From Bishop John Bryson Chane:
I am profoundly disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration. The president-elect has bestowed a great honor on a man whose recent comments suggest he is both homophobic, xenophobic, and willing to use the machinery of the state to enforce his prejudices—even going so far as to support the assassination of foreign leaders.
In his home state of California, Mr. Warren’s campaigned aggressively to deny gay and lesbian couples equal rights under the law, relying on arguments that are both morally offensive and theologically crude. Christian leaders differ passionately with one another over the morality of same-sex relationships, but only the most extreme liken the loving, lifelong partnerships of their fellow citizens to incest and pedophilia, as Mr. Warren has done. The president-elect’s willingness to associate himself with a man who espouses these views as a means of reaching out to religious conservatives suggests a willingness to use the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans as bargaining chips, and I find this deeply troubling.
Mr. Warren has been rightly praised for his efforts to deepen the engagement of evangelical Christians with impoverished Africans. He has been justifiably lauded for putting the AIDS epidemic and global warming on the political agenda of the Christian right. Yet extravagant compassion toward some of God’s people does not justify the repression of others. Jesus came to save all of humankind, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, “All means all.” But rather than embrace the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Warren has allied himself with men such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who seek to “purify” the Anglican Communion, of which my Church is a member, by driving out gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters.
In choosing Mr. Warren, the president-elect has sent a distressing message internationally as well. In a recent television interview, Mr. Warren voiced his support for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These bizarre and regrettable remarks come at a time when much of the Muslim world already fears a Christian crusade against Islamic countries. Imagine our justifiable outrage if an Iranian cleric who advocated the assassination of President Bush had been selected to offer prayers when Ahmadinejad was sworn in.
I have worked with former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to improve the relationship between our two countries as hawkish members of the Bush administration pushed for another war. He has spoken at the National Cathedral, which will host the president-elect’s inaugural prayer service, and I have visited with him several times in Iran and elsewhere. Iranian clerics are intensely interested in the religious attitudes of America’s leaders. In choosing Mr. Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration, the president-elect has sent the chilling, and, I feel certain, unintended message that he is comfortable with Christians who can justify lethal violence against Muslims.
I understand that in selecting Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama is signaling a willingness to work with both sides in our country’s culture wars. I appreciate that there is political advantage in elevating the relatively moderate Mr. Warren above some of his brethren on the Religious Right. But in honoring Mr. Warren, the president-elect confers legitimacy on attitudes that are deeply contrary to the all-inclusive love of God. He is courting the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, and in doing so, he stands the Gospel on its head.
The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Eighth Bishop of Washington