As anybody who has read my diaries or comments knows I am not exactly forgiving of Obama's cabinet picks or general corporate centrist trajectory.
I find myself, however, responding somewhat differently to the choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration.
First, lets stipulate that Warren's views on queer people and womens reproductive freedom are loathesome. Personally, I'd happily throw a shoe at the man.
The thing that has made me rethink my initial response though is the way this is also flipping out the rest of the religious right.
For decades the Republicans have succeeded in getting many evangelical Christians to subordinate their often sincere commitment to the plight of the poor to their retrograde views on sexuality. Recently an increasing number of those folks have been expressing unease over this and Warren is the most prominent leader of this trend. Many people have already noted that giving the invocation is not the same thing as sitting down for a discussion with someone you disagree with. The important thing to keep in mind here is that this is just as true for the right, and precisely why they are freaking out about this as well. Warren is giving his imprimatur to Obama and thereby undercutting the efforts maintain a united front of the religious right in demonizing him.
We should not underestimate the value in this. Warren's own views on sexuality may never budge an inch, but he has many, many followers who are now being given permission to have civil conversations with all the rest of us and this is really the critical thing. Because it is at this level that our work really needs to happen. It is in the one on one conversations with people that we have a real opportunity to further fracture the right. Breaking off a fraction of religious right around matters of racial equality and poverty opens the door to neutralizing or even winning over some of those, especially the younger ones, around other questions including same-sex marriage and abortion.
The passage of Prop 8 was infuriating. The problem is that the fury we rightly feel has sometimes blinded us to two facts: 1. That this was always going to be a struggle and 2. That, Prop 8 notwithstanding, we are actually winning. Every rouund in this fight, whether it has gone in our favor or not, has moved the discussion in our direction, for the simple reason that much of the opposition to same-sex marriage is quite shallow and crumbles when people are forced to actually talk it through. This has been reflected in a slow but steady movement in national opinion polls showing marriage quality gaining at the expense of civil unions and civil unions gaining at the expense of opposition to any sort of legal recognition such that the latter position is becoming increasingly marginalized and marriage equality is becoming much less so.
The emergence of pseudo-moderates like Warren is a response to a real crisis among evangelicals as large numbers of young evangelicals are coming to question the orthodoxies of their elders, in particular on the question of same sex marriage.
What some of us here are experiencing as Obama giving his seal of approval to a homophobe, the religious right is experiencing as Warren giving his seal of approval to same-sex marriage. The question we need to ask is how these two contradictory aspects of Warren's invocation balance out, and this all depends, I think, on which side you think has the wind in its sails right now and is better positioned to make gains at the others expense. We have to ask ourselves objectively what the effect of Warren's invocation will actually be. Will it on balance bolster the anti-same sex marriage forces or will it divide them? I think it will divide them.
Prop 8 was a victory for the right, but I think it will prove a pyrrhic one. They have only energized their opposition (us) for future rounds in which they will get weaker and we will get stronger. Central to that process is the peeling away of their young foot soldiers. Warren giving the invocation at Obama's inauguration will only fuel the splits in the right while it convinces us not to rely on Obama to fight our fights for us. Both of these are good developments in my book.
This last point is a critical one. I don't think for a minute that Obama's opposition to same-sex marriage is honest. At the same time it tells me that he is unwilling to be an actual leader on this central issue in the fight for equality. Like it or not, thats the situation. And the sooner we realize this the sooner we will understand that it means we can not count on him to do the work we need to do to keep this question front and center during his administration.