Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Open Letter to the President-elect

Dear President-elect Obama,

I'm sure you're hearing from a great many voices around the country this week about your choice of Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the upcoming inauguration. I am writing today to add my voice to those expressing regret at the choice and concern that the message being sent by the elevation of someone with Pastor Warren's values of narrow exclusionism to the "bully pulpit" of Inauguration Day.
I believe that reaching across the divide to include a strong, evangelical voice in the opening moments of your presidency is not just a good political move, it is a considered policy choice that helps bind up the wounds of a divisive campaign and eight years of polarization, preparing us as a nation to move forward together to solve the many problems that challenge us. This effort to begin your administration by representing differences of opinion in the selection of a pastor whose theological perspectives are different than your own is something I enthusiastically applaud.
The choice of Rick Warren is not. I agree with my Episcopal brother Bishop Gene Robinson, who said yesterday, "I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table, but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history."

Rick Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.

There are many fine, strong, evangelical voices in this country who do not carry Warren's baggage of having been one of the generals in the culture wars. Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis are names that come immediately to mind -- pastors who have balanced the challenge of bridging differences while standing firmly in their evangelical tradition.
It is true that the unfortunate choice of Rick Warren is particularly painful to LGBT Americans who have experienced first-hand the destructive impact of pastors like Warren who preach “family values” while practicing discrimination against gay and lesbian families. But it should also be a cause for concern to any American concerned that the exclusionism represented by Rick Warren is antithetical to the core values of inclusion, tolerance and the celebration of difference that so historically mark your embryonic administration.
I'm still setting my Pacific Standard Time alarm early on January 20th to make sure I don't miss a moment of Inauguration Day. I'm still profoundly hopeful at the new beginning we will celebrate together as Americans on that day as we work together to become a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a pledge but a practice.
But I pray that as we make that journey forward together, as you make the considered choices you will make about who prays God's blessing on America you will consider ALL Americans as you make those choices -- and you will consider that we can do better than Rick Warren. Yes we can. Yes we can.
The Reverend Susan Russell
President, Integrity USA


Cameron Partridge said...

Woo-- preach it!!

Gerti Reagan Garner said...

Another well-reasoned and eloquent statement. Thank you; please mail the letter to the Presiden-elect.

Fr. John said...

Advent IV blessings, Susan. Below FYI. John Taylor

David@Montreal said...

Yet once again you've stepped into the prophetic space and spoken truth to power

and done us all proud

thank-you Susan+


Fantastikate said...

Yes you can! Yes you did!

Neil Houghton said...

Susan again takes our anger and focuses it positively, as positively as possible at the moment. She does not just say this was a bad choice but points to alternatives. Thank you Susan, for, as Rachel Maddow says, "talking me down." Patience tempered with righteous indignation...

Deborah said...

Obama’s inauguration

It is fun to delude oneself:
Oh, things are so much better today; the world is truly changing. See, we did it -- Look at what we have done, we, the LBGT community, helped elect a black man President. Surely, he will know our pain; he will know what it is to be marginalized, to be discriminated against, to be hated for who you are, to be considered a second class citizen -- We will have a friend in the White House – You will see, we will be afforded the full rights of citizenship now.
Well, not so fast; President Elect Obama, in what I can only imagine was, a desperate plea for the acceptance of those who he seems to think to be the people who count, appears to be, oh too ready to throw the LGBT community under, the proverbial bus. This is, demonstrated by Obama’s invitation to the clearly homophobic pastor of the Saddleback Church, Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. What a signal to send – Mr. President Elect, are you saying that, In America, today, it is acceptable to discriminate against a group of people based on their sexual preference or their gender identification? Is that really the message you want to send? That is not the kind of change I signed on for Sir.

I quote here from the Saddleback Church website:

Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one's life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church, we hope they do! God's Word has the power to change our lives.

May the God who created us all protect us from the small minded bigots amongst us, and may he open the eyes of or next president that he might see that you do not fight the sin of bigotry and intolerance by embracing it.

Barbi Click said...

Might I say yet one more time, you are fairly awesome.
Keep on speaking truth to the power, Susan. Reagardless of who the "power" might be.

edav38 said...

Most who commented on this think you were eloquent or profound.
I am trying to figure out Where this Eloquence or Profoundness was.
All I see is a bunch of Diatribe, and I wonder how much of it is deserved.
I did not, would would Never vote for Obama.
For the last 2+ years, we have heard from you and others with your beliefs just how much of a "Savior" Obama would be. ("I'm still profoundly hopeful at the new beginning we will celebrate together as Americans on that day as we work together to become a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a pledge but a practice."). But then when your Political "Savior" of America seeks to do that Very Thing which you say you are so hopeful of, you turn on him in an Instant... one could call that "Do as I say, not as I do".
But, then I have done a great deal of research on Warren for a long time, and I have never seen anything to tell me he wants to Take Away any Homosexuals rights, but that he is against Gay Marriage. Yes, that is a problem, but is it enough to state that he is an "opponent of LGBT equality"? I am no so sure.
He has a set of VALUES that he lives by, Just Like You do, and those Values do not agree with gay marriage. Does that mean that he should be alienated?
That is the WRONG message to send when you talk about "Uniting this Country", that you are going to Alienate those with whom you disagree.
Are you going to Alienate me as well because I refuse to believe that Obama has the knowledge or experience to be a successful leader? If so, go ahead, no skin off my back...

