Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren, Interfaith Dialogue, and Obama

Barack Obama has selected Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony in January. Not everyone is happy. The furor from LGBT activists (many of whom supported Barack Obama) is especially understandable. Only a few hours after the announcement, the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese had released a letter expressing HRC's frustration. Warren is a very important figure in the religious life of America, and indeed the world. I've talked about him at the University of Denver's Interfaith Student Alliance blog. The post I refer to mentions Warren as being a powerful mobilizer for Christian youth worldwide. He spoke of "armies of compassion" that could perform services for others. He is also very vocal about AIDS and poverty relief.

The guy is exceedingly influential. Obama's choice of Rick Warren to invoke in January is thus a nod to the President-Elect's acknowledgment of the importance of religion in the lives of Americans. But not all Americans subscribe to the Christian faith, and not all American Christians are in step with Warren's admittedly conservative views. What does this all mean?

Some say that Obama and Warren see eye-to-eye on social justice issues, which is true, and that they both recognize the important role that faith plays in America. But Warren's selection is seen by many as an exclusionary choice, one that Obama, for all his talk of "bringing everybody together" has apparently missed. As an interfaith activist, I am perturbed by the choice, to be sure, and I hope that Obama will prove to be a fierce advocate for building bridges among our nation's diverse religious communities. On January 20th, the world will be watching.

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