Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Sign of Respect and Civility: President-Elect Obama’s Selection of Pastor Rick Warren to Deliver the Invocation at the Inauguration

President-Elect Obama’s choice of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama’s upcoming inauguration has engendered considerable controversy among many of his supporters, especially in the gay community.  For those of us who encourage the integration of faith and values in public life and who regularly participate in civil and principled dialogue with those who disagree passionately with us on certain questions of public moment, Obama’s choice is an inspired one.

By selecting Warren, Obama is reaching out to and expressing public respect for a person with whom Obama parts ways on one of the hottest burning embers in the culture wars.  While candidate Obama said that he opposed same-sex marriage, no one really believed that he was genuinely so opposed, notably among his backers in the gay community who understood his professed opposition as a political necessity rather than a sincerely held stance.  Indeed, after the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Obama spoke favorably of the decision and then later opposed Proposition 8.

By contrast, Rick Warren has been a clear, principled, and compassionate voice in support of traditional marriage and thus in support of Proposition 8.  Consistently emphasizing God’s love for every human being as created in the image of God, Warren has been just as speaking against what he perceives as a threat to marriage and thus to the future health of our society.  Warren upholds what he sees as the central role of marriage in joining a man and woman together in raising the next generation.

People of good faith and good hearts find themselves on opposite sides of the question of whether marriage should or even may be extended beyond one man and one woman.  Here on the Mirror of Justice, good friends of a common Catholic faith disagree passionately, but civilly, on this question.  In accord with that sentiment, President-Elect Obama has selected Pastor Rick Warren to give the opening invocation and Rev. Joseph Lowery to give the closing benediction, thereby bringing together in civic unity two persons of faith with polar opposite views on this particular question.

Obama’s choice of Warren to stand before the nation and invoke God's blessings on a unified people appears to signal the incoming president’s disapproval of the increasing demonization by the political left of people of traditional faith and values.  In recent weeks, we have seen a growing tendency by some who were disappointed by the passage of Proposition 8 to smear their political opponents as bigots motivated only by malice.  Since election day, too many have wrongly characterized support for traditional marriage as “hate” and have spitefully sought to blacklist anyone who supported Proposition 8 as a bigoted deviant who should be excluded from society (and be economically punished by being fired from their jobs).  After years of criticizing the so-called religious right as “divisive” because of their political views (an accusation that demonstrated little understanding or appreciation for the principled reasons behind the positions of traditionalists on certain social issues), a publicly-prominent few on the other side have now resorted to truly divisive rhetoric and destructive scorched earth tactics.

Speaking with respect to Warren’s views, Obama defended his choice by saying:  “That’s part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated. . . .  That’s hopefully going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.”  Of course, dialogue that is substantive and genuine, rather than simply for show, should inform decisions as well.  With respect to multiple imminent decisions that will affect human rights and dignity, we’ll soon see if President Obama walks the walk and does so as well as he has talked the talk.

Greg Sisk


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