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Juan Cole's Informed Comment has to be one of the most respected blogs around here, for both his consistent erudition, and his unswerving dedication to progressive principles.  In today's post he reflects on a personal encounter with Rick Warren yesterday at a conference for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.  I think many fellow Kossacks will find it enlightening and reassuring.

Thanks to maracatu for pointing out this column in another thread. Given Cole's reputation here, I thought it would be of wider interest.  

Warren and Cole were both headliners at the conference, which occurred in Long Beach.  Melissa Etheridge appeared and sang as well, and it turns out that both Cole and Warren are huge fans of hers. (Go figure!!!)  Anyway, while  acknowledging Warren's bankrupt opinions on homosexuality, Cole nonetheless confesses surprising admiration for some of Warren's work, and for Warren as a person:

Since I knew both of us would be at MPAC, I bought Warren's book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," and read it on the plane. I was a religion major, so I've read a lot of theology in various religions. It is mostly just standard evangelical talking points.

Warren's book does have some strengths. I was struck that Warren's section early in the book on the notion of "surrender" to God is the best explication I have seen in English of what Muslims mean by Islam. Since he was talking about Christianity, these passages are an unwitting argument for the unity of religions.

So imagine my surprise when I heard Warren talk at MPAC and found that he is a genuine, likeable man. And more than likeable, he seems admirable. A lot of pastors would tell the story of building their congregations and saving souls as the pinnacle of their lives. For Warren, that was only the beginning. He and his wife had an epiphany six years ago when she read an article about there being 12 million children in Africa who had been orphaned by AIDS. They started going to southern Africa, and Warren became devoted to helping those orphans.

But then he began thinking bigger. He has identified 5 major problems he wants to address:
Spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, disease pandemics, dire poverty, and illiteracy. He wants to do job creation and job training. He wants to wipe out malaria in the areas where it is still active. He is convinced that religious congregations are the only set of organizations on earth that can successfully combat these ills. And he is entirely willing actively and directly to cooperate with mosques to get the job done.

Warren, in short, is a representative of the turn of some evangelicals to a social gospel.

He also hints that Warren's opinions on homosexual are inconsistent with his other values, and hence may be amenable to persuasion--as suggested by Etheridge's appeal to gay advocates to reach out to Warren on this issue.

There is much more of interest in the post, so you should go read it in its entirety. But the prospective reemergence of social gospel that Cole suggests would be a tectonic shift in progressive politics, and a wholesale reversal of the Reagan Revolution. Imagine the reengagement of people of faith in our fights ahead for causes of social justice--healthcare, economic equality, environment, and yes, gay rights--the way they were in the abolition and civil rights movement, and opposition to the Vietnam War!

I think Cole's column is a tacit endorsement of Barack Obama's personal judgment, commitment to progressivism, and strategic wisdom.  Then again, I never doubted Obama in the first place.  But I'm not Juan Cole, am I?

Originally posted to Making Sense of Psychiatry on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:08 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Facinating (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      northsylvania, kafkananda

      Thank you so much for sharing this.  Muslims, gays and an evangelical preacher all together. Makes me smile

    •  Okay, if Warren is (0+ / 0-)

      "a representative of the turn of some evangelicals to a social gospel",  then it shouldn't be too hard to find one who isn't a *&^%ing theocrat.  Tell Warren he can do the invocation at Obama's 2013 invocation if he learns how to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's",  and stop trying to turn "sinners" into second-class citizens.

      Meanwhile,  Obama should be directing his AG-designate to plan proceedings to revoke Saddleback's tax-exempt status,  instead of giving its pastor a place of honor in an official government ceremony.

  •  To no one in particular (what happens when (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, ExStr8, tgypsy, Nespolo, Munchkn, Ebby

    some of those children are gay?)

  •  "People of faith" (6+ / 0-)

    already fight for all those things.

    I'll give Warren and his adoring throngs a polite golf clap for finally deciding to catch up to the rest of us.

    Sorry.  I know the parable of the prodigal son, but there's this song about the prodigal daughter I know as well.

    What's to be done with a prodigal son?
    Welcome him home with open arms
    Throw a big party, invite your friends
    Our boy's come back home

    When a girl goes home with the oats he's sown
    It's draw your shades and your shutters
    She's bringing such shame to the family name
    The return of the prodigal daughter


    Proud member of the Cult of Issues and Substance!

    by Fabian on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:17:53 AM PST

  •  I don't give a crap if the guy is nice (15+ / 0-)

    or a big snuggly cuddly teddy bear of a gee whiz neeto all American

    He is espousing bigotry, working to take my civil rights, harming my family. He is dangerous, and so was Obama's decision

    A nice bigot just makes the pill less bitter, and therefore more likely to be swallowed by those who do not understand the dosage or the side effects.

