A large chunk of the program for Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration was announced today. Liberal groups greeted the news that evangelical pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church in California, will deliver the invocation with responses ranging from “grave disappointment” to cries of “BS.”
But close observers of Obama’s rise should not be surprised by the choice. Warren and the president-elect have a longstanding relationship that goes back to a joint appearance at a World AIDS Day event in 2006, says one transition source, who adds that the two men are “friends.”
Warren, who moderated the Aug. 16 candidates’ forum between Obama and John McCain, is socially conservative but has shown a willingness to stand up for traditionally liberal values such as climate change, human rights and relief work in the global south. Nevertheless, elements of the progressive blogosphere are already up in arms about the optics of the selection: Right Wing Watch notes that the Saddleback guru criticized Obama's answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice. He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying "there is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population … This is not a political issue—it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about." He's declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.
So why has this man been tapped to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration?
Well…writing at The Root last month, Andre C. Willis previewed the new evangelism that might infuse an Obama presidency; despite irking socially liberal Americans, the Warren pick does signpost such a change.
No matter what your feelings on church and state, there’s a certain silver lining in today’s news: Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma will reportedly perform. And Yale professor and prizewinning poet Elizabeth Alexander is slated to read at the inaugural, too. Her work is electrifying—if you don’t know, you better ask somebody.
Dayo Olopade is a regular contributor to The Root.