You might be surprised at my thoughts on the current Rick Warren scandal. I've hesitated to blog about it for the past couple of days, but as this story has grown bigger and bigger, it's time I stepped out and said something. It just needs to be said.
Calm down. Rick Warren is not a big deal. This tempest in a teapot will only harm our community.
With so many prominent bloggers, activists and politicos outraged, I realize this post won't be the most popular I've written. As I've mulled this over the past few days, certain key elements fell into place for me; I wonder why our leadership didn't realize some of these basic facts before they started pounding on Warren.
As Jim Ross writes at the Sentinel in his post, "Obama Creates New Cabinet-Level Post for Rick Warren":
OK, not really. But one would have thought so, judging by the reaction to Obama's recent announcement concerning Warren. The outrage from the left and the coverage from the media has gone off the charts, at a level that would have been appropriate if Obama had named him, say, Secretary of Religion and Faith and then endowed him with the powers to shape the administration's social and moral agenda. But that's not at all what Obama did. He simply asked Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. Here's what will happen:
Warren will stand up and pray something nice and religious and patriotic sounding that is carefully crafted to offend as few people as possible, and then he will sit down. The next day, he will leave Washington and go back to being a pastor and an author. That's all. It will be that innocuous.
1. Rick Warren Is Not the Biggest Threat to the LGBT Community
Warren is a popular preacher and author. He's a religious right leader. He is a pompous windbag, a liar, and a homophobe. Big f--king deal. Anti-gay, lying, pompous preachers are a dime a dozen. Warren's soapbox is larger than most, but 98% of these mega-ministers end up crashing to earth surrounded by prostitutes, drugs and dollars with the careers in ruin.
LGBT folk are losing their jobs in several states just because they're queer. The violence against trans folk in Memphis, TN and across the nation calls out for more attention and aggressive watchdogs. Our adoption and parenting rights are under attack. HIV infections are surging. We are dying.
Don't Ask Don't Tell should be a priority. A fully inclusive ENDA should be plotted and planned and put in place. Figuring out a realistic response to today's HIV/AIDS environment is needed. Lord knows, there's a whole helluva lot of work to do on trans issues. Resolving the racism, sexism, ableism and other undesirable traits in our own community should be a priority.
But Rick Warren's short prayer? That's tiny in the grand scheme of things.
2. Doesn't This Signal That Homophobia Is Acceptable To Obama?
No. Not at all. It signals that Obama is a shrewd politician.
One of the biggest presents Obama can get during the first few months of his presidency is the goodwill of the Right. Picking Warren, who took flack during the election for his willingness to engage Obama, shows the evangelical leadership that Obama is willing to repay his favors.
Saying a prayer at the inauguration is small potatoes. Stop someone on the street and ask them who gave the invocation the last time. Or the time before that. How many times has Billy Graham spoken the opening prayer? Do you know? It's not as if Inauguration preachers are big memory making opportunities.
Can you name the other gay-friendly minister speaking at Obama's inauguration? I couldn't. I scanned five Bilerico posts about the topic and didn't see him mentioned. I found the answer at the New York Times blog.
Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.
Hell, we don't even care about him. Neither does Joe Six Pack.
The other thing most Americans don't care about is LGBT rights. Face it, most straight people just don't give a s--t about our issues. They are asleep to our struggle, obviously, our Prop 8 would not have passed. Or Amendment 2. Or Prop 102. Or...
While this would have signaled to evangelical leaders that Obama is willing to treat them generously and they could, understandably, take that to mean the constant stream of homophobic comments were a-ok, I doubt that the average American would have noticed. If our community had kept their mouth shut on this choice to lead a prayer, Warren wouldn't get the free publicity, the goodwill from evangelicals, or the constant media repetition of the "Obama is dissing the gays" mantra.
We've told more Americans about Obama's signal than would ever have noticed on their own. We've made ourselves the victim before an uncaring audience that thinks this is a big whooptie-doo. After all, several of them attend a church where their minister probably says the same or more on a regular basis.
3. We Look Like Novices
As the LGBT community is trying to flex our muscles, this is not the time to look like a 75 pound weakling. By mewling and kavetching about Rick Warren's minutes spent praying to an invisible man in the sky, we didn't flex our biggest muscle - our brains.
Everyone knew that Warren would not be replaced. His selection had already been announced publicly, and replacing him would have been too big a scandal. The new president does not make mistakes. Remember?
So what did we hope to gain? The only person I saw asking this obvious question, was Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jon Hoadley on the Huffington Post.
Our community -- at least from what my inbox has seen -- has been quick to share our anger at this choice. But while advocates --especially the LGBT netroots -- are rightfully telling the incoming administration that this isn't right, our community has been slow to share a solution.
Unfortunately, this is a pattern in modern LGBT advocacy. We saw the same anger over rumors earlier this year that former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia (the architect of opposition in 1993 to service by openly-gay military personnel) was being considered for the position of Vice President. Our community loudly said "No to Nunn!"- just as we said "No to Nunn!" to similar rumors in 2004 and 2000. Yet, in saying"no" our community failed to share what we could say "yes" to.
If we want to enact pro-equality policy and change, we need to take a page out of Harvey Milk's playbook: we have to give them hope. We need to say what we want, not just what we don't want.
The only thing I've heard that we wanted was a cabinet-level pick of an openly gay person. Big deal. (I'd rather Obama pick his team based on their qualifications than any tokenism. If he picked all black, disabled lesbians as advisors, that's fine; as long as they are the best people for the job. I'd rather not be a token for his administration.) Now, all the cabinet spots are filled so we didn't get that either!
So that leaves us with what demand? That the transition team do the impossible? They won't dump Warren. We're not asking for anything else. We're just complaining to hear ourselves whine.
If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Outta the Kitchen
Politics is a rough and tumble sport. We've been handed our asses politically lately. We helped get Obama elected only to get marriage amendments shoved down our throats.
We're angry. We're prickly.
Many of us led with our hearts and not our brains on this one. We got upset and started sending out press releases and writing blog posts and going on TV and we poured out the well documented ills of Rick Warren and his loathsome beliefs.
What we should have done is head straight to Obama and pointedly "put him on notice." We should strategize ways to get Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed quickly, how to get the votes for a fully-inclusive ENDA, how to get an inclusive hate crimes bill to Obama's desk ASAP. We hold his feet to the fire to really show his support of our community by passing these important life-saving bills. Quickly.
But this temper tantrum that we're throwing publicly? It's not worth it. There's no winning either the political or the pr battle.
We need to shut the hell up and go to work on the issues that matter. A "nice and religious and patriotic sounding that is carefully crafted to offend as few people as possible" prayer? That's not it.