Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren: So NOT the Change We Hoped For

Obama's decision to invite Far Right evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration spits in the upturned, hopeful faces of America's GLBT people and of the women and men who believe that women have the right to control our own bodies.

Warren doesn't sit quietly on the political sidelines. Nor is he a theological moderate. Warren is as virulently hostile to gay men and lesbian women as James Dobson, of Focus on the Family. The difference between them, as People for the American Way president Kathryn Kolbert says, isn't theological. It's just a matter of tone.

This isn’t Obama’s first public liaison with a homo-hater. If you recall, about a year ago, he made a similar alliance when he chose to campaign in South Carolina with outspoken heterosexist and homophobe Donnie McClurkin. That made me furious. This time it’s worse. This makes me question Obama’s heart.

It goes without saying that that these decisions are rank and cynical political calculations. They reflect Obama's capitulation to the worst form of demagoguery, the kind that pits one group of Americans against another, the kind that perpetuates and legitimizes militant ignorance on a vacuous cry of “religious freedom,” the kind that intentionally stimulates the worst of us to daily acts of physical, psychological, spiritual, legal, and verbal violence.

I believe Obama knows that he's taking risks with our wellbeing, but I think, like most straight people, he severely underestimates those risks so that he never has to examine his religion or take responsibility for his role in making GLBT people and women second-class citizens in America.

As an African American active in a quasi-evangelical Christian church, Obama is fully aware that many black Americans are outraged when GLBT people claim that our struggle is a civil rights struggle. He may well share that view.

I don’t understand it so I can’t explain it, but I suspect that it comes from that font of never-ending curses, Pauline and Augustinian Christian theology.

A superstitious hostility to sex is deeply embedded in both Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, and is nowhere more pronounced than in the Church’s conservative evangelical and fundamentalist sectors. For these believers, thanks to the Bible and the very word “homosexual,” GLBT people exist, by definition, outside the righteous realms of civil rights. The language itself and a pernicious Christian tradition drown our humanity in the stews of other people’s phobic, misogynistic sex panic.

Accepting us as peers in the claim for liberty and justice would mean looking that panic in the eye. Embracing us in common humanity would demand that African American and other Christian conservatives let sex intrude into the holy war on discrimination. That, in turn, would complicate our cherished cultural narrative that links “innocent” to “victim” before the courts of public opinion and of law, and turn a very bright light on the myriad forms of sex and gender violence in American society.

This brings us back to the intrinsic link between sexism and heterosexism, between denying women the right to control our own bodies, and writing GLBT persons out of the book of common humanity. After all, there is no way to define a “gay” or “lesbian” person without the underlying reference to the Patriarchy’s rigid assignment of gender roles. It’s no accident that Warren espouses the views he does. Nor are his views benign.

THIS is why Obama’s decision to elevate Warren, specifically in his role as biblical interpreter and Christian authority, is utterly unacceptable.

In this action, Obama will have symbolically fused Rick Warren’s brand of extreme Christian terrorism to the White House. Whether or not Obama intends it this way, the choice of Warren for this role is a Far Right Christian theocrat’s wet dream come true.

I’m pretty sure that Obama doesn’t see it this way. I believe he means the Rick Warren choice to signal Obama's intent to be President of all the people. I believe that, in his mind, this kind of outreach is essential to set the tone for an administration that has to unite the country in order to succeed in dealing with its numerous threats.

However, if that’s true, it reveals another frightening blind spot on the part of the President-Elect. If true, it comes from a place of sublime heterosexual privilege, a place where it isn't necessary even to see, let alone to understand or empathize with the lives of GLBT Americans even far enough to get our feelings of betrayal over the choice of Warren. And so he doesn't.

We saw a glimpse of this in Christian fundamentalist Rev. Mike Huckabee, recently, who actually said out loud that gay marriage isn’t a civil rights issue because gays "aren’t getting their skulls cracked." Oh, really? This will come as quite a shock to the Real world.

I guess Matthew Shepard didn’t count. I guess the savage slaying of a lesbian couple on the Appalachian Trail didn't count.

Because of heterosexual privilege, Obama, like Huckabee, can manage to believe that any prejudice against gay men and lesbian women – like Proposition 8, for instance – merely amounts to inconveniencing us. Because of heterosexual privilege, the majority of their audiences can agree. If they don’t know about the avalanche of suicides and homicides and bashings and rapes, it’s because they don’t have to know. Though these are reported every day to Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and in the GLBT press, they are rarely reported in the mainstream media. It’s part of the privilege of being a heterosexual not to have to see that, thanks to heterosexual bigotry, being taken for Queer in America can be fatal.

Because of what the Warren selection says about and to women and about GLBT people, Obama needs to rethink this one. It’s so not about being President of all the people in a fractured society.

It’s so not the change we hoped for.


Anonymous said...

Making yourself famous as a bigot does not qualify you to be a religious leader at a national function. I think it argues for your marginalization.

He should have invited the Unitarian minister where the church shootings occurred last summer.

Religion is supposed to be healing not proudly divisive. Prejudice has no place in a presidential inauguration.