable to oppose a decision by President Obama in whom we have the highest aspirations and in whose administration we wish only great success.”

    If EJS is truly committed to the promotion of a free and democratic society with equal justice under the law, then is it not our duty as citizens to feel completely comfortable opposing any leader, be it Barack Obama, or anyone else, when they make a decision or take a position antithetical to the furtherance of that free, democratic and equal society? Patriotism is nothing if not standing up to leaders and holding their feet to the fire over these very issues.

    I understand the hopefulness felt my so many people over the election of the first African-American president, but let’s not put on blinders when he makes a mistake as awful as the one he has made in inviting Rick Warren, who has actively and tirelessly campaigned to strip basic rights from his fellow citizens, to be the spiritual face of his own inauguration.

    Let’s not shirk our duty to hold our leaders accountable!

  6. I was alarmed to read in the EJS email the words: “we find it uncomfortable to oppose a decision by President Obama in whom we have the highest aspirations and in whose administration we wish only great success.”

    If EJS is truly committed to the promotion of a free and democratic society with equal justice under the law, then is it not our duty as citizens to feel completely comfortable opposing any leader, be it Barack Obama, or anyone else, when they make a decision or take a position antithetical to the furtherance of that free, democratic and equal society? Patriotism is nothing if not standing up to leaders and holding their feet to the fire over these very issues.

    I understand the hopefulness felt my so many people over the election of the first African-American president, but let’s not put on blinders when he makes a mistake as awful as the one he has made in inviting Rick Warren, who has actively and tirelessly campaigned to strip basic rights from his fellow citizens, to be the spiritual face of his own inauguration.

    Let’s not shirk our duty to hold our leaders accountable!

  7. This post brings up old and familiar issues.

    I think the short answer is twofold.

    1. We remind ourselves that when we elected a sitting Senator from Illinois that, no matter how much he embodied the best of us, and that we poured our hopes into him, and we felt he was “one of us,” we were in the end electing a politician. Vestal virgins don’t get elected to high office from Chicago, and then don’t win races for the Presidency. And so he will do things that politicians will do that we would not, and that we do not like. In a word, compromise, often on things that are dear to us, that are our principles, for something he wants or needs, or for advantage in fights we have no part in. And like a inconstant lover, he may take us for granted while pursuing other treats.

    But we do not react in horror, or shame, or disappointment, or anger. That would be like an environmentalist being angry at the wolf who eats the endangered plover. The wolf is just being wolfish.

    And I long ago gave up thinking that I could be angry when someone I supported for office did not do what I would have done if I were in the office. I did not run, therefore I am not there. They did, therefore they are.

    2. We use the same tools we would use against someone we opposed. If we want to change a policy or behavior we analyze the same factors and resources, but enter the opposition not with glee or anger or hate, but from love. But it’s tough love. We decide (a) is this a fight we need to take on, (b) what do we want as an achievable outcome, (c) what resources can we devote, (d) who amongst our allies (and enemies) can we recruit to the cause and (e) what’s the plan, man?

    And then execute. Happy in the knowledge that we will have better access to the target, and the target has a reason to listen to us, which means we have two advantages we don’t have when our enemies hold the power.

    In short, we do what we’ve always done.

  8. This post brings up old and familiar issues.

    I think the short answer is twofold.

    1. We remind ourselves that when we elected a sitting Senator from Illinois that, no matter how much he embodied the best of us, and that we poured our hopes into him, and we felt he was “one of us,” we were in the end electing a politician. Vestal virgins don’t get elected to high office from Chicago, and then don’t win races for the Presidency. And so he will do things that politicians will do that we would not, and that we do not like. In a word, compromise, often on things that are dear to us, that are our principles, for something he wants or needs, or for advantage in fights we have no part in. And like a inconstant lover, he may take us for granted while pursuing other treats.

    But we do not react in horror, or shame, or disappointment, or anger. That would be like an environmentalist being angry at the wolf who eats the endangered plover. The wolf is just being wolfish.

    And I long ago gave up thinking that I could be angry when someone I supported for office did not do what I would have done if I were in the office. I did not run, therefore I am not there. They did, therefore they are.

    2. We use the same tools we would use against someone we opposed. If we want to change a policy or behavior we analyze the same factors and resources, but enter the opposition not with glee or anger or hate, but from love. But it’s tough love. We decide (a) is this a fight we need to take on, (b) what do we want as an achievable outcome, (c) what resources can we devote, (d) who amongst our allies (and enemies) can we recruit to the cause and (e) what’s the plan, man?

    And then execute. Happy in the knowledge that we will have better access to the target, and the target has a reason to listen to us, which means we have two advantages we don’t have when our enemies hold the power.

    In short, we do what we’ve always done.

  9. I think it was obvious to some Obama supporters that he was not going to always please all of us with his decisions. The reason is that he must be Presidentm to all the people and not just to those who supported him or to those who voted for him for ideological reasons. He clearly stated that he was going to reach out to all Americans. Unfortunately that includes people who are intolerant and short sighted. We should not lower ourselves to their level in terms of intolerance. I realize this effects some of us more than others but these are my feelings.