By the way, "I", as an Openly Gay Man, who has buried his first Husband a little more than 20 years ago, because a gay basher saw fit to murder the man I Loved, Also see Abortion in a very Similar light as Warren does.

But, that is another topic which we will disagree on, because it will NEVER make sense why Liberals are Against the Death Penalty for those who murdered someone, but are ALL For a woman's Right to Murder her unborn Child, who never did anything to anyone.

Convince me on that, and then I might be able to see your reasoning for Lambasting Obama on HIS Choice of who will say the Invocation at HIS Inauguration.

But, remember this, when You have an Inauguration, then You can Choose who will say the Invocation.

As always, I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.

Unknown said...

Contrary to Dena's post I do not see this as a "desperate measure." Susan, I think you see the bigger picture and glad for your prophetic voice. I saw it as a chance to again say, "we are more alike than different." If the GLBT community cannot get over every single incident, then we are no better than the far right.

Yes we can indeed Susan.

Perry Lee said...

"he has compared abortion to the Holocaust..."

There is no comparison between the Holocaust and legalized abortion.

The Germans murdered 6,000,000 Jews and other "undesirables". Abortion, on the other hand, has murdered over 40,000,000 in the United States alone; An entirely different level of carnage. The Holocaust isn't even in the same ballpark, and definitely pales in comparison.


edav ... all other points aside, for the record, I was a proud Hillary supporter ... and I didn't think she was "our savior" either.

We don't elect a savior. We elect a president. And when he or she takes action or makes choices we disagree with, we let them know about it. Restpectfully.

Thanks for taking time to write. And so very sorry for your loss.

Lorian said...

Amen, Susan, amen. Excellent letter.

edav: I tire of hearing that people "don't want to take away rights from gays, they are just opponents of gay marriage."

For the record, this IS taking rights away from gays - the RIGHT to MARRY. Regardless of whether or not some of the rights conveyed by civil marriage are available in a brown-paper bargain bag, marriage, itself, is a civil right, and taking it away from a group of people disenfranchises that group of people.

"Separate-but-equal" schools were clearly NOT equal to the schools that white children attended. But even if they had been equal in every respect but that of racial integration, black children would STILL have been deprived of equal civil rights by being forced to attend them. They were deprived of the RIGHT to access the same schools as white people could access.

I'm sorry for the loss of your husband. That is a terrible tragedy, and yet one more area in which our country must face its inequitable treatment of glbt people. In so many states and at the federal level in this nation, we do not even have legal protections from the most basic violations of our civil and human rights, or legal redress when those rights are trampled upon.

It is crucial that we not allow rights granted us to be taken away. It is this very type of anti-gay legislation which empowers those who would hurt and even kill us. People like Warren, by encouraging the public to view us as lesser creatures with fewer rights than the majority, empower those who hate us, reinforce the stereotypes which harm us, and support those who would withhold other, more basic civil and human rights from us.

To give such a man a podium and a microphone at the most historic inauguration in the past 200 years of this nation's history is to tell glbt people, once again, that our rights mean little in the grand scheme. Whether that is the message Obama intended to project, it is the message which comes through, loud and clear.

QFC said...

I want to say up front that I would have preferred the President Elect, whom I supported, worked for and contributed to, had invited someone who shares my theology and social-political views to give the invocation at his inauguration. Nonetheless, whether invoked by Rick Warren or Catherine Jefferts Schori, God will be present on Inauguration Day. And as Christians, therefore, we also believe Christ will be on the podium as well, maybe sitting beside George Bush on the front row, looking on. He'll be there no matter who articulates the prayer that invites him. Will he like what he hears?

Rick Warren causes all of us pain, in some very real ways. How then, as Christ-followers, are we to feel when we see him on that stage? Is this a cynical ploy to court right-wing evangelicals? Is Barack that calculating? Is this realpolitik as usual? Or is it rather something more inspired, more Christian, than anything the rest of us could ask for or imagine?

I spent much of the 1990's as a campaign organizer and also a volunteer field representative for the Human Rights Campaign in a conservative southern state. It was there that I was introduced to single-issue identity politics. I also buried several close friends and cared for others during the height of the AIDS epidemic. I marched, boycotted, participated in civil disobediences, came close to being arrested with Urvashi Vaid, and am proud of everything I did. It was necessary then to speak out and act against unjust policies, and it still is.

