Sunday, 21 December 2008

Throw the Gay Down the Well and My Country Will Be Free

We are now under a month away from the end of Bush's term in office, more importantly we are under a month away from the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President. Much has been made of Obama's various cabinet appointments and the plans he has made with his transition team. This short period of transition is our first chance to see the reality as Obama as President, and it is for that reason that his choice of Rick Warren to give the Invocation at the Inauguration ceremony has kicked up a storm of commentary.

The issue is covered by Greta Christina, Daylight Atheism, The Questionable Authority, ERV, Friendly Atheist, Feministe, Religion Dispatches, The Boiling Point, Blogger Interrupted, , Pam's House Blend (Those last two cover the issue of the other religious leader speaking at the Inauguration which I will address later), amongst a mulitude of others.

The general consensus (Which I agree with) is one of disapproval; this choice of a man who has compared homosexuality with bestiality and abortion to the Holocaust is seen as misguided political manoeuvre intended to bring Fundamentalist Evangelicals to his team. Obama's stated justification of it is that:

In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world's most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.
(Excerpt from released "talking points".)

Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign's been all about, that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans. (emphasis mine)

Essentially the argument that Obama is proposing is that in a free and tolerant society all viewpoints should be represented and everyone should be included. I think his basic position can be summed up as "we can disagree without being disagreeable", now that is usually a sentiment I agree with. In this case however it is simply not true, because Rick Warren's positions are not just talk. As we have seen just recently in California (Our coverage here and here) people's rights can be curtailed and their lives affected detrimentally by the actions of people like Rick Warren. It's good to be inclusive but sometimes it's not possible to include everyone and then you have to make a choice. By choosing Rick Warren Obama is not simply giving a pedestal to a homophobe, he is essentially endorsing his positions as being ok, he is saying that it's ok to be a bigot and to campaign against rights. It's ok to make slanderous attacks against your fellow human beings on the basis of sexuality.

And that makes me angry because those things aren't ok, and to justify it as disagreeing without being disagreeable is utterly galling. As The Questionable Authority puts it:

The problem comes with that whole "disagree without being disagreeable" thing. Rick Warren recently compared homosexuality to pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy. That's not disagreeing without being disagreeable. That's being nasty without shouting. There's a very large difference, and it's a bit disappointing that Mr. Obama doesn't see that.

We can disagree without being disagreeable but comparing gay people to paedophiles and bestialists is very disagreeable.

From Boiling Point Blogs comes Rachel Maddow on the issue:

To show that I am myself trying to be fair and