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The Purpose-Driven Bigot December 19, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Christian Right, National Politics.
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I pride myself on being a pretty savvy person but I have to admit that sometimes I have a hard time recognizing the wolf in sheep’s clothing.   I enjoy listening to other people; I like trying to understand their motivations and points of view.  So, I end up trusting that people don’t have hidden agendas – and many times end up feeling like a fool when I’m proved wrong.  That’s the way I feel about Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” – a wildly popular guide to living a Christian life.

Having been brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I have always been uneasy with fundamentalist evangelicals because a lot of them absolutely detest Catholics.  Some of them, like the Rev. John Hagee and the Bob Joneses, are extremely overt about it.  Others, like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, have clouded their anti-Catholicism with their teachings on salvation – but it is still there.  I also find their proselytizing extremely distasteful.  Catholics gave up on the Inquisition hundreds of years ago.  These days, they tend to believe in a quieter and gentler faith.

That’s why I was impressed with Rick Warren when I first learned about him.  After more than twenty years hearing the Christian right rail against abortion and gays – as if they were the only social issue of prominence – Warren spoke of global poverty, AIDS, supporting education, and, recently, global warming.  He made me believe that he saw the bigger picture – that  in the greater scheme of things fighting hunger, homelessness, and poverty were a lot more pressing and important issues for Christian intervention.  I was impressed that the zillions of dollars he raised in his church didn’t seem to go to enrich him and his family.  I kind of liked the guy.

Then, I watched the “faith forum” at the Saddleback Church with Barack Obama and John McCain this past summer.  And I started to get that old “shame on me” feeling again.

Warren twinkled through the forum, leading McCain to answers that the rabid Christian Conservative base would gobble with a spoon while frowningly seeming to tolerate Obama’s answers.  After the forum, a little research on Warren turned up some horrific facts. 

Warren weighed in on the Terry Schiavo case saying that Michael Schiavo, her husband, “wanted Terri to die because, if she regained consciousness, she might have “something to say that he didn‘t want said”.  He compared removing her feeding tube to “an atrocity worthy of Nazism.”   Warren has compared gay marriage to incest, pedophilia, and polygamy.  He has stated that he believes that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice” rather than an inborn human characteristic.  When asked if it were definitively proved that gays are born that way would he drop his opposition to gay marriage, Warren replied that he is inclined to want to have sex with every beautiful woman he sees, but that that doesn’t make it right.  He has compared legal abortions to the Holocaust by stating that Attempting only to make abortions “rare” is not much different than saving some of the Jews during the Holocaust when all could be saved. 

Now, President-Elect Obama has invited Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural ceremonies.  Obama has said that he invited Warren in the spirit of ending the divisiveness in our public discourse.   He points out that he and Warren do not agree on every issue,”but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we — where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.”  Obama believes he has balanced the inaugural religiosity of Warren by picking civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery to give the benediction.  The decision has been praised by right-wingers and centrists, but has caused a storm of controversy in Progressive and Liberal circles.  What is particularly galling is the juxtaposition of Warren and Lowery.  As one human rights activist put it, is it OK to have an anti-Semite on the national stage if we follow him up with a Jew?

That’s the point.  Warren is, quite simply, a bigot.  A nice Christan bigot – but a bigot nonetheless.  Obama should realize that Warren’s message isn’t any less intolerant because Lowery is sharing the stage. 

I understand the desire to heal the divisions in this country.  But Rick Warren and people like him are not going to become more tolerant because we want them to be.  And they certainly won’t be won over by Progressive tolerance of them.

We need to realize that it is impossible to tolerate intolerance.  It must be constantly opposed and, if necessary, legislated away.