ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH…. It’s not my intention to belabor the argument about Rick Warren giving the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, but the topic has prompted some good discussion. For that matter, I’ve received a whole lot of good emails about this, many of which disagree with my conclusion, so I thought I’d summarize some of the more compelling arguments I’ve seen from readers who think I’m wrong.
* Lowery matters more: Sure, Warren is giving the invocation, but the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who’s a brilliant progressive and champion of the civil rights era, is giving the benediction. And since the benediction comes at the end, and is longer than the invocation, Lowery’s role trumps Warren’s.
That’s not a bad argument, I suppose, but one great pastor doesn’t justify inviting one offensive pastor.
* I’m getting the validation backwards: Obama isn’t validating Warren by extending this invitation, Warren is validating Obama by accepting it. And since Warren has millions of evangelical supporters, his “endorsement” will benefit Obama more in the long run.
Maybe, but doesn’t that validation vanish when Warren starts criticizing Obama’s policy agenda after the inauguration?
* Symbolism is just symbolism: Obama is the strongest supporter of gay rights in presidential history, and he’s poised to make sweeping reversals to Bush-era restrictions on reproductive rights and family planning. Warren’s invocation is easily-forgotten trivia by comparison — it’s the substance that matters.
That’s not a bad argument, either. I guess one either finds symbolism important or one doesn’t, but given the last 24 hours, it seems like a lot of people think it matters.
* Warren’s bad, but he’s not that bad: On the evangelical spectrum, Warren isn’t especially radical, and his emphasis on poverty and international relief puts some important distance between him and religious right clowns like Robertson and Falwell. It’s unfair to argue they’re indistinguishable.
True, but even Warren has conceded the difference is one of “tone.” When it comes to specific policy disputes, he agrees with Robertson and Falwell pretty much across the board. He’s perceived as being more moderate, because he’s less likely than the religious right leaders to demonize his “opponents,” but that’s largely the result of effective public relations.
* This is the wrong fight: The real problem isn’t with who will give the invocation, but rather, the fact that there’s going to be an invocation in the first place. We had 144 years of presidential inaugurations, dating back to George Washington, in which there was no invocation and no benediction. This shouldn’t be a fight over which pastor delivers the prayer; this should be a fight over the official prayer itself.
I admit, I had overlooked this angle. This train has probably left the station, but it’s a fair point.