There was something brilliant about President-elect Barack Obama's choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration next month. The preacher and best-selling author is pro-life and anti-gay marriage, making Obama, who leans considerably to the left on these issues, look like a uniter, not a divider. He must have a keen enough radar to know that religious folks have been feeling marginalized from politics of late; Obama's choice caps off an election season that hit churchgoers hard.
Proposition 8, the successful initiative in California that limits the legal definition of marriage to a rite occurring between a man and a woman, has been the most obvious example. Churches have been threatened. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a prominent supporter of that controversial initiative, has been made a scapegoat by 8's angry and vociferous opponents. And the media, having sided with the proposition's detractors, is leading the intolerance campaign.
Yes, I know: The conventional wisdom has it that the opponent of gay marriage is the intolerant one. But can "tolerant" really be the right word to describe this excerpt from a recent Newsweek cover story on religious conservatives and the gay-marriage debate?
"Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife, Sarah, was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women...? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel -- all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better... The apostle Paul... regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple...turn to the Bible as a how-to script?"
Is such an insultingly simplistic view actually worthy of a national magazine's cover story? Does anyone read the Bible and not understand that Abraham was doing wrong? Rattling off Old Testament sins does not a coherent argument make. Catholics are currently celebrating a Pauline year; I hope most could come to that great saint's defense. St. Paul also happens to have written: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." And, yes, for the record, couples do turn to faith ... even in the bedroom. Religious folks want faith to inform their entire lives.
I happen to be a Christian who opposes gay marriage, but I have never tried to make a case for, say, a federal marriage amendment based on the Bible. Nor, to my knowledge, has a leading proponent of traditional marriage (who is also a Christian) Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage. Her arguments focus on natural law, family and the future.
For years now, once the weather turns cold and the days short, we've had a debate about Christmas. Is there a "war" on that holiday? Attacks on nativity scenes and silly prohibitions on religious symbols have long drawn the most attention. But there's something more serious afoot. It's hostility not necessarily to religion itself -- for many on the left are regular churchgoers, and some oppose abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds. But the conventional wisdom as dictated by Newsweek suggests that there is something downright unacceptable about allowing voters to submit to a higher power who, if truly listened to, probably isn't going to change with the times. At some level, true faith demands obedience to a rock-steady core of beliefs and rules, despite what the efforts of some religious temporizers who pretend they can legitimately rewrite doctrine on Sunday morning talk shows would have you believe.
We're ending 2008 with a major news magazine demonizing mainstream voters whose faith leads them to a political conclusion deemed outrageous by big media. In California, where voters followed their religious consciences, and delivered a blow to gay marriage, a similarly outraged attorney general has decided to ignore his obligation to his constituents. Meanwhile, right-leaning columnists and politicians are busy turning on their religious allies for one reason or another. This is not a good place to be. Dare I say it? God help us if preying on the prayers is in. And although it is born from nothing but political pragmatism and obfuscation, Obama's choice of inaugural pastor does what Newsweek and its legions didn't do: welcomes everyone, even those on their knees who have the right to be on the right.