Something else happened to me along the way, however. I renewed my long-dormant Christian faith by being confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I met the love of my life (now a seminarian and candidate for holy orders in the church), and, yes, grew a bit older and maybe a little wiser. And it became harder for me to see the world solely through the lens of my own self-interest. I began to realize that the decades of polarization and division, into red and blue communities, pro-choice and pro-life, had exacted a price all out of proportion to the small, incremental gains in civil liberties for LGBTQ people they helped bring about. We don't have marriage equality. We don't have federal legal employment protection or equal inheritance or immigration. We got a court to say we weren't felons, that's about it.

Still, all of that work was essential in the political climate of the United States that has been steadily polarizing around issues of economics, morality and sexuality for a very long time. If you read what he has written in his amazingly candid memoirs, Barack Obama is clearly not interested in the old way of doing politics in America: coalition building around lowest-common-denominator issues. He is, in short, not going to be the liberal equivalent of George Bush, i.e., President of a plurality of the people who showed up on Election Day. He is trying to truly unify a country in deep trouble. I think we need to give him the benefit of the respect he has earned from us, at least until after the Inauguration.

While we all might prefer that the President Elect pick Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis to deliver the invocation at his inaugural, none of these choices would have the effect of bringing the huge population of conservative evangelicals down from their battlements in the "culture wars" in order to break bread with the rest of us on Inauguration Day. Barack has done something truly, radically hospitable in a way that I believe is more Christ-like than any other choice he could have possibly made. And he is paying a price.

When was the last time that all Americans, of whatever background or orientation, could say without hesitation that the sitting president was "their" President, and mean it? Can we imagine, in other words, a politics that is not so divisive that it forces us to subject each and every decision our elected leaders make to a litmus test based on our own self-interest? By all means, we have to advocate for specific legal reforms and policies that recognize our full equality and humanity. When Rick Warren starts writing gay rights legislation and dictating reproductive health policies to the Obama administration, then I'll take to the streets. But I voted for a man I think is going to do great things to change the conversation on a whole range of issues, and I think he deserves a chance.

Inviting Rick Warren to the national liturgy that is the Inaugration of our president is not a retreat from the policy positions that led us to support Barack, it is simply Barack acting decisively and courageously in a way that I see as truly, uncomfortably...Christian.

Anonymous said...

I have never known Rick Warren to hurt anyone. Besides, in no respect can one avoid values. We can call upon Barack Obama to teach all the politically correct values at his inauguration, but the political correctness will, in turn, cause polarization to those who notice the weakness in our country. Not all of the values that are popular will solve our crises.

So may the unity be found when weakness is found. Then the strong ones who know the problems of our day help the weak ones. Rick Warren knows how to give strength. I read his book "A Purpose-driven Life." I am sure that our lives need purpose. Rick Warren is insightful.

And if the worse of Rick Warren comes to be, then we can address the bad when the bad comes.

MOepis said...

Hi Susan,

Being inclusive means, well, being inclusive. Some people may be upset that Rev. Lowery is giving the benediction.


"Obama defended his choice on Thursday, saying that he has also invited Joseph Lowery, a Methodist minister and civil rights leader who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights, to deliver the benediction.

'During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that's how it should be, because that's what America's about. That's part of the magic of this country ... we are diverse and noisy and opinionated,' Obama said. "

JRobin Whitley said...

Thank you for your excellent letter. Not only have I posted this to my Open.Salon.Com blog (Inch at a time in Open Salon), but I've also posted it on facebook and in digg in hopes we can get the word out beyond WNC.

Thank you, Robin

Lorian said...

QFC, God will most certainly be present on Inauguration Day, but not because Rick Warren (or any other minister) invokes God's presence.

QFC states: "none of these choices would have the effect of bringing the huge population of conservative evangelicals down from their battlements in the "culture wars" in order to break bread with the rest of us on Inauguration Day. Barack has done something truly, radically hospitable in a way that I believe is more Christ-like than any other choice he could have possibly made. And he is paying a price."

While it remains to be seen whether this will be the net effect of Obama's choice, I doubt that it will be. Already the religious conservatives are ranting that Warren is betraying them by accepting this invitation from a "baby-murderer." It would be lovely to think that granting Warren this honor would cause a healing of the rift between red and blue in this country, but I find that idea rather naive. The rift goes far deeper than denominational brand names, as you are clearly aware.

The religious conservatives understand as well as we do that Warren's invite has nothing to do with Obama espousing their ideals, and anything short of such espousal will provoke no shift of support from them, anymore than Bush inviting Susan to give the Invocation and then turning around and continuing to support persecution of the glbt community would have impressed us or convince us to lend him our support.

