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Rick Warren: Stroke of genius


Rick Warren, Founder of Saddleback Church

Who is this guy, Rick Warren? And why has he set off a firestorm of straight-bashing by the gay community? It’s not like Obama asked Pope Benedict XVI to pray; now there’s a conservative when it comes to gay rights. So Rick Warren holds fundamentalist views on various sensitive issues. So what? He isn’t going to be a member of government; he’s going to pray. So hey, gay rights people: See if you can extend the tolerance you demand, often quite vehemently, to others. Others who disagree with you about legalizing gay marriage. At least for three whole minutes on January 20, 2009. In deference to god, or God, depending on your viewpoint. That might be the ethical, not to mention adult, thing to do.


It would be far from accurate to say that the United States favors gay marriage; it might be more accurate to say a great number of people in the United States advocate institutionalizing civil unions. Many who are positively disposed toward including gay unions for legal purposes still can’t get around the term marriage, and rightfully so. Marriage refers, specifically, to a sanctioned union (by church or state) between a man and a woman. On the other hand, the term civil union is completely appropriate for defining same gender unions of a permanent and committed nature.

Some people have pointed out that the word marriage is already used to describe close relationships of other sorts, such as a marriage between art and architecture to describe a lovely building. But that’s using the term in a tacit analogy; do gay people who are committed to each other in spiritual, economic and emotional ways want to be considered no more than a convenient analogy? I wouldn’t. I would rather be part of a civil union, as long as formalizing that union afforded me familial rights, such as inheritance, health benefits, the right to make decisions for my partner, and so on. And I do think there should be a government-supported means for doing that, a civil union document not unlike a marriage license.

There is also the danger that misusing terminology long agreed upon in western thought will impoverish the language to the point that it is incapable of expressing nuanced thoughts and concepts. Creating an impoverished language out of arguably the language with the greatest range and precision would seem an inadvisable thing to do, especially in a world getting more complex--and thus less explicable except by nuance--by the minute.

One thing is not debatable, however. The whining that has gone on since the Warren choice has been deafening, and highly unattractive, not to mention counter-productive.

I admit that most of Huffington Post’s commentators get many things right, at least in my world. But Joan Garry’s column about Warren—and being disappointed that her hero, Barack Obama, would have the audacity to choose someone inimical to gay marriage to pray at the inauguration—struck me as a near-perfect example of whining.

“My partner says she is done. She doesn't want to go to the inauguration or any of those balls with me,” Garry wrote on December 30. This sounds a lot like the Repubs taking their marbles and going home when every little thing doesn’t go their way. Oh, right, for the Repubs, it was a whole national election that didn’t go their way. In the case of Garry’s partner, it is that, despite continuing to confab with LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Trans-Sexual) community leaders, Obama tossed a small bone to their opposition. What an unforgivable act! Each of his other choices has been perfect in Garry's estimation, apparently (leading one to believe Garry and her partner thought the Richardson choice was brilliant.)

Perhaps it is sad that one can call the invocation at an inauguration a small bone; it’s God we are talking about here, after all, not some gay-suburban-housewife-wannabe from Jersey who decides her hero has deserted her so she won’t dance at his party.

Actually, I would say that Garry’s partner ought to be rejoicing. The LGBT debate has been ramped up another notch, and better yet, the brunt of it is a man of god and a conservative; how much more mileage do they want from a straw man?  Perhaps Obama should have asked Pope Benedict XVI to preside. Now that would have been a really grand choice. Or would it? Protestant conservatives don’t truly appreciate papists, or so I learned living in the South as a JV Catholic (Episcopalian). So Obama would have lost the Protestants, the gays, the Jews….

No, in retrospect, his choice of a mainstream bigot was, in fact, a stroke of genius.


  • boarderthom 6 years ago

    'Compare and contrast'; my high school english teachers drilled this into my head.
    Compare and contrast: Gay rights and slave rights; the contrasts are easy, the comparisons are profound. Slaves could not marry either; slaves could not make a contract and what is civil marriage but mostly a hugh contract, legally speaking. You can not deny that gay people are denied the contract rights involved with marriage.
    Stop gay apartheid.
    Apartheid: A system of laws applied to one category of citizens in order to isolate them and keep them from having privileges and opportunities given to all others.

  • DC Ethical Issues Examiner 6 years ago

    An excellent point and valuable insight. Thank you.

