Not So Purpose-Driven Rhubarb


I dunno if you guys have followed the brouhaha over Obama asking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, but I think Hendrik Hertzberg has it about right.  Which is to say: it’s just not that big a deal.  An entirely fair response, however, might be, “Easy for you to say.  You’re not gay.”  I might feel differently if I were a member of Warren’s anathematized group (although, I sort of am, since he also anathematizes atheists, and I’m an agnostic).

Still, I do agree with Hertzberg.  What I don’t get, though, is this throat-clearing paragraph:

Warren turns out to be somewhat worse than I thought he was back when, a few months ago, I rashly likened him to Henry Ward Beecher. I hadn’t fully appreciated that he contends Jews and atheists are automatically hellbound, for example. . . Or that, while he says gays are welcome to attend services at his Saddleback megachurch, he doesn’t let them (closet cases excepted, presumably) become members. (He doesn’t let heterosexuals who are living together in “sin” join, either.)

Are there really still people — people who, like Hertzberg, are actively engaged in this country’s political and cultural debates — who don’t know that everything Hertzberg objects to in the above is utterly mundane, bread-and-butter Evangelical doctrine?  How can anyone who even knows who Rick Warren is be surprised by anything in that paragraph?  I mean, how little do you have to know about Evangelical Christianity to be surprised by that stuff?  Dude.  That’s like being surprised that a Republican opposes Democrats.

Oh, well.  The rest of the post is much better.  Anybody else have thoughts on Obama’s choice of Warren, Warren’s views as Christian doctrine, or Hertzberg’s post?


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8 Responses to “Not So Purpose-Driven Rhubarb”

  1. DeJon05 Says:

    I know it’s not the central point of your discussion, JU, but I just have to mention that just about every action Obama has taken since election day has made me very proud to have voted for him. I’m trying to keep my guarded optimism guarded, but I think he is batting 1.000 so far.

    As for Warren, I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed to hear that he’s on record as espousing to the beliefs described in the pulled paragraph. As I’ve mentioned I was reared in the Bible Belt, and my loving family fits pretty well the stereotype of religious right. Point being… I know the “bread-and-butter Evangelical doctrine.”

    But here’s why I’m surprised (and disheartened). In my limited knowledge of Warren and his position on things, I had hoped he was smarter than to go on record with these beliefs.

    I strongly believe that the issues Hertzberg lists are not a part of a litmus test for any Christian. Other smarter and better Christians agree (e.g. Jim Wallis and William Sloane Coffin.) I had hope that Warren could address these fruitless discussions of Jewish, atheist (or, really any goup’s collective chances for) salvation.

    I normally don’t like culturally popular evangelists, but I held out hope for Warren given the little bit I’d heard about him. I appreciate the way he discusses social justice issues like global poverty, and dispersion of wealth. I know he is proud to be a “reverse tither” who lives on 10% of his income and gives away the other ninety. And I can respect those things. And for these reasons I appreciate Obama including him in his inauguration. Further I like that Obama is not afraid to associate with him despite his conservative position.

    However I’ve read “Purpose Driven Life,” and found it to be theologically flawed (read: utter hogwash). So I’ve always been more ambivalent to Warren, personally.

    And lastly, I don’t see why liberals are so up in arms about his role in the inauguration. He’s not getting a Cabinet spot. I think Warren’s positive work make him a good candidate, and do not think his more disagreeable positions should rule him out.

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    A word of praise from my man, Garrison Keillor: “We have a new president coming in and I’m delighted about that and also pleased that he’s a man of great discipline and decorum and isn’t full of himself or vindictive and righteous and he invited that evangelical guy to give the invocation at the inauguration. Bravo, Barack.”

  3. Sandi Says:

    Well . . . I was going to link to the Melissa Etheridge post, but I see that Hertzberg has already done so. Check. Basically, I said, in far less articulate fashion, about what Hertzberg said when my best friend sent me the story and said she was unhappy about the choice. I was under the impression that being asked to give the invocation was about the equivalent of being asked to handle the guest book at a wedding (i.e., not that important), but when I saw so many people so upset about it, I figured that maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention to inaugural politics.

