I received an email from a friend today that inspired yet another blog post on Obama's selection of Rick Warren to lead the nation in prayer at his inauguration. Here's an excerpt from what my friend Aaron had to say:
Naturally, I felt the need to respond and I actually did so in an email. However, after expending so much effort in writing a response, I decided to publish it. My friends love the way that any conversation or email with me may end up being fodder for my blog. (Stop trembling; I don't write about everything y'all tell me.)
Yes, the more you hear from Ricky Warren, the more laughable and morally repugnant he seems. But when you think of all the people whose lives are affected - and that he's been asked to bless the inauguration so soon after the wounds of prop 8 - it's more sad than laughable. Added to the spectacle are some Obama supporters (ahem) who proclaim that the Warren selection was actually *not* a tremendous brain fart, but instead a brilliant master plan that is somehow to be compared with Dr King's advocacy of non-violence! (sorry Sheria, I couldn't let that one go!)
No offense taken Aaron, but I still think that my Dr. King analogy is valid. At a time when black folks weren't just being denied rights but being murdered for daring to suggest that they had rights, Dr. King met with extreme racists, invited them to discuss racism and in doing so, shone a bright spotlight on their foibles, forcing the rest of the country to have to stare the reality of the policies that the racists espoused head on.
Nothing that Warren says is going to influence someone who does not agree with him to suddenly declare, "I see the light! Warren is right." I do think that Obama miscalculated in selecting Warren because the man is a piss poor speaker and a numbskull to boot. However, I think that Obama's overall intent is valid.
Like it or not, and I certainly don't like it, the reality is that a majority of Christian ministers are preaching the same doctrine as Warren on Sunday mornings. Thankfully, there are other ministers who reject this bigotry disguised as Christianity and those numbers are slowly but steadily increasing. In the meantime, Obama has a country to govern. I view the Warren selection as a conciliatory gesture, a message to the Warren followers that all the stuff that they were told about turning this country into a godforsaken Muslim enclave are not true. A message that they can hold on to their narrow minded beliefs and no one is going to try and force them to change.
It's not the way I would like it to be. I'm for dragging people kicking and screaming into the light, but my way doesn't work, especially when it comes to social change. I see strong parallels between the gay civil rights issues and black civil rights issues. As I stated in my recent blog entry, the world that I live in now is radically different from the one into which I was born when it comes to matters of race. However, the struggle to get here began a few hundred years ago. The major strides made in the 20th century regarding race and civil rights were the culmination of an ongoing effort. In addition, racism has not been eradicated; legalized discrimination has. We are still struggling with bringing social practices, policies, and beliefs up to the same level as the legal prohibitions against discrimination. You can't legislate feelings. You can't force people to see the error of their ways. It doesn't mean that you stop trying, but it does mean that you choose your battles carefully.
This country thrives under the illusion that it is a Christian country founded upon Christian values. We now have a president that some people still believe is some type of sleeper Muslim agent. (Check the message boards on almost any site if you don't believe me.) In the long tradition of black people in this country, he not only has to be competent, he has to continually prove his competence. The irony of it all is that Obama is just as much white as he is black, but in this country he is a black man. The one-drop rule may have been removed from the law but it's still a part of the social fabric of this country.
People of color never have the luxury of representing self, we always represent our race or ethnic group. Remember when Timothy McVeigh and his cohort blew up the federal building? There was no general concern that twenty-something Midwestern white males might be a danger to the country and needed to be rounded up or put under surveillance. Or my favorite example dates back to WWII. Germany was our enemy; there were German-American communities in the U.S.; and the Germans had U-boats capable of reaching our shores, but the only group that this government felt needed to be rounded up and detained were Japanese-Americans. What's up with that?
However, let a person of color make a public misstep and immediately it is about the overall qualifications or honesty or trustworthiness of the entire racial or ethnic group. Don't believe me, well then explain why Guantanamo Bay is filled with people who haven't been officially charged with a crime other than resembling the folks who attacked this country on 9/11.
Obama has the unenviable task of not only governing this country but continually reassuring its citizens that he is worthy of being their leader in a way that no president before him has ever had to do.
Warren's task is to offer a prayer. That's it. He won't be asked to talk about policy of any sort on January 20. He will pray to God and a lot of people will feel that all is right with the world. Do I like it? No, but then I think that having the whole invocation thing is inappropriate. I think that the inauguration should be a strictly civil ceremony. I find it offensive that in having a Christian prayer, it ignores the many other ways of believing in a supreme deity. I don't believe that it is even inclusive of all Christians; there are many differing ways of believing in and worshipping even the God of Christianity. However, we have a tradition of praying and the last thing that can be allowed is to break with that tradition.
My overall point was and still is that Obama has a huge mountain to climb and he is under attack from every direction. He will make mistakes because he is human, and he never promised any of us that he was more than that. In the scheme of things, this Rick Warren hoopla is a lot of noise about a significant issues, and the noise is a good thing. Bringing bigotry out in to the light of scrutiny is the first step in changing law and policy. That's what Dr. King understood better than anyone and I think that Obama also gets that. I know from reading Obama's books that he is well versed in the works of Dr. King.
King worked with whites who believed themselves to be forward thinking because they supported the civil rights movement. Do you believe that all of these people really viewed black people as their equals? By the time that I was old enough (early 1970s) to be involved in the still ongoing civil rights movement, a standard conversation among black folks was about the whites who viewed themselves as our saviors and engaged in offensively patronizing attitudes and behaviors. Yet we worked with them because we needed them at the time.
I can live with Obama's selection of Warren. I don't think that the sky is falling. I started believing that Obama was going to win this election long before most of my friends and family did. Don't forget that I won our little poll regarding the number of electoral votes each candidate would receive because I knew that he was going to win big. (BTW, where is my prize?) I don't share the consternation or outrage expressed regarding Warren.
One more thing, certainly there are real people whose lives are being impacted by the nonsensical passage of Prop 8. However, as a pure legal issue, I (and evidently California's attorney general) question whether Prop 8: (1) can undo what has been legally wrought, i.e. the marriages validly entered into under state law at the time; and (2) has any validity under the California state constitution. The California courts may undo Prop 8.
Oh, and one more thing, I've changed my mind about all the references to Warren's weight. What in the hell does his size have to do with anything? Would he be any more acceptable if he was thin? Aaron, this isn't only directed at your reference to his pudgy face. All over the blogs there are a lot of references to his less than svelte physique. I'm not super sensitive about being fat. In my middle age I've made peace with it and can't believe all the years that I wasted not realizing how cute and adorable I am. However, the misery that I endured as a child and as an adolescent are still there for a lot of young people. This is the most bigoted society when it comes to weight. Why is fat bigotry acceptable? The most decent people who would never express any other sort of negativity about any group will casually comment on someone's weight. Warren is a numbskull and he is fat, but the two are not connected.