President-elect Barack Obama (right) has tapped Rick Warren (left), the most prominent evangelical preacher of the post-Billy Graham generation, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. The decision was announced today by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Warren pastors the Saddleback Church, a megachurch in Orange County, California, but he is best know as the author of the best-selling "Purpose Driven Life" and its many spinoffs. And Warren has been a forceful advocate for reordering evangelical priorities -- he does not support abortion or same-sex marriage, but his public priority has been combatting AIDS in Africa, and he has criticized the politicization of evangelical Protestantism.
Warren has hosted Obama several times; in 2006, he invited Obama to speak at his church on World AIDS Day (an invitation that drew some criticism of Warren from the right); in August of this year Obama and the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, were interviewed on live television by Warren in an election forum; and earlier this month, on World AIDS Day, Obama offered taped remarks praising President Bush's work on AIDS, which was being recognized by Warren at Saddleback.
The choice is winning praise by anti-abortion groups that have been concerned about the Obama administration. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody blogs, "Pro-life pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. It makes a whole lot of sense. Even though Warren and Obama disagree on the life issue, they do see eye to eye on many social justice issues. This move is also classic Obama because it is a signal to religious conservatives that he’s willing to bring in both sides to the faith discussion in this country. Obama has never shied away from that."
But advocates for abortion rights and same-sex marriage are furious. People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert called the choice "a grave disappointment,'' citing Warren's opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and writing, "Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn't need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.'' And blogger Andrew Sullivan, under the headline "Ugh" wrote: "Shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now. He won't be as bad as the Clintons (who, among leading Democrats, could?), but pandering to Christianists at his inauguration is a depressing omen."
(Photo taken at Saddeback Aug. 16 by Mark Avery/Reuters.)