    As for the paragraph you cited, I wouldn’t think that most New York secular Jews are aware that many evangelicals believe that their religious truth is the only one that counts. It seems, well, rather uncharitable and not very Christ-like. The other stuff just seems outdated and stuffy. I grew up in the CoC, and it still seems that way to me. I guess that a number of us have grown past thinking that being a good and moral person has much to do with what goes on in your bedroom, and when confronted with the fact that a number of others are still stuck in that way of thinking, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

    From one perspective, I do understand the outrage over Warren: if you think of homophobia as morally equivalent to racism (as we think of racism now), then of course it is clear that inviting a professed racist, even one who has black friends but just thinks that interracial marriage should be illegal, would be utterly unacceptable. Many people in this country, including perhaps Obama himself, are not there yet. Some never will be, just as there will always be some unabashed, unreconstructed racists (currently about 10%, studies say).

    But I’m a pragmatist, and Obama is too. He wants and needs buy-in from people who don’t agree with him on many issues, and this is one way to move in that direction. Plus, it has the added bonus of making him appear more moderate, especially because of the fallout on the left. I just today read a New Yorker article about Naomi Klein in which she said that’s how we move the center — the far left’s purpose is to get out there and say crazy, out of the mainstream stuff so that whatever Obama does looks very reasonable by contrast, no matter how progressive it really is (even if only by comparison to the last thirty years of free-markets-rule insanity).

  4. urbino Says:

    Interesting points, Sandi. I’ve wondered if this might be, in part, a calculated move on Obama’s part — a “Sister Souljah” moment, as they’ve come to be called.

    I do think gay marriage is just as much a civil rights issue as Jim Crow was — that is, I see no possible constitutional justification for making legal distinctions between one person and another, one marriage and another, based on sexual orientation — but I still don’t see the Warren invitation as a big deal. Maybe I should, and just haven’t thought about it carefully enough.

    You may be right about New York secular Jews, as a general matter. I mean, like you, I look back at a lot of CofCism and think, “Was it really that way? Surely not. Surely I’m misremembering it.” Still, we’re talking about very readily available, very basic information on one of the largest (if not THE largest) segment of American Christianity. Not knowing it is, in my mind, a pretty glaring ignorance of American culture for somebody in Hertzberg’s position.

    When I was growing up in the CofC, I suspect that, if asked about the nature of modern Jews, a substantial number of its members would scratch their heads, shrug, and say Jews still performed animal sacrifices, as required in Deuteronomy. Perhaps, given the cultural distance between those folks (at the time, us folks) and modern Jews, that’s understandable. But it wouldn’t be understandable in a member of the CofC who also happened to be a cultural/political analyst at a major national magazine or newspaper.

  5. DeJon05 Says:

    “Not knowing it is, in my mind, a pretty glaring ignorance of American culture for somebody in Hertzberg’s position.”

    Am I missing something here? Are you saying it is ignorant to believe one can be both a contemporary evangelical protestant and not take Warren’s positions on the issues in the pulled quote?

    Because I hope that’s not what you mean, and if that is what you mean I would argue that you are mistaken.

  6. urbino Says:

    Not exactly. I’m saying it is ignorant to be unaware that those are the positions the vast majority of Evangelicals take, always have taken, and are the driving force for Evangelicals’ political activism on those issues.

    That aside, I do think that if you don’t share those & similar positions, you’re only very marginally Evangelical. Depending on your other views, you’re either on the border between Evangelical and Mainline Protestantism, or you’re a Mainline Protestant.

  7. unicorntx Says:

    As a Mainline Protestant (more left leaning than most – i.e. United Church of Christ), I tend to agree with JU – too much is being made of this. An astute move on Obama’s part, but some risks of offending some of my left-leaning friends.

    As for me – I tend to see it as a gutsy move to demonstrate his openness to those with opposing views.

  8. DeJon05 Says:

    Fair enough. I don’t have much desire to defend a label, much less the label of Evangelical Christian. But I do believe there are some that don’t mind being tagged with the label, yet don’t subscribe to the narrow dogma Warren does.

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