The liberal group People for the American Way is "profoundly disappointed" that the Rev. Rick Warren will deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration: "Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance."
PFAW faults Warren for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The group wishes Obama had instead tapped one of many religious leaders "who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good."
Warren is pro-life, and he has compared same-sex marriages to incest and child abuse. To that extent PFAW can get away with portraying him as Dobson Lite. But he also invited Obama to his Saddleback Church and, as PFAW concedes, has been in the forefront of evangelical efforts to combat poverty and AIDS. Weighing the good against the bad, Steve Waldman, the editor of Beliefnet, calls Obama's selection of the folksy, self-effacing Warren "a smart move."
"George W. Bush chose Franklin Graham, a hard-right evangelical to do his prayer," Waldman writes. "Instead of retaliating by choosing a liberal preacher, Obama opted for spiritual bipartisanship. The move helps to depoliticize prayer -- which, of course, is very politically shrewd."
Also, if Warren is persona non grata in the inaugural pulpit because of his views about abortion and gays, the same would be true of any Roman Catholic bishop. Although the Catholic hierarchy speaks about homosexuality in softer and more nuanced terms than many evangelical Protestants, its bottom line on same-sex marriage is the same: No. In PFAW's terms, that means that the Catholic bishops also have "actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans." (So, one could argue, has Obama. Although he opposed Proposition 8, the next president told MTV that he is "not in favor of gay marriage.")
If the furor over Warren escalates, Obama can console himself with the knowledge that he'd be in even more trouble if he had tapped his own long longtime pastor.
Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times