Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration has sparked a lot of controversy, and rightly so. Warren comes from a religious tradition and culture that has some pretty bizarre views about the right to life and gay rights. In fact, he's remarkably off-base about those things. There are, though, ways in which he has broken with right-wing orthodoxy and promoted a more complex relationship with politics than "the left is always wrong." That's important. He's a doorway into a less divided America, and I think Obama knows that.
I think that the Times They Are A-Changin' when it comes to the voice of gay activism in this country. After Proposition-8, I think the world woke up to the last great civil rights battle in America... the battle for same-sex couples to not only have the same rights as others, but to be protected from hate.
Growing up Episcopalian, and working every day in the Episcopal Church (I work in an office that serves the Episcopal Church's finances, etc), I've seen just how terrifying that "out" gay people are to certain sectors of the population. But I've also seen just how fruitless their efforts really are. A handful of Episcopal Dioceses have broken from the great American Episcopal Church, primarily because of Gene Robinson. But the number of true believers in this cause is far smaller than the news coverage would show: compared to the number of self-identified Episcopalians, the number of now "Anglicans" is tiny. In fact, aging is a far greater threat to the Episcopal Church's future existence than is bigotry.
I see a similar problem of perspective here. Warren is a popular and populist priest, but he's there to support Obama. And Obama has publically stated his support for gay rights. Isn't it a larger concession of Warren's to attend, than it is for Obama to invite him? Could it not be considered a coup for gay activists that Warren is publically supporting a candidate that publically supports them?
What this is about, in the short term, is fear. We're afraid that this shows that Obama isn't as committed to the rights of same sex couples as he's said in the past. I don't think that's the case. I think he is, by publically stating his own support for same-sex couples, and then bringing Rick Warren to the table, winning the argument. If anything, Warren is conceding to Obama here, not the other way around.
Obama's message seems to be "Stop fighting the culture war and start having a cultural conversation." If we do this, in the long term, we may see the change we want. If we don't, we'll wind up propping up the dying far-right, just because we want someone to fight.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.