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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Purpose Driven Inauguration

I've been surprised by all the outrage and righteous indignation coming from my LGBT sisters and brothers and straight allies about Obaman's invitation to have Rick Warren deliver the invocation at his inauguration as president of the United States.

I'm disappointed, of course. And, my annoyance can sometimes roll into anger.

But surprised? Not in the least.

I was helped somewhat by the very fine statement from Susan Russell, the President of Integrity. You can read it here.

Update: Read Susan's Open Letter to President-Elect Obama here. It's very measured and clear. This is Ms. Russell at her best.

It's not that I don't get it. Duh! I've been a religious activist for longer than I care to admit.

I have long ago ceased being surprised by anything a politician says or does.

Perhaps that's why I don't get that everyone is surprised by this - or has enough energy to mount an angry protest.

Not that I don't think it's important to protest. It's just that I'm surprised that everyone is surprised by Obama's choice.

I remember pinning Big Expectations on Bill Clinton's presidency. I remember thinking, "This guy gets it. He gets the 'Big Tent' idea that is central to the Spirit of Anglicanism. In fact, we should make him an honorary Anglican."

The 1992 presidential election was a case in point. Then nominee Bill Clinton promised to lift the ban on gays in the military. When Clinton renewed his promise after winning the election, he was met by a storm of protest from both Congress and the military, especially the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clinton reportedly turned to (I believe it was) Mel White, head of Soulforce and said, "I had no idea how much they hate you people."

Right. Translation: "Holy Crap! If I pursue this, this is going to cost me not only my re-election, but my entire political career."

In the end the president settled for a compromise that pleased virtually no one.

On July 19, 1993, President Clinton announced what he called an "honorable compromise," a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, under which potential recruits would not be asked their sexual orientation, would have to keep that orientation private and not engage in any homosexual conduct and would require the military to curtail its investigation of suspected homosexuals and lesbians.

Gay men or lesbians who let their identity be known or who act on their sexuality would still be discharged from the Armed Forces. Similarly, President Clinton's support for Congress' enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), which enables states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, also drew fire from civil rights advocates.

On the other hand, the Clinton Administration made several important regulatory changes, including issuing an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in all civilian federal workplaces, as well as an executive order prohibiting sexual orientation and other forms of discrimination by federally conducted education programs; and granting asylum for gay men and lesbians facing persecution in other countries.

I have come to understand that this is the way the politics of social progress works: Two steps forward, three steps back - and if it's going to scare the horses and cost votes, the promises made to LGBT people are the first to go out the window.

When have we seen this before? Hmmm . . .

Consider our own Presiding Bishop who, when she was Bishop of Nevada was supportive of Blessing Same Sex Covenants and, has been widely reported by the "orthodites"(I refuse to call them 'orthodox'. Their theology is NOT 'right'.),even had Jack Spong in her diocese (The acid-test for being beyond redemption).

She hadn't been elected first woman PB for more than three days when she asked General Convention to support B033 - that heinous resolution which asked sitting diocesan bishops and standing committees not to approve the election of any person whose 'manner of life' might cause a problem in the world wide Anglican communion.

Not long after that, she asked LGBT people to enter into "season of fasting." As if that weren't enough, she asked us to "stand in a crucified place" and be patient.

Somehow, that feels a heck of a lot worse than asking Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. At least Obama hasn't asked LGBT people to be "patient." Indeed, it has apparently provoked him to say that he has been "vigorously supportive of gay rights."

Well, no, actually, he hasn't. He has been lukewarm. Which is just fine. I'll take that any day after the last eight years. Somebody just make sure we've got that statement on tape and let's play it for him every time the issue of civil rights for LGBT people is the topic du jour.

And, that leads me to my point. Having Rick Warren deliver the inaugural invocation is not the worst thing in the world. It's not the best. That would have been having Katharine Jefferts Schori or, perhaps, Gene Robinson, with whom Obama has reportedly had several telephone conversations.

Indeed, the 'trade off' to having Rick Warren is that his debt to Obama for this political capitol is far greater than Obama's debt to him. In fact, Obama owes Warren nothing. Indeed, Obama gets a great deal from this little trade.

Stop clutching your pearls and think for one red hot second about what Obama can do with that debt. Obama gets a lot more political capitol from Warren and tons of evangelicals without - And pay close attention to this - costing LGBT people any of our rights.

This is part of the horse-trading of politics. I know. I hate it too. And, I'm not saying you shouldn't feel hurt or angry or outraged. You have an absolute right to feel all of those things.

Write letters. Rage. Protest. Organize.

Yes, do all these things. These are all an important part of the politics of change, which is why we elected Obama in the first place. And, change doesn't - can't - happen in a vacuum.

It happens by creating a climate where adversaries can find some middle ground.

You know. Just like Anglicanism.

We would do well to remember the opening sentence of Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose Driven Life" which, I think sums up this purpose driven inauguration:

"It's not about you."

It's not even really so much about Rick Warren or Barack Obama.

It's about change.

Remember? It's what we voted for.

And, as one ancient Civil Rights worker in Newark once said to me, "Child, if a mountain were easy to climb, it would be smooth."

