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The Gay Community Needs to Calm Down About Rick Warren

Hell hath no fury like a homosexual seemingly scorned. That seems to be the lesson learned by the media in the immediate aftermath of Barack Obama’s announcement that he will have Rick Warren – pastor of the 20,000-member Saddleback megachurch in Lake Forest, California – deliver the invocation at his presidential inauguration next month. Warren is most famous for his bestselling book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," his godly attempt to imitate motivational speaker Tony Robbins, as well as the genuine good works he does in poverty-stricken corners of the world. Lately, however, he’s been involved in less benign activities, namely the campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment stripping gays of their court-ordered right to marry. Pastor Rick represents the new face of evangelical Christianity in America in that he puts a friendly sheen on homophobia, delivering the requisite line that he supports "equal rights" for everybody and that some of his best friends are gay, he just doesn’t want them to have the same rights as heterosexuals. Oh, and legitimizing their "lifestyles," he says, would be akin to accepting bestiality and incest.

Gay activists were understandably angered by this announcement, and they made that anger felt. Joe Solomonese, head of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s most prominent gay rights organization, issued a public letter to Obama calling his decision a "genuine blow to LGBT Americans." The denizens of the Huffington Post have been expressing their rage, and the popular gay blog Queerty went so far as to claim that Obama "spat on the gays." Adorable lesbian Rachel Maddow called it "the first big mistake of his post-election politicking."

Color me not outraged. In part because amidst all the righteous indignation (something that professional gay activists never seem to lack) over Obama’s selection of Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation was his simultaneous choice of Joseph Lowery, a black pastor, civil rights leader and, important for the purposes of the controversy du jour, gay civil union supporter, to deliver the benediction, or news that Tammy Baldwin, the only openly-gay Congresswoman, was named an honorary co-chairman of Obama’s Inauguration Committee. "I’ll leave those who are upset to their calling," Lowery remarked when asked for his views on l’affaire Warren, suggesting that the perpetually-outraged gay Left might want to reconsider their behavior with what they claim their life’s work to be. Did the dons of the gay lobby ever stop to question whether Lowery and Baldwin’s presence on the dais would similarly upset the Bible-thumpers? Not for nothing did John Gallagher and Chris Bull call the gay movement and the religious right, "Perfect Enemies." More than one person has seriously suggested to me that the Reverend Fred Phelps, he of "God Hates Fags" fame, might actually be a plant on the gay rights lobby’s payroll.  

Invocation, benediction, what’s the difference? Apparently, a lot. "The person selected to deliver the invocation has the honor of serving as the spiritual representative for the entire nation," writes Leah McElrath Renna. Perhaps I missed it, but there is no "spiritual representative" of our constitutional republic, and Renna does her cause no bit of good by ascribing such official significance upon a private citizen like Warren, a man whom most Americans did not know about until gay rights activists raised such a stink, and upon further investigation sounds like a pretty nice guy not deserving of all the insults heaped upon him. The uproar over Warren has the detriment of confirming one of the worst stereotypes of homosexuals: hysteria. That’s because Warren is the lowest common denominator of the socially conservative evangelicals. Up until the Proposition 8 fight, his political involvement extended to such hot-button, "culture war" issues as fighting African AIDS and poverty. Aside from the incest/bestiality slip (which was an effort, however clumsily executed, to make a slippery slope argument rather than a serious attempt at morally equating daughter/dog love to homosexuality) Warren has never really used his high public profile or pulpit to preach hatred of gay people, something that can hardly be said of the long list of Elmer Gantryesque charlatans the GOP has surrounded itself with over the past 30 years. Asked what was a "greater threat to the American family – divorce or gay marriage," Warren answered, "That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it," which makes him far more honest than most politically involved conservative evangelical preachers. Count me as being a member of the pragmatist gay camp (not to be confused with theater, dance or other camps), encapsulated by my friend Chris Crain, who writes, "It is a stroke of political brilliance to recruit a conservative megapastor in support of a president-elect who is arguably the most pro-gay, pro-choice and progressive in our history."

The problem for gay activists is that many Americans agree with Rick Warren when it comes to same-sex love. And these people, numbering in the over 100 million range, are not going to be budged in their views by hectoring activists who call them bigots (even though that’s what many of them are). Now, I’m of the firm belief that these debates will be moot in 20 years, when the older generation kicks the bucket and the near-universally gay-accepting Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers take the reins of government. Whatever political victories they feel that they’ve won from Proposition 8 and the other marriage amendments across the country, the anti-gay forces of reaction in this country are gasping their last breath. The honest ones among them acknowledge this, if not publicly. We will hasten the day of gay equality by engaging respectfully with them and winning over the persuadable ones (many of whom, I bet, are followers of Warren), rather than calling them names.  

In that vein, gays would do well to store their gunpowder for the truly significant legislative battles that will no doubt be fought in the years ahead. Getting rid of the odious and national security-weakening "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" regulation, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Matthew Shepard hate crimes law will all be possible over the next four years now that we have a Democratic president and Congress committed – at least on paper – to effecting these positive changes. If gays had given Obama some much-needed slack on Rick Warren, perhaps he’d feel a political debt to us when these truly significant issues come up for debate. But how sincere – or politically threatening – will gay complaints about administration foot-dragging on issues that actually affect millions of gay and lesbian people sound in light of the unwarranted outrage that’s been generated over the guy who’s going to deliver a two-minute reading that no one will remember? Attacking the President-Elect who campaigned as the most pro-gay candidate in American history over an issue as irrelevant as this one, I fear, makes us look like we’re crying wolf. And we all know how that fable ended.

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