Obama Picks Warren, Angers Gays

Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback

Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback

President-Elect Barack Obama has made the most controversial move thus far in his transition, naming far right televangelist Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.  While this initially struck me as a brilliant move on his part, winning points with Evangelical Christians with little downside, the announcement has sparked outrage in the gay community.

Ben Smith and Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico, “Gay leaders furious with Obama

Barack Obama’s choice of a prominent evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that — in the wake of a gay marriage ban in California — is looking for a fight.

Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other evangelicals’ staunch support for economic conservatism. But it’s his support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday.

“Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans,” the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote Obama Wednesday. “[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”

Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish, “Ugh

Warren is a man who believes my marriage removes his freedom of speech and cannot say that authorizing torture is a moral failing. 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. More evidence that a civil rights movement needs to realize that no politician can deliver for us what we have to deliver on our own.

That, from a conservative Catholic who has been singing Obama’s praises for more than a year, including a glowing cover story for Atlantic Monthly.

John Aravosis, AmericaBlog, “Obama picks homophobe pro-‘Prop 8’ evangelical preacher to give the invocation at inaugural

Gee, maybe Donnie McClurkin wasn’t a fluke. Picking Rick Warren to give THE invocation is abominable. I’m doing my research and will be updating this post in a minute.

He proceeds to do numerous updates, each more scathing than the last, pointing to things Warren has said that will be offensive to abortion supporters, gay rights proponents, and others. He includes this video:

Sam Stein, Huffington Post, “Rick Warren, Obama Invocation Choice, Causing First Real Rift With Progressives

Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, the media has been pining to write a story about liberal dissatisfaction with his transition efforts. By and large, the meme has been blown out of proportion, as the press overestimated how divisive Obama’s cabinet choices were for progressives.

The press may now have its conflict moment. And it comes in the form of the spiritual leader chosen to launch Obama’s inauguration.


Warren does have a rather peculiar relationship with the incoming president. The two share a general ethos that political differences should not serve as impediments to progress. On topics like AIDS and poverty relief, they see eye-to-eye. But Warren’s domestic and social agendas are at odds with Obama’s. And for the gay and lesbian community in particular, the choice is a bitter pill to swallow.

“Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance,” read a statement from People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert. “He has repeated the Religious Right’s big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.”

In all honesty, I was only tangentially aware of Warren before he hosted the Saddleback forum featuring Obama and McCain. Indeed, other than being vaguely aware of his book The Purpose Driven Life, I don’t know that I’d heard of him.

Were this George W. Bush, I would have no doubt that he’d weather the storm of criticism rather than rebuke a loyal friend with whom he has had a close relationship for years. Obama, though, may well cut bait on Warren if he can’t fix this quickly. As we saw in the cases of Jeremiah Wright and Samantha Power, Obama isn’t one to let sentimentality get in the way of his agenda.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Obama Picks Warren, Angers Gays http://tinyurl.com/3shsor

  2. rodney dill says:

    … maybe he’s just celebrating Day without a Gay in his own way. … I’m just sayin’

  3. caj says:

    You know it wouldn’t have mattered who PE Obama chose to give the invocation it would not please somebody somewhere!!!!
    Would folks have preffered he choose Rev Wright, that would have given them something to complain about?????????

  4. Anderson says:

    Obama, though, may well cut bait on Warren if he can’t fix this quickly.

    That is ABSOLUTELY mistaken. The damage Obama would do to himself would be immense. That would become THE story of the inauguration — Obama kowtows to Teh Left, spits on Teh Right.

    Gay-rights folks are in the same boat as fundamentalists: they’re going to leave their party and join … whom?

    Allow me to quote myself from another blog thread:

    Let’s see: Obama expressly campaigned as someone who would try to bridge partisan differences and reach out to the other side of the aisle.

    Now he’s doing that, and it turns out that those other people — the one’s on the other side — have DIFFERENT BELIEFS than we do!

    And despite that, Obama is putting them in charge of major policy decisions, like what invocation to give at the inaugural!

    Wake me when the horror stops.

  5. rodney dill says:

    Anderson, I think you got it about right.

  6. Anderson says:

    Anderson, I think you got it about right.

    It happens about once a year, eh?

  7. Dantheman says:


    Agreed. Moreover, this is the kind of theatrical acceptance of opposing POV’s, where they get to make themselves heard, but not agreed to, which Obama has frequently done throughout the campaign. It’s as if he somewhere in the past interacted with communities of diverse members, and learned how to keep everyone on board. Where on earth would he get such experience?

  8. Franklin says:

    I can understand the abortion stance easily (although I’m a moderate on the issue if there can be such a thing).

    Gay marriage (or at the very least equal “civil union” rights) is inevitable, so I try not to worry too much about what people think about that right now. All I can say is, anybody who thinks being gay is a choice doesn’t actually know any out-of-the-closet homosexuals.

    Warren’s other recent action, going on Hannity and backing the assassination of the Iranian president with twisted Biblical passages, is at the very least highly controversial. Besides being the stupidest thing that the United States could do right now, I’m actually kind of offended that he backed it up in the context of that other “religion of peace,” Christianity. How can we complain about people who kill in the name of religion if *we* kill in the name of religion?

    All that being said, he’s not much more controversial than any other prominent evangelical, and *somebody* has to do the invocation. Even the liberal evangelicals are controversial in their own way.

  9. Floyd says:

    As with any political movement, there are always those involved who are loud mouthed pigheaded intolerant extremists. The gay community would be better served by not allowing these bigots to be spokespersons for their cause.
    Those who insist on martyring themselves by dying on every molehill, hurt the cause that they claim to support.
    The grotesque over-reaction to the choice of Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation colors gays as vitriolic, even dangerous bigots, who would deny others the right to even a well considered opinion that is not in lock step with their own.

  10. Triumph says:

    This is funny since Hussein told the Chicago Tribune last week that he receives “regular prayer calls” from Warren.

    My main problem isn’t who is giving the invocation, but the fact that Hussein is giving the platform to any cleric.

    The revelations in the Tribune interview are far more troubling–why in the hell is Hussein wasting his time “praying” when he should be concentrating on the transition.

    We already had 8 years with a Jesus-freak president who claims to hear voices from God–it’s pretty pathetic that good ol’ Hussein is going to carry on that gesture towards irrational superstition.

  11. ap says:

    stop the presses! politician chooses to pander to a community that is many times larger than another community.

    can not wait to see the befuddlement in the eyes of the lefties who lost their senses during the election when we start seeing these types of lines in the media during the coming year…

    European leaders are angry with the Obama administration’s stance on *fill-in foreign policy issue here*. Anti-American sentiment in Europe and Middle East rises. It seems like ages ago when Obama’s election seemed to bring the world back to America…blah blah blah

  12. just me says:

    This is an easy way to give a nod to the evangelicals without actually doing anything major with policy.

    It is a prayer.

    It isn’t an appointment to a cabinet or even a staff position.

  13. caj says:

    How can people who supposedly voted or liked Obama now feel he has let them down…..just because he has asked Rev Warren to do the invocation!!!!
    Has Obama started World War or something…..come on now, I’ve never heard of such nonsense, Rev Warren is just going to give a prayer for God’s sake not wipe the Gay Community from the face of the earth.
    What a load of hot air coming from all quarters about something so trivial…..get a grip people please!!!!!