I doubt Lincoln would have had a pro-slavery minister speak at his Inauguration, or Kennedy a pro-segregation minister. Why should this be different? Because we are ashamed? Because we are willing to accept the judgment of those who declare that "gay is different than black" or that "gays do not have the moral high ground, like the black civil rights movement did"? No thanks.

IT said...

I am not a Christian. I find choosing a man who is not only opposed to my rights as a married lesbian, but who advocates assassination, supports war, and considers an insentient ball of cells the same as a victim in a gas chamber, deeply deeply offensive.

And I'm not even TALKING about putting prayer into a secular space, which is offensive as well.

edav38 said...

to IT,

ALL Fetuses became Viable Outside of the Womb with the Onset of Test Tube fertilization. From the first second that a Test Tube was used to inseminate an ova, the debate on viability of a fetus as being, as you call it, "an insentient ball of cells", was over and done with, and thanks to the Science that created Test Tube Viability, you and those with your stance Lost the debate.

You can be offended all you like by someone intimating Abortion to the Holocaust, it does not change the Fact that a fetus is not relegated to remaining in a womb indefinitely any-longer or ever, and it is Only 9 months of your life (not you personally,because as a lesbian, unless you are Bi, the only way you are going to get pregnant is if you Choose to do so through artificial or natural insemination of one form or another, which would then likely mean you would not be interested in an abortion (aka. (in my opinion) murder of the innocence)).

But, I have to wonder why you hold Human Life in such a low regard as to refer to a fetus as "an insentient ball of cells".
And if you hold it in such Low Regard, why you are against "assassination and war", which give you the exact same result as an abortion, just at a later date (and no I am not making a joke out of this).

As I said in my last post:
"As always, I say what I mean, and I mean what I say."

Have a Merry CHRISTmas.

IT said...

edav, I don't equate all fetuses to an insentient ball of cells, but early ones ARE. To equate that ball of cells frozen in liquid nitrogen to an actual infant is ludicrous--in a fire in a clinic, would you rescue 5 straws of embryos in the liquid N2 tank, or the baby in the stroller in the room next door? Moreover, that ball of cells isn't GOING to become a baby unless you put it in the womb of a woman, and apparently you think that she has no rights about what you put in her womb.

The point is additionally that people of reason and good will CAN disagree about these issues and Warren only speaks to one side of it.

Brother David said...

ALL Fetuses became Viable Outside of the Womb with the Onset of Test Tube fertilization. From the first second that a Test Tube was used to inseminate an ova, the debate on viability of a fetus as being, as you call it, "an insentient ball of cells", was over and done with, and thanks to the Science that created Test Tube Viability, you and those with your stance Lost the debate.

You can be offended all you like by someone intimating Abortion to the Holocaust, it does not change the Fact that a fetus is not relegated to remaining in a womb indefinitely any-longer or ever

That is a big load of patooty.

I was not aware that a fertilized ovum was viable outside the womb, because I was not aware that they were bringing an ovum to full term in vitro. Oh, that is right, they are not! As yet it cannot be done. After fertilization it is either back into a woman's body or into the freezer.

You need to take this blustering elsewhere edav38. You are being more intolerant and judgmental with this rhetoric than anything Mother Susan has said in a balanced and even-toned letter, or anyone else has intoned in these comments.

The day you become pregnant and carry a baby inside of your body to term you may have a viable opinion. Until then, you are just another loud-mouthed man without experience, trying to dictate the rights of a woman over her own body.

Not a far step from a heterosexual trying to tell a homosexual that we know nothing about our own lives.

QFC said...

Lorian, thanks for your comments. It is certainly possible that the president elect's invitation to Rick Warren will not have the reconciling effect I am hoping and praying for. Certainly the bloggers and right wing radio wags will not see it in their self-interest. It may also prove to be impossible for those who claim to speak for LGBTQ Americans of whatever faith to transform the way they see and speak about politics and society. I would like our leaders and spokespersons to take the high ground on this one nonetheless. Maybe that is naive - or perhaps it is simply the audacity of hope.

Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

Christianity is about inclusion, not exclusion. Christianity is a repudiation of purity codes of all kinds, not just those found in Leviticus. As an Anglo-Catholic, I find the views of conservative, low-church individuals unacceptable. But the freedom of expression we enjoy as a constitutional democracy, and as Anglicans, mandates that they be allowed to spew their ideas with as much right as I have to proclaim mine. My dislike of conserative, low-church individuals does not relieve me of my obligations under the Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being. By keeping these people at the table and allowing them to state their views, we have at least a chance of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit changing their hearts and minds, and if that cannot happen, we at least give them the privilege of publicly displaying their affliction with foot in mouth disease. Jesus healed lepers. He can heal them, too.