  • Eric 6 years ago

    Laura, you article shows you just don't get it

  • Marianne Puechl 6 years ago

    The reason the GLBT community is an uproar over this appointment is not due to the fact that Mr. Warren is against gay marriage. It's because he equates gay people with pedophiles, and such statements only serve to divide our nation rather than bring us together. The GLBT community in America does not whine every time someone who doesn't believe in gay rights speaks up. Quite the contrary. The GLBT minority in our country is one of the most productive, conscientious, peace-loving and -unfortunately - relatively silent minorities. As a whole, our minority actually BELIEVES in equal rights (and equal access to freedom of speech) but we also hold dear the belief that no one -especially those given a national stage- deserves the right to bash others through stereotyping and hateful propagandizing.

  • Gene S. 6 years ago

    So what you're saying is that you agree with Warren—straights drink out of one water fountain, and gays out of the other. History is repeating itself and you don't see it and it sounds like you don't care too either.

  • Mike 6 years ago

    Better yet, just do away with the government-sanctioned prayers altogether and you don't have to worry about alienating *anybody*.

  • Devon 6 years ago

    For all the criticism of straw men, you have no quibble with using them yourself.

    I caution you from speaking as if, were you in a position to actually appraise a gay relationship while being gay yourself, you would prefer the title of civil union. While it's comforting to apply the maxim of "walking a mile in one's shoes" for inspiring empathy, I do not imagine that one can easily put themselves in such worn footwear for even the trying minute of writing a sentence in a column and ignore the appreciation of all those other miles, roads, and potholes that person has crossed.

    No straight person can fully understand a gay person's life or struggle, much as how a Christian may not fully empathize a Muslim growing up in the US or a white individual a black's plight in contemporary society.

    We're blinded by our biases, and we should stop ourselves before speaking of how we would act in a certain situation, how we would view it, or how those others should view it.

  • DC Ethical Examiner 6 years ago


    You are absolutely correct, we are all blinded by our biases. In fact, I was saying no more than that. My bias is in favor of standard English to describe the relationships between men and women and men and men or women and women. And no, of course I do not know what anyone else has been through; does anyone else, by the same token, know what anyone else has been through?

    Nonetheless, I do object, strenuously, to your statement that no straight person can understand the plight of a gay person in this society. By that token, you imply that no Irish person, living under British rule in Northern Ireland, could understand the plight of an Algerian person living under French rule (fortunately, I imagine, long since abandoned) in Algeria. They clearly can understand, to a point. Without changing physical beings, of course, complete understanding is impossible, and is also a fact that bears acceptance.

    It seems to me that a dose of an adage would suffice here: Happy families are all pretty much alike but unhappy ones are each unhappy in unique ways. So are you saying that gay misery is different, for example, from the misery of a physically challenged individual who has been denied a job? Or of a woman who is paid less than a man for the same education and the same responsibilities? It IS different, but not better or worse. Just different. You appear to want to make the adage about happy and miserable families into a truism regarding disenfranchisement in this society. I reject it. All people in this society--up to and including (forgive me for this) George W. Bush--have had less-than-perfect situations, by their own assessment, to contend with.

    It is time to stop whining, I think, and get on with the very daunting task of making a society that accepts each individual for who she or he is, and stop trying to create a single mold that fits all. In that regard, calling each societal arrangement by the same name is tantamount to trying to create conformity where you, yourself, say there is none. Or at least, none that you are willing to recognize.

    BTW, we can only understand portions of another's plight, and only if we consciously encounter their conditions. I have been the only white teacher in a Black school, and yes, it was uncomfortable. I taught there because I believed in the program, and also, I wanted to see how it felt to be in a vast minority. It didn't feel good. But it also didn't mean I wanted them to call me Black; how ridiculous would that have been? I was hoping, in fact, to increase my understanding, and theirs, that we are all the same, if unique in the corporate and individual senses.

    I got a tiny inkling--tiny, tiny, tiny--of what it must be like to be an outsider in the mainstream society, whatever outsider and mainstream mean at the instant. I do not presume to think that means I understand fully. I do know that there are some things amenable to change--among them treatment of other individuals. And I know some things are NOT amenable to change, among them individual experience and the nomenclature that makes human life at least partially understandable to others.

  • mark 6 years ago

    Ms. McBride,
    Straight bashing?
    Yeah whine about some folks criticizing Warren being given a place of honor at the Inaugural.
    BASHING is the 28 yo lesbian GANG RAPED by four assailants.
    BASHING is three transexuals murdered in Memphis.
    BASHING is being pistol whipped and left to die of exposure hanging on a Laramie fence.
    Any other stupid comparrisons you'd like to share with us?

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