    Until Warren changes his views, his ideas need to be utterly marginalized as the dangerous spiritual violence they are.

    Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. ~Thomas A. Edison

    by matthew fogarty on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:23:10 AM PST

    •  Agreed. Look at 'the nice' racist South. n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ExStr8, josecheung
    •  Become the Change You Wish To See in Others (12+ / 0-)

      A favorite quote comes to mind here:
      "When there are walls of ignorance between people, when we don't know each others' stories, we substitute our own myth about who that person is. When we are operating with only a myth, none of that person's truth will ever be known to us, and we will injure them -- mostly without ever meaning to. What story did we tell ourselves in the absence of knowing this person's real Story?" ~ Paula Wehmiller

      If the message we want to send is "respect each individual, love them, accept them for who they are, and honor them for the gifts they bring, and set aside your judgment of their flaws, sins, and shortcomings," we have to walk the talk.

      To advocate that a moderate evangelical like Rick Warren be systematically marginalized by all of us on the left is to stoop to the level of the very people we are criticizing...and to perpetuate the cycle of emotional/spiritual violence, all the while protesting that we want to end it.

      You have to choose -- either profess "love your enemies" to others and then live that belief out through your actions, or admit that what you really want is to live the "do as I say, not as I do" existence of a hypocrite.

      You can't have it both ways.

  •  Thanks for posting (9+ / 0-)

    I, for one, deeply appreciate your posting this additional information to broaden my sources of information about Warren.  I'd like as much diverse information as possible to avoid my own limitations of narrow perspective or harm caused by my rush to judgment.

  •  I saw a press interview with Warren (8+ / 0-)

    that followed that conference. He is clearly trying to scrub his image after all the furor. If he really wants to do that a good place to start would be by retracting and apologizing for the pedophile remark. The claim that he buys Malissa Ethridge's records doesn't impress me in the least.

  •  So why so hurtful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitty, northsylvania

    I agree with you that Warren has taken relatively progressive positions on some social and environmental issues, and I have insisted in this forum that the significance of his blessing at the inauguration is that he is giving those who listen to him "permission" to be open minded. But it still makes me wonder (especially after re-watching clips) where his weird comments on gays come from.

    Even if you accept the idea that sexual orientation is a choice, we don't discriminate against those who choose to be Muslim, Jewish, or Wiccan. And of course, it is not.

    But for those who are hurt by his position at the inauguration, I'd encourage a long view. Warren's blessing will do more to opening minds than any boycott or protest ever would.

  •  I think Juan's eye is drooping here... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, josecheung

    What would he think of assassinating Ahmahdinejad?

    Cause the "likeable" Warren thinks it's just dandy.

    Look, it's one thing to like or even love these sort of folks close up (the relative round the holiday table) or in the less personal aspect (love thy neighbor = every human on earth), but quite another to be expected to smile and make nice over the selection of this man by that man (the latter, one who so many progressives voted for) for this highly coveted and publicized honor.

    Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

    by NYCee on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:47:01 AM PST

    •  I think the fundi relative is a good image (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The inauguration is a dinner party and that's that. No policy will be discussed, other than Obama's plans to create jobs and healthcare where none exist. And I sure hope we withdraw from Iraq double-quick, and remove "don't ask, don't tell" the next day. I hope the spring brings a LOT more changes besides.
      If a few more people listen to Obama's speech because Warren can herd them there, then that's a good thing.

      In a democracy, everyone is a politician. ~ Ehren Watada

      by Lefty Mama on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:48:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, the inauguration is an OFFICIAL government (0+ / 0-)


        There will be several "dinner party" type events,  staged by private groups,  after that.

        They can invite Warren if they want to.

        But a theocrat who opposes our fundamental principles of equal rights for all citizens and separation of church and state doesn't belong at the podium during the swearing-in ceremony.

  •  The first day I ever heard or saw Warren was (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WIds, ExStr8, Osiris, josecheung

    the evening he had that "forum" with McCain and Obama.  I didn't like that he lied about McCain being sequestered in a room out back somewhere.  He did, he lied.

    I don't have a problem with Obama having someone speak at his inauguration that has the need to demonize and demean another human being, apparently Obama doesn't either.

