Rick Warren (right), the evangelical preacher chosen by Barack Obama to deliver the inaugural invocation, has posted a three-part video to his church's website responding to the furor that has erupted over his selection.
In the video, Warren criticizes the media, and, in particular, bloggers, for fueling the controversy. And he says the criticism of him in the wake of his selection has been characterized by "a lot of hate speech" and by "Christophobia -- people who are afraid of any Christian.''
"Our nation is being destroyed by the demonization of differences,'' he says. "The fact that an evangelical pastor believes in keeping the historic definition of marriage -- that’s not news. The fact that the gay community would disagree with me -- that’s not news either. The real story is that a couple of different American leaders have chosen to model civility for the rest of the nation.''
Noting that he has been accused of comparing homosexuality to incest and pedophilia (based on an interview he gave to Beliefnet), he says in the video, "I believe no such thing.'' He reiterated his opposition to same sex marriage, but said he is in agreement with "the view of the vast majority of the world and the vast majority of religions.''
"Free speech has to be free speech for everybody,'' he says. "Some people feel today if you disagree with them that’s hate speech...I’m neither afraid of gays, nor do I hate gays. In fact, I love them, but I do disagree with some of their beliefs, and I have that constitutional right.''
Warren notes that he is also being criticized from the right for agreeing to speak at the inauguration of a Democrat who supports gay rights and abortion rights.
"I'm doing this because I love America and it’s a historic opportunity and it’s an honor to be a part of any inauguration of any president,'' he says. And, describing his relationship with Obama, he says, "We’re friends and we admire each other even though we disagree on some things.''
Warren's three-part video address is on the website of his Saddleback Church. Here is the most pertinent:
A few other developments on the invocation imbroglio, suggesting the desire from some folks on left and right to lower the temperature:
•A Saddleback spokesman, Larry Ross, tells me that a controversial Q&A on the church's web site, which suggested that gays were welcome to worship but not as members at Saddleback "has not been permanently removed as alleged in some media reports, but rather is being repurposed for clarity.'' Ross said the church will post the following audio from Saddleback Associate Pastor Tom Holladay answering the question, “What Does the Bible Say About homosexuality – is it a sin?”
•Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who talked with Warren Saturday night when both spoke at a convention of Muslims, wrote an open letter in the Huffington Post, explaining why she, as a lesbian, was giving Warren a chance -- she even acknowledged that, "he invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids." An excerpt from Etheridge:
"Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world. Maybe if they get to know us, they won't fear us. I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us."
• Blogger Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic and longtime advocate for same-sex marriage, compared Warren's views favorably with those of Pope Benedict XVI, writing, "At least Warren appears open to dialogue, rather than recoiling in fear and loathing. In that he is somewhat more Christian than this Pope." Sullivan had initially been hostile to the Warren selection, but declared more recently:
"I sense an understandable but, the more I think about it, misjudged response on the part of my fellow gays and lesbians. In our hurt, we may be pushing away from a real opportunity to engage and win hearts and minds...If I cannot pray with Rick Warren, I realize, then I am not worthy of being called a Christian. And if I cannot engage him, then I am not worthy of being called a writer. And if we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is."
• And, from the right, Kelly Clark, who blogs locally as The Lady in the Pew, takes on her fellow abortion opponents who have suggested that Warren shouldn't speak at the inauguration because Obama supports abortion rights:
"I think—actually, I know because I looked the word up in the dictionary—that the invocation is a prayer. Duh. And, as a pro-life, pro-family Roman Catholic lady, I find nothing at all wrong with a pro-life, pro-family pastor praying at the inauguration of, whether you like it or not, our next president, God willing. Go for it, Pastor Warren! Now more than ever, this country needs prayer. And that includes president-elect Obama...and me and you, too."
Meanwhile, TMZ reports that Warren, clearly concerned about his image (not only did he release these new videos but on Saturday night he also proclaimed his love for gays, as well as straights, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Democrats and Republicans, while speaking to a convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council) visited a thrift shop that benefits AIDS treatment in West Hollywood yesterday, where he put his arm around a gay man and gave him a signed copy of one of his books.
(UPDATE: Over at Christianity Today, Sarah Pulliam has an interview with Franklin Graham (Billy Graham's son) who praises Warren, and says, "The news is mostly all about nothing. It's a few people on the far left who feel that Obama should not have any evangelicals or Christians involved in the inauguration. Millions of Christians voted for Obama, and they have every reason to be at the table. This is his inauguration, and Obama has every right to do that. Those that are making noise have forgotten that it's not their inauguration. It's Obama's inauguration.")
(UPDATE: CNN's The Situation Room has an interview with Pat Robertson today. Robertson also praises Warren, and says, "All he's been asked to do is give an invocation. He isn't asked to endorse Obama. He's going to stand up there on the steps of the Capitol and he's going to say, God, please bless this country. And he will do that very well.")
(Photo of Rick Warren by Hector Mata/AP.)