On Rick Warren and Uganda

Filed under Late than Never. Warren condemns the Ugandan Law.

There is a good reason people are confused: Warren is speaking to two audiences. First, his own. The homophobes. If he gets too liberal he loses credibility.

Second, non-homophobes who don’t trust him. He wants them to know he’s not an idiot.

Warren is a little different than other evangelicals: gay people are a second or third order issue. For most of the Christian right, homosexual fervor is a way of raising money. For him, his view of homosexuality is a code for “I still have moral authority.”

His own feelings are probably a bit conflicted. He’s committed to the traditional idea of marriage, yes, but he’s honestly not interested in killing gays. He has enough of a conscience to be offended by a law that executes gay people. If he were to change his mind, he’d probably lose 90% of his people. I’d be happy if he just gets them to be distracted by other issues where we can agree on, like climate change or female genital mutilation.

Could he be the person who opens up some space for safety among gays in Uganda? Warren is like a rock star there. His books are second only to the bible. He could pull it off. And I’d be happy if your average Ugandan gay could just not be killed. They listen to him because he’s an effective moral authority for them. Still, it comes at the expense of his desire to have authority here in the US as well.

Maddow, however, does expose Warren’s attempts to have it both ways. Still, the media might not let him. Remember – most of the media doesn’t understand religion as language: they see it as a series of intellectual propositions that have to calculate.

Father Jake discusses: The Ugandan Trade: Death Penalty for Conversion Clause

Warren Gets the Left’s Knickers in a Twist

Fellow leftists, please, step back for a moment.  It’s not that horrible.  Really.

Don’t be one of those easily offended right-wing freaks.   Warren’s selection to give the invocation does not mean Obama’s going to force women to have babies and gay people to live in sin.  That’s not what Warren represents to Obama, and that’s not what he should represent to us.

We – progressive Christians – should take his selection as a message.  Or several messages.

One is that we’d better get our act together.

Mainline churches are dying, burdened by expensive buildings, unable to build community in communities that need it, and too committed to our own personal liturgical preferences.  We might love gay people, have sanctuary churches, and feed the poor, but we’re not particularly welcoming in plenty of other ways.   Secular Progressives generally aren’t impressed by us.  And our churches are just getting smaller.  So there is no reason why Obama should listen to us.  We’re becoming irrelevant.

Warren, on the other hand, walks the walk:  he builds community.  He offers people meaning.  He teaches people to connect with other people.  He is much like Obama in that he is a community organizer.  If we want to be able to represent the way we love Christ, then progressive churches better rediscover what it means to be embedded in our communities.  If we want the sort of authority that Warren has, worldwide, then perhaps we might build relationships also.  Because that is what Warren does.  We have to learn from him.  We don’t have to like his theology, but his actions say more than his words.

Remember, also, the relationship between any pastor and politician has plenty of dangerous pitfalls – especially for the pastor.  Usually in the battle between the bishop and king, the king wins.  For this reason, this is much more of a danger for Warren than it is for Obama.  The religious right should have learned this:  after eight years of supporting Bush, they didn’t get very far.   Of course, the traditional NCC based Christians fared worse – in part because they expect kings to listen to them.  In spite of every mainline denomination, except the Southern Baptists, opposing the war in Iraq, Bush went anyway.

Obama and Warren can talk all they want, but Obama doesn’t need to change his views about anything.  He won’t.  Conservative evangelicals didn’t vote for him, so he’s not losing anything.  He’s not changed his personal views about abortion or sexuality.  He’s not suddenly become an evangelical.  He does understand, however, that Warren is one of the few pastors that makes the church relevant.

Even for me, a leftist priest, Warren’s suggestions and work are useful.  Not his theology, which has no appeal to me or my congregation, but his understanding of what communities need.  Warren cares about lively, thriving communities, and thriving persons.  A number of people have entered my progressive church after reading his book, The Purpose Driven Life. They want to contribute to their communities and make people’s lives better.

I suspect that Obama knows that Christian progressives are weak.  Because progressive churches generally don’t have anyone in them, the broad church “left” has no political power.  Until progressives generally see churches as opportunities, rather than as enemies, and until mainline churches start truly listening to their communities, Obama is doing a wise thing.  He has made formal obesiance to the most important evangelical in the country.  And by doing this he is simultaneously diminishing Warren’s credibility with the freeper, moonbat wing of the party.

He is further dividing the evangelical base.

Second, just because Warren opposes abortion and homosexual rights doesn’t mean he will have the political capital, or use his political capital, to promote sorts of policies along these lines.  Warren’s energy  around poverty and AIDS, however, is what Obama will listen to.  Unlike other evangelicals, Warren may just decide that he can deal with Obama because he shares concerns around global poverty, which is of little interest to the those Christians who have sold their faith to the far better organized religion of tax cuts.   And although he might not change his church’s views about sexuality, it might be enough that he just stands out of the way.

This is a low-cost alliance for Obama.   There is no way in hell Obama will become anti-abortion.  The cultural trend is toward liberalization regarding sexuality.  For no matter what gay-rights activists or fundamentalists say, people just don’t give a rats ass about who other people are screwing.   They want their daughters to have access to birth control.  Most people do not want big government to criminalize the consequences of sex.  Obama’s made the calculus.  He gains through building a relationship with Warren.  Warren loses credibility among his base for building a relationship with Obama.

Progressives might pay attention:  Warren is currently on a spiritual journey in a direction that should please those who care about poverty, AIDS, and climate change.   Unlike other Prosperity Gospel Christian leaders, he is not a hypocrite.  And unlike many leftists, he is organized enough that he can actually change the world rather than complain about it.

We have little to worry about.  Although I would have loved to see Obama choose a mainline pastor give the invocation, (he chose Pastor Joseph Lowery to give the benediction) but most of them do a better job of talking rather than doing.  And they can’t offer him anything.   The liberal, mainline church is dying because its killing itself.  Secular progressives don’t care, and our own congregations don’t want to change.  Obama sees who has power within church.  And it isn’t us.

He is wise to connect with Warren.  He has, in my view, defanged him.  And there will be another powerful evangelical who will become unable to stand in his way.

Obama has Warren’s number.

Update:  Bishop Chane Speaks!  He does make a good point about Warren’s foray into discussing assassinaton.  On the other hand, all politics is local.  Remember that Obama has another strategy for the Muslim world.  It is a delicate balancing act.

Another update:  Gary Stern does a good job of listing what people love and hate.