The recent furor over President-Elect Barack Obama’s selection of California mega-church pastor Rick Warren to pray at the January 20th inauguration yields a few clues about what evangelicals can expect during the next four years.
On the surface, playing the Warren card appears to be a masterstroke by Obama – one that further demonstrates impressive political skills. A day or so after the election, I was asked by someone about what Mr. Obama would do to prepare for his administration. I replied that I thought he would demonstrate significant savvy by – at least for the time being – ignoring the clamorous pleas from core constituencies, the kind of people who will support and vote for him no matter what. And I suggested he would reach out to those who view him with fear – or at least mild suspicion.
That’s pretty much what number 44 has done. He has confounded those who voted for “real change we can believe in” by putting together a crafty combination of a third Clinton term on most things, and a third Bush term on issues relating to the war in Iraq.
This brings me back to Rick Warren’s upcoming supplication in Washington. Evangelicals – especially younger ones – played a key role in Barack Obama’s ability to counter clear problems with his own church and pastor. They also, in many cases, overtly campaigned for him, his decidedly non-evangelical views on abortion and other traditional values issues notwithstanding.
Mr. Obama is viewed by many evangelicals as a new kind of politician - someone who can bridge the gap, or reach out, or maybe begin a dialogue. Just pick your mantra. But before any kind of modern-day Great Awakening is declared, some should take a serious look at how Rev. Warren’s selection to offer a simple prayer has become such a controversial matter.
Evangelicals, those who take the Bible and their faith seriously, need to realize that when it comes to issues like gay marriage – even abortion – there is not really any middle ground with those on the left, even the so-called Christian left.
Rick Warren has spent a great deal of time and money, investing his ministry in initiatives that are outside of the normal evangelical box. He has worked tirelessly in Africa and elsewhere on the issue of AIDS – and has cultivated a compassionate and understanding persona when it comes to dealing with issues and ministry challenges stemming from same-sex attraction.
What Warren has not done, nor will he ever do, is to reach the point where he declares that homosexual behavior is not sinful. He will not do this because he is a Biblicist.