An Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama
Your invitation to the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, to give the invocation at your inaugural in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009, has been to the already invigorated activists among the gay and lesbian population of America what a red cape is to an irascible bull. It seems that, to Obama's advisors and, perhaps, even to the man himself, the queer vote is so firmly in hand that the downside to poking them in the eye with a sharp stick is so slight as to be completely discountable. He/they may well be right. As a gay man myself who has voted in every biannual election since 1968, I could count on one hand the number of times I have pulled the Republican lever and the kinds of Republicans who warranted that kind of "bipartisanship" from me have long gone the way of the Dodo.
Many activists are calling for you to retract the invitation to Rev. Warren to give the invocation. I think this would be a mistake. I see in this situation an opportunity for a teachable moment for the good Reverend. To retract the invitation would make you look indecisive, insincere, and confused. It would restore the Rev. Warren to his previous level of esteem among his evangelical contemporaries. Further, it would not truly satisfy your critics on the left, as it would merely mollify for the moment rather than fulfill for the future.
Here's what the you should do (with all respect to one of your high office): say to Rev. Warren that the invitation is still open for him to give the invocation at your inauguration, so long as he agrees to open his church to full membership for all people, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, religious background, sexual orientation, and gender identity or presentation.
This is the fairest resolution of this crisis I can think of. You would be saying that, while you are reaching out to him across the aisle, giving him perhaps the single biggest honor of his career, you expect that he will use this opportunity to do the same on behalf of those who are now barred from his church. You would send a message to all Americans that healing is a two-way street, that we all must do our part to close the divide that separates us and prevents us from solving the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead of us. You would be giving Rev. Warren the chance to turn Saddleback Church toward a more noble and universal purpose and imbue his appearance on the steps of the Capitol on this auspicious Tuesday in January with fresh hope for inclusion and love.
May it be so. Shalom. Peace. Namaste.