We've got a few more steep, rough mountains to climb, children, before we get to the promised land of Civil Rights. Let's not waste our energy. Let's get on with it.

Let's be the change we seek.

12 comments:

Seeing Eye Chick said...

I am not crazy about this set up either. But I like to think--for now--that this act is also supportive of Obama's statement, that he was to be everyone's president. For 8 years we had someone who was basically only the president to the Southern Baptist Convention. Obama is trying to let Conservatives know that this wont simply be a reversal of order, but an entirely new one. He will not reciprocate by freezing even Christian Supremacists out as if that were some punishment for freezing the rest of us out for the last 8 years {us meaning whomever didnt fit that narrow definition of Christian, assuming some of us ever wanted to}. They are citizens too. We [on the otherside] cannot ask them to treat us as equals, only to get our foot in the door, to oust them off the planet or out of the country. Thats just a machination, but not truly reinstituting this notion of epluribus unum.

An extreme knee jerk reaction now would only justify the extreme right's fears that they are about to be shoved out of the picture entirely. And yes socially progressive advocacy is 1 step forward 3 steps back. Its the nature of the beast. Politics is always dirty and full of hidden power structures and weird kinship ties based on anything but blood, especially in this country.

Dont take the crucifying position. Take the higher road. You can hold onto your identity and beliefs without comprimising your devotion to this country and its democratic process. Look at it generationally because the only way to make the kind of sweeping changes some want, anyway right now would be to create such a fervor and a backlash that they would be temporary at best.
Be patient with yourselves and most of us with everyone else.

Jane R said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. One of the best commentaries I have read on this whole mishegoss.

Your reminder of the way long-term institutional change works is especially helpful and consoling.

Pledging you and my sisters and brothers my continuing support and solidarity as a straight ally,

Jane (and the lovely feline bishop +Maya Pavlova, who doesn't have to mess with politics and purrs for all creatures)

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

It's maybe no surprise, but it sure is an outrage. There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of less divisive pastors in America.

Bruce Garner said...

Preach it my sistah!

Now it would seem most helpful for all those whining about this to start sending emails and letters to Rick Warren and educate him about the fact that we can be both Christian and LGBT. I doubt he has actually seen very many people of faith who are LGBT.

It's also proven helpful - at least in my "travels" - to use the language of those who need the education. Hearing some of us talk about being born from above or slain in the Holy Spirit or sanctified by the blood does much to disarm them....they don't expect that.

Bruce

Jim said...

The pain that is engendered when we discover an icon be it Mr. Obama or the presiding bishop, is not a but rather a politician is real and you stated it well. "Yes we can" now appears to be "well we might if it can sell well."

I suspect that much of the cynicism we see in some generations is a result of it. I know that Bp. Katherine is on my list of politicians. And that is not a complement.

FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bruce - I think there is a difference between whining and outrage. I think we need activists who feel so called to protest. And, you're right: we need letters not only to President-Elect Obama, but also to Pastor Warren. Let's getting writing.

Jim - You're right, too. How quickly we forget, "Yes, we can." I'm praying that this move is a nod to the Evangelical Right that those of us on the Left and everyone in the Middle can work together for "liberty and justice for all" - not some, but ALL.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

And this would be Elizabeth Kaeton at HER best! You go, girl!

Kansas Bob said...

I tend to believe the best about our new president. I think that maybe a guy who tries to be president of all of America is destined to disappoint all of us. I think that he will probably disappoint me once in a while.. how could he not?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Y'all will excuse us if me and Ms. Susan have us our own little mutual admiration society. God knows, these days, ya gets it where ya finds it.

Love you, too, Susan!

Priscilla said...

Elizabeth, I appreciate your pragmatic hope. I find it difficult to trust that anyone of Mr. Warren's particular faith can be swayed or persuaded in any way.

The total adherence to the "faith once delivered" as interpreted by a literal and uninspired reading of biblical passages doesn't leave any wiggle room. When you build your house on a foundation of sand you aren't willing to take a shovel to any part of it, no matter how logical, fair, or enlightened it seems to be and no matter what you have learned. Conservatives by definition abhor change and see it as suspect in all ways.

I've been at this struggle for equality for close to 30 years now and I (hope) have attained some wisdom as to how the reality works. You are right that it is a slow process and often involves backtracking.

What I'm hoping for is that after Prop. 8 (and Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida, where I live, all of which seem to be forgotten now) this anger, frustration, and sense of betrayal will lead to a renewal of the GLBTQ community's commitment to fight harder, smarter, and with more stamina.

I remember well the deflation of the balloons after Clinton, after ACT-UP, and after Anita Bryant/the Briggs Initiative. Perhaps this is this generation's clarion call to action. Pray that it is so.

A Blessed Advent to you and yours!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Pragmatic hope. Yup. That would be me, all these many years later.

IT said...

POliticians disappoint. I expect nothing from Mr Obama on this issue: nada. Zilch. Zero. Okay, the best I can hope for is that he fixes the economy! Because he won't do anything for gays. Nothing THERE has change at all.

Merry Christmas, indeed. i got Rick Warren, a brief that argues my marriage is invalid, and lotsa tears.

Yes we can means No, You Can't. Got it. Can i go back to work now?

Bah humbug!