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Anti-gay pastor chosen to deliver invocation at Obama's inauguration

by Nick Cargo

The blogosphere is aflame with the announcement that a controversial Evangelical pastor and marriage equality opponent, Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, will be delivering the invocation at President-elect Obama's inauguration in January. Saddleback also hosted a question-and-answer forum with Obama and then-competitor Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in August.

"This is a horrific insult to the thousands of LGBT Americans who worked to elect Barack Obama president," said Oxdown Gazette's Teddy Partridge, "and the millions of LGBT Americans who voted for him."

"This is more than a serious faux pas; this is an insult to all the queers and non-believers that worked their asses off to elect Obama-Biden," added blogger Mike Tidmus. "We need to let the President-Elect know that parading a homophobic bigot at his big parade rains on ours.

"Let me just say this really clearly," Warren said in a video plea, embedded below. "We support Proposition 8," California's constitutional gay marriage ban that was "needed," he said, because "four guys," otherwise known as the majority vote in the California Supreme Court, overturned the "will of the people" in affirming same-sex couples' right to marry in May. "And if you believe what the Bible says about marriage," he added, "you need to support Proposition 8."

"I'm opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage," he told Steven Waldman in a BeliefNet interview. "I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage." Warren said that he considered those configurations equal to a marriage between two adults of the same sex because "for 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture, and every single religion...historically, marriage is a man and a woman."

"I have many gay friends," he said. "I've eaten dinner in gay homes...No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church. Kay and I have given millions of dollars...helping people who got AIDS through gay relationships. So they can't accuse me of homophobia--I just don't believe in the redefinition of marriage."

"Obama inaugural team, this is a big f*ck up a la Donnie McClurkin," added Pam's House Blend's Pam Spaulding. The President-elect, in late 2007, came under fire for his choice of Grammy-winning gospel singer and professed "ex-gay" Donnie McClurkin to perform at a gospel concert. Then-Senator Obama later said McClurkin wasn't vetted "to the extent that the people were aware of his attitudes with respect to...LGBT issues." Obama also said in a November 2007 blog entry that McClurkin espoused beliefs "that I completely reject."

McClurkin told the Washington Post in August 2004 of his battle with the "curse of homosexuality" shortly before his performance at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

"I've been through this and have experienced God's power to change my lifestyle," he added. "I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too."

"President-elect Obama campaigned on a theme of inclusivity, yet the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation is a direct affront to that very principle," said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "This was a divisive choice, and clearly not one that will help our country come together and heal. We urge President-elect Obama to withdraw his invitation to Rick Warren and instead select a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president-elect himself has called the nation to uphold."

"It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama," People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said in a Wednesday statement. "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. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors...Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn't need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good."

The lineup at Obama's inauguration also includes benediction by Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery and musical performances by singer Aretha Franklin and star cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Opening remarks will be delivered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who headed the the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese has issued the following open letter:

Dear President-elect Obama -

Let me get right to the point. Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans. Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years. And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table.

Rick Warren has not sat on the sidelines in the fight for basic equality and fairness. In fact, Rev. Warren spoke out vocally in support of Prop 8 in California saying, “there is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population ... This is not a political issue -- it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about." Furthermore, he continues to misrepresent marriage equality as silencing his religious views. This was a lie during the battle over Proposition 8, and it's a lie today.

Rev. Warren cannot name a single theological issue that he and vehemently, anti-gay theologian James Dobson disagree on. Rev. Warren is not a moderate pastor who is trying to bring all sides together. Instead, Rev. Warren has often played the role of general in the cultural war waged against LGBT Americans, many of whom also share a strong tradition of religion and faith.

We have been moved by your calls to religious leaders to own up to the homophobia and racism that has stood in the way of combating HIV and AIDS in this country. And that you have publicly called on religious leaders to open their hearts to their LGBT family members, neighbors and friends.

But in this case, we feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination. Only when Rev. Warren and others support basic legislative protections for LGBT Americans can we believe their claim that they are not four-square against our rights and dignity. In that light, we urge you to reconsider this announcement.


Joe Solmonese


Human Rights Campaign

GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano released a statement Thursday calling on the media to properly examine the controversial pastor. "The inauguration of a new President is a day when Americans should be brought together, to signal a new beginning for our country," he said. "It is therefore deeply troubling that the President-elect has selected someone whose defamatory and damaging anti-gay statements and views, including linking marriage for committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia, clearly divide rather than unite Americans. Media outlets have a responsibility to scrutinize Rick Warren's history of using his powerful platform to advance anti-gay rhetoric and prevent loving couples from being able to take care of and be responsible for one another."

Also on Thursday, the following open letter to the President-elect was released by three leaders of PFLAG:

Dear President-Elect Obama:

As people of faith, and as friends and family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender loved ones, we are disheartened and discouraged by your selection of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inaugural ceremonies on January 20 in Washington. This historic moment in our nation’s history, and for our nation’s families, deserves the blessing of inclusive faith leaders who believe in, and practice, the universal call to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Simply put, there are many welcoming, affirming people of faith who would set a proper tone for this momentous event in our nation’s history, and Americans who cherish our national ideal of “liberty and justice for all” would have benefitted from a wiser choice for this honor than Rev. Warren.

As a proponent for rolling back rights for our families in California, Rev. Warren has sent an unmistakable signal that he believes some Americans are more worthy of civil liberties and legal protections than others. And as an outspoken critic of full marriage equality, Rev. Warren stands on the wrong side of history and, even more importantly, the wrong side of family values. Outdated prejudice, and antiquated philosophies, are out of step with the change in tone we, and our loved ones, want to believe in.

All of us at Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have been inspired and empowered by your eloquent reminder that LGBT people are part of the fabric of our nation and that, as you so powerfully pointed out in 2004, “we have gay friends in the red states, too.” Rev. Warren, however, has not been a friend to our families, and his selection for this prestigious role in your inaugural ceremony is unwarranted and unfortunate.

Now, more than ever, our families need an ally in Washington who will stand up for us all. Unfortunately, Rev. Warren has stood against equality for all. We know our country, and our families, can do better.


John R. Cepek PFLAG National President

Rabbi David Horowitz PFLAG National Vice-President

Jody M. Huckaby Executive Director

No response has been received to e-mail requests to the Obama Transition Team and Senator Feinstein seeking comment.


Originally published on Thursday December 18, 2008.

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