19 December 2008

on rick warren at the inaugural

it's just...crass. i don't know if the choice of rick "homosexuality == incest" warren came from the president-elect himself or from an advisor looking to build bridges. but: bridges to what, exactly?

warren deserves at least some kind of credit for acknowledging christians' responsibilities to work against AIDS, poverty, and markets gone wild. but warren was late to the table on these issues, and appears to have digested neither his scripture nor his facts when he finally showed up. in the same interview in which he compared gay marriage to incest, polygamy and divorce (divorce is "a bigger problem," "hands down," golly thanks for noticing), he offered the following history-mangler: "Along about the beginning of the 20th century there were some protestant theologians who started using the term 'social gospel.' What they meant by that was you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more...in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing."

the point warren was making in this passage is that progressive christians -- the people who exist in his smear-version of the 'social gospel' -- need to attend to personal salvation as well as social transformation. (otherwise we're just Marxists! oh zing!) but a little further down, he breezily notes that his version of "personal salvation" is not something as simple and personally transformative as realizing and following the divinity of jesus christ. no, personal salvation is about "personal morality and pornography and protecting the family and personal moral issues." which formulation puts me, and many others, in the interesting position of being fake christians -- unsaved! -- unless and until we condemn all the usual reproductive-tract-involving fundamentalist hobgoblins.

warren deserves no special credit for dithering on about the "'I' in 'pride'" or for his belated acknowledgment that poverty is indeed bad -- especially when he acknowledges also that his willingness to talk about economic injustice is a theological hostage to the necessity of gay-bashing. warren vocally supported prop 8, blowing wide open his repeated claims that hating gays should be shoved down a couple of notches on the evangelical agenda.

and this is the person chosen to give the invocation at an event ostensibly signaling a new turn in american politics. the fact that he sold a gazillion self-help books and is the pastor of a really huge flock doesn't change the fact that his false gospel hurts people who have done him and his flock no harm. the obama team's willingness to choose someone popular over someone whose words and actions reflect a Christ-centered progressive theology implies a level of cynicism -- not to mention a level of disrespect for queer people -- that i wouldn't previously have suspected.

i worry about what this choice implies about our president-elect. is obama's own understanding of the gospels so unimportant to him that he is willing to misrepresent it in order to "build bridges"? or does he, too, fear and condemn queer people, people whose path to heaven is not through a profession of faith in some nigglingly specific Jesus, people who profess a social gospel? i feel obligated to hope for the former, but it is a weak and disappointing sort of hope.