    The religious fanatics didn't buy the republican party because it was virtuous, they bought it because it was for sale

    by nupstateny on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:47:50 AM PST

    •  Hypocrite, maybe? Wolf in sheep's clothing? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Richard Lyon, Munchkn, josecheung

      I love you Muslims, Jews, Gays, Lesbians, but
      you're all going to Hell anyway!

      •  I'll say this much, if (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        George Bush is going to heaven, I'd rather go to hell.  

        The religious fanatics didn't buy the republican party because it was virtuous, they bought it because it was for sale

        by nupstateny on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:34:50 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  This just in: (0+ / 0-)

        People are not going to agree with everything we do.  Good people can be wrong.  All of us can be wrong.  Rick Warren can be wrong.  I can be wrong.   You can be wrong.  We still have to work with them and share this country with them.  I don't like it, either.  

        You can love someone and still think they're going to hell.  It doesn't mean you want them to.  Secularists confuse "You're going to hell" with "I don't care about you."  For the believer, it simply doesn't work that way.  For the believer, "You're going to hell" equates spiritually to "You're going over a cliff unless you turn aside".  You may not sound very nice saying it, but it's certainly not about hate.  

        The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

        by Panurge on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:30:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Um... okay. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, ExStr8, Munchkn, josecheung, TNThorpe


    But my people HAVE TO survive meanwhile.

    I'm wide-open to suggestions... as long as they don't come down to the disposability (in one form or another) of queer kids.

    Because I was one...

    "the people have the power to redeem the work of fools" --Patti Smith

    by Immigrant Punk on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:57:05 AM PST

  •  I appreciate all the information (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, Lefty Mama
    I can get on this issue.

    I assume Obama has a political reason for this choice.  I will wait and see if this move (as well some of his other choices) works to further a progressive agenda.  This has been his M.O. in the past. He courts people of opposing ideologies and creates broad-based support to enact legislation.

    We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. - Carlos Castaneda

    by denig on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:59:26 AM PST

  •  "I Never Doubted Obama in the First Place"? (5+ / 0-)

    I submit that a little doubt and skepticism about our leaders is always in order, no matter who they are.


  •  I hope people actually read Juan Cole's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Mama, Seneca Doane

    original item, which IMO is well worth a read. So far, as is usual these days, in this thread and others posted this morning on Cole's item, it seems many commenters are instead just reacting to the diarists' presentations, and according to their own preconceived notions, instead of actually reading Cole's item.

    •  I read Cole's post on his blog (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Before I read it here.  And it seems that his most favorable thing to say about Warren is that he doesn't think Warren would be knee-jerk anti-Muslim.

      Given that institutional Islam is deeply homophobic, I don't see how that reassures gays and lesbians at all.

  •  Is it really all that hard... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dichro Gal, josecheung find an American religious leader who shares Warren's social-gospel goals and who ISN'T a wingnut homophobic jackass?

     THAT's where Obama stumbled. Reasonable, non-fundie Christian leaders are given the short shrift in our media space, and Obama had a golden to give a mainstream non-fundie Christian a national platform, especially since that's the kind of Christian Obama HIMSELF supposedly is.

     Obama could have reminded the public that the James Dobsons and the Rick Warrens of the world don't speak for all Christians, or even MOST Christians. They simply subscribe to a sick, twisted, hateful mutant form of the faith. Obama could have helped take the focus away from that element, and re-center it upon the Christianity of love and compassion.

     Instead, with his selection of Warren, he basically stated that the Rick Warren crowd represents "real" Christianity. He legitimized the wingnut fundie lunatic branch of Christianity.

     If this is the way he's going to govern on other issues, be ready for a rough four years -- and massive Democratic defeats in 2010 and 2012.

    "Le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge."

    by Buzzer on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:25:19 AM PST

  •  he also advocates that all gays remain celibate.. (0+ / 0-)

    Support democracy at home and abroad, join the ACLU & Amnesty International and Your voice is needed!

    by tnichlsn on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:48:06 AM PST

  •  Thanks For Pointing Out... (0+ / 0-)
    ...the role people of faith have historically played in "the way they were in the abolition and civil rights movement, and opposition to the Vietnam War!"

    We risk the progressive movement's success if we forget this history, and ignore the value of people of faith in the D coalition -- even as we may disagree on some issues (at least at this point).

    Obama's certainly hip to this.

    "There's no housing bubble..." - Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, 10/27/2005

    by chuco35 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:52:53 AM PST

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