It turns out that gay rights leaders and other social liberals are as angry with Barack Obama for choosing Rick Warren to give the invocation — a decision Nicole Russell blogged about yesterday — as some evangelicals and other social conservatives are with Warren for accepting. In addition to opposing abortion, Warren supported Proposition 8 in California. Welcome to the culture wars, 2009.
Some chalk it all up to Obama’s religious outreach and Warren’s desire for publicity. Others point to the younger evangelicals’ interest in getting beyond the culture wars and focus instead on so-called “social justice issues” where they have common ground with the left and the wider culture. Some might even wonder if this isn’t the most extreme example of the religious conservative leaders’ place-at-the-table mentality.
There’s probably something to all of the above, but I wonder if Rick Warren isn’t taking a page out of Billy Graham’s playbook. Although Graham was not exactly silent on social and political issues, he subordinated them to preaching the Gospel. Graham also prayed with and implicitly gave his blessing to such liberal presidents as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. He took on a role as pastor to the presidents and juggled his role as a Christian evangelist with his place in American civic religion.
This approach had its ups and downs. On balance, I think it did expose Graham’s message to a wider audience as well as communicate the idea that Christianity was bigger than any political party or movement. But there are plenty of cases where the need for access kept Graham from speaking truth to power as forcefully as he perhaps could have, from some of his trips to communist countries to his taped conversations where Richard Nixon was saying ugly things about Jews. In any event, I won’t say the torch has been passed but I do wonder if Franklin Graham would have been as willing to give the invocation.
UPDATE: Whatever it says about Warren, A.C. Kleinheider thinks this was a political masterstroke for Obama.