To understand how angry and disappointed many Democrats are that Barack Obama has invited evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural, imagine if a President-elect John McCain had offered this unique honor to the Rev. Al Sharpton -- or the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. I know, it’s hard to picture: John McCain would never do that in a million years. Republicans respect their base even when, as in McCain’s case, it doesn’t really return the favor.
Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters -- feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war, members of the reality-based community -- by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead.
Most Americans who’ve heard of Warren know him as the teddy-bearish, Hawaiian-shirted head of the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County and the author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” Perhaps they also know he’s the rare right-wing Christian pastor who sometimes talks about poverty and global warming and HIV. His concern for those issues has given him a reputation as a moderate and has made him the darling of Democratic Party think tanks, ever hoping to break the Republican lock on the white evangelical vote.
But on the signal issues of the religious right he is, as he himself has said, as orthodox as James Dobson.
And as inflammatory. Warren doesn’t just oppose gay marriage, he’s compared it to incest and pedophilia. He doesn’t just want to ban abortion, he’s compared women who terminate pregnancies to Nazis and the pro-choice position to Holocaust denial. (Hmmm ... If a fertilized egg is as precious as a born Jewish human being, does that mean a born Jewish human being is only as valuable as a fertilized egg?)
Speaking of Jews, Warren has publicly stated his belief that they will burn in hell, presumably along with everyone else who hasn’t accepted his particular brand of Christianity (i.e., the vast majority of people in the world). And forget about evolution -- the existence of homosexuals, he’s argued, disproves Darwin. And while we may not know how old the Earth is, the Saddleback website assures us that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
Warren claims that his views are mainstream, pointing out that in 30 states, the majority of voters have banned gay marriage. Popular doesn’t mean right, of course, but regardless of what Americans think about gay marriage, on other so-called social issues, he’s way out in far-right field.
Take abortion. Most Americans, whatever their personal feelings, are pro-choice. On election day, anti-choice initiatives went down to defeat in all three states where they were on the ballot. Most Americans do not think the one-third of American women who terminate a pregnancy are running a concentration camp in their wombs, and would have no trouble choosing between saving a Jew from a gas chamber and a fertilized egg from a fire at the clinic.
Or take marriage. At his Saddleback Church, wifely submission is official doctrine: The church website tells women to defer to their husband’s “leadership” even when he’s wrong on important issues, such as finances. Never mind if she’s an accountant and he flunked long division, or if she wants to beef up the kids’ college fund and he wants to buy shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. The godly answer is supposed to be “yes, dear.” Is elevating this male chauvinist how President-elect Obama thanks women, who gave him more than half his votes?
Or take foreign policy. In electing Obama, Americans overwhelmingly rejected President Bush’s Wild West approach to foreign policy. Apparently Warren didn’t get that memo either. Unlike many evangelical preachers, he issued a statement against torture, but despite his access to Bush, he told Beliefnet.com that he never raised the subject of torture with him. (“I just didn’t have the opportunity,” he said -- although he apparently found plenty of time to lecture Obama about abortion.)
On “Hannity & Colmes,” he agreed that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should be killed because “the Bible says God puts government on Earth to punish evildoers.” Really? The Bible says the United States should murder the leaders of other sovereign states? How many other heads of state does Warren want to do away with? If Ahmadinejad, who is, after all, a more-or-less democratically elected leader, had shared his inauguration with an imam who had called on national television for the assassination of President Bush, Americans would be calling for the nuking of Tehran.
In a news conference Thursday, Obama defended the choice of Warren: “It is important for the country to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues.” That’s all very well, but excuse me if I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy. Obama won thanks to the strenuous efforts of people who’ve spent the last eight years appalled by the Bush administration’s wars and violations of human rights, its attacks on gays and women, its denigration of science, its general pandering to bigotry and ignorance in the name of God.
I’m all for building bridges, but honoring Warren, who insults Obama’s base as perverts and murderers, is definitely a bridge too far.
Katha Pollitt, a poet, essayist and critic, writes the “Subject to Debate” column in the Nation. She is the author, most recently, of “Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories.”