  10. I think it was obvious to some Obama supporters that he was not going to always please all of us with his decisions. The reason is that he must be Presidentm to all the people and not just to those who supported him or to those who voted for him for ideological reasons. He clearly stated that he was going to reach out to all Americans. Unfortunately that includes people who are intolerant and short sighted. We should not lower ourselves to their level in terms of intolerance. I realize this effects some of us more than others but these are my feelings.

  11. As a resident of Florida, that also saw the unfortunate passing of a law that not only affects same sex unions, it poorly affects unmarried heterosexual senior citizens who choose to live together.

    I think too much power is being given this issue and far to much power to the person in question. Instead, we need to focus on a requirement that propositions are clearly written so that the public doesn’t get bamboozled into supporting of issues written so poorly and with so little clarity. That seems to be the larger issue here.

  12. As a resident of Florida, that also saw the unfortunate passing of a law that not only affects same sex unions, it poorly affects unmarried heterosexual senior citizens who choose to live together.

    I think too much power is being given this issue and far to much power to the person in question. Instead, we need to focus on a requirement that propositions are clearly written so that the public doesn’t get bamboozled into supporting of issues written so poorly and with so little clarity. That seems to be the larger issue here.

  13. Barack Obama’s embrace of Rick Warren reflects a determination to build a popular force strong enough to correct the top-priority problems facing this country. Offering Warren a prominent role in the inauguration contributes to that effort. None of the comments by Paterson, Wolff, or Kendell address this reality.

    More than 20,000 human beings die every day needlessly. The climate crisis threatens life on Earth. Our economy could fall into another Great Depression. Obama needs Warren and his followers to help deal with these issues. By demonizing Warren and failing to understand why people feel so strongly about wanting to give special status to male-female marriage, critics could weaken the Obama movement.

    Warren has made a major contribution to saving the environment by undermining the coalition that was spreading disinformation about the climate crisis. His commitment to address global poverty and serving the needs of AIDS victims is clear. As Melissa Etheridge and others report, he is a kind person who is open to change. Obama knows him rather well personally, and I trust Obama’s judgment of character.

    Kendell is wrong to say, “Warren’s views represent the most extreme outer margin of religious views on LGBT issues…. He rejects any recognition for our relationships.” In that infamous belief.net interview, Warren said, “No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs…. I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. …No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital…. In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.” While Warren opposes gay marriage, he sees divorce as a far greater threat and he objects to all forms of non-traditional marriage, including polygamy, as well as a man and woman living together “in sin.” And he did not say, “Legal recognition of same-sex couples is as serious a threat to family life as incest and pedophilia.” Rather, his statement referred to the (hypothetical) idea of marriage between brother and sister or an older man and a child. We should treat our opponents more fairly than Kendell does in her comments.

    Kendell is correct to say that gay marriage is an issue of “enormous cultural and political significance.” For good reason, however, Obama is trying to defuse the Culture Wars by affirming empathy and a non-ideological worldview. We need to learn from him in this regard.

    Empathy can lead us to understand why so many people feel strongly about giving male-female marriage special status. In fact, there is something completely unique about male-female sexuality. It has been Nature’s way to help humanity perpetuate the species. Genes from both a man and a woman are necessary for the birth of a child. Society, therefore, has encouraged marriage between the father and mother of children, partly as a way to protect children and nurture their upbringing. And parenting a child produced by such a union, from the gene pool of the parents, is a unique experience.

    These genetically and culturally engrained rooted tendencies are very strong and deep. Challenging them pushes buttons. So when we do so (as with other forms on non-traditional marriage), it is best to do so with some understanding.

    Obama often states that his approach is rooted in a “pragmatic, progressive philosophy,” or worldview, rather than an “ideology.” But many reporters, pundits, and activists apparently don’t understand the distinction. Others unfortunately disagree.

    An ideology is a set of abstract doctrines, or dogma, that claim absolute truth, as with various forms of fundamentalism. In fact, however, these abstractions are only one side of the truth. Ideologues refuse to acknowledge that reality is many-sided and insist on trying to shape reality according to their single-minded perspective.

    A pragmatic worldview, on the other hand, is more tentative, is rooted in an awareness that our beliefs are based on assumptions that can’t be proven, is willing to appreciate the various sides of an issue, and is willing to experiment with what works best.

    From this perspective, although I voted against Prop. 8 and would vote for a repeal, I also recognize that Rick Warren has many fine qualities and can contribute to progress on pressing material issues that aren’t largely cultural. We need Warren and as many of his followers as possible shoulder-to-shoulder on these other issues. He needs to be at the head of the table. If he tries to draw a circle that excludes some of us, we can redraw the circle to include him. Once again, Barack Obama, with his emotional competence and political savvy, leads the way.

  14. Barack Obama’s embrace of Rick Warren reflects a determination to build a popular force strong enough to correct the top-priority problems facing this country. Offering Warren a prominent role in the inauguration contributes to that effort. None of the comments by Paterson, Wolff, or Kendell address this reality.

    More than 20,000 human beings die every day needlessly. The climate crisis threatens life on Earth. Our economy could fall into another Great Depression. Obama needs Warren and his followers to help deal with these issues. By demonizing Warren and failing to understand why people feel so strongly about wanting to give special status to male-female marriage, critics could weaken the Obama movement.

    Warren has made a major contribution to saving the environment by undermining the coalition that was spreading disinformation about the climate crisis. His commitment to address global poverty and serving the needs of AIDS victims is clear. As Melissa Etheridge and others report, he is a kind person who is open to change. Obama knows him rather well personally, and I trust Obama’s judgment of character.

    Kendell is wrong to say, “Warren’s views represent the most extreme outer margin of religious views on LGBT issues…. He rejects any recognition for our relationships.” In that infamous belief.net interview, Warren said, “No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs…. I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. …No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital…. In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.” While Warren opposes gay marriage, he sees divorce as a far greater threat and he objects to all forms of non-traditional marriage, including polygamy, as well as a man and woman living together “in sin.” And he did not say, “Legal recognition of same-sex couples is as serious a threat to family life as incest and pedophilia.” Rather, his statement referred to the (hypothetical) idea of marriage between brother and sister or an older man and a child. We should treat our opponents more fairly than Kendell does in her comments.

    Kendell is correct to say that gay marriage is an issue of “enormous cultural and political significance.” For good reason, however, Obama is trying to defuse the Culture Wars by affirming empathy and a non-ideological worldview. We need to learn from him in this regard.

    Empathy can lead us to understand why so many people feel strongly about giving male-female marriage special status. In fact, there is something completely unique about male-female sexuality. It has been Nature’s way to help humanity perpetuate the species. Genes from both a man and a woman are necessary for the birth of a child. Society, therefore, has encouraged marriage between the father and mother of children, partly as a way to protect children and nurture their upbringing. And parenting a child produced by such a union, from the gene pool of the parents, is a unique experience.

    These genetically and culturally engrained rooted tendencies are very strong and deep. Challenging them pushes buttons. So when we do so (as with other forms on non-traditional marriage), it is best to do so with some understanding.

    Obama often states that his approach is rooted in a “pragmatic, progressive philosophy,” or worldview, rather than an “ideology.” But many reporters, pundits, and activists apparently don’t understand the distinction. Others unfortunately disagree.

    An ideology is a set of abstract doctrines, or dogma, that claim absolute truth, as with various forms of fundamentalism. In fact, however, these abstractions are only one side of the truth. Ideologues refuse to acknowledge that reality is many-sided and insist on trying to shape reality according to their single-minded perspective.

    A pragmatic worldview, on the other hand, is more tentative, is rooted in an awareness that our beliefs are based on assumptions that can’t be proven, is willing to appreciate the various sides of an issue, and is willing to experiment with what works best.

    From this perspective, although I voted against Prop. 8 and would vote for a repeal, I also recognize that Rick Warren has many fine qualities and can contribute to progress on pressing material issues that aren’t largely cultural. We need Warren and as many of his followers as possible shoulder-to-shoulder on these other issues. He needs to be at the head of the table. If he tries to draw a circle that excludes some of us, we can redraw the circle to include him. Once again, Barack Obama, with his emotional competence and political savvy, leads the way.

  15. Please remove my name from your site. I do not support your objectives re Obama. let him chart his own course on the issue.

  16. Please remove my name from your site. I do not support your objectives re Obama. let him chart his own course on the issue.

  17. The President-Elect needs all of his supporters to increase their walking, singing, and protesting in the streets, so that he can do the thing we want him to do, as well as those things he is inclined to do. History has taught us that it is exactly while Obama is in office that our efforts must increase. Our efforts in the streets will encourage and undergird the President and our friends in Congress. It was President Roosevelt who told A. Philip Randoph that he ,Roosevelt, would need the troops in street in order to do the right thing. By troops, I mean the walkers, strikers, etc… not soldiers.

    I suggest that we go from issue to issue, marching in the streets, pushing back at those who are already
    pushing the President-elect!!!

  18. The President-Elect needs all of his supporters to increase their walking, singing, and protesting in the streets, so that he can do the thing we want him to do, as well as those things he is inclined to do. History has taught us that it is exactly while Obama is in office that our efforts must increase. Our efforts in the streets will encourage and undergird the President and our friends in Congress. It was President Roosevelt who told A. Philip Randoph that he ,Roosevelt, would need the troops in street in order to do the right thing. By troops, I mean the walkers, strikers, etc… not soldiers.

    I suggest that we go from issue to issue, marching in the streets, pushing back at those who are already
    pushing the President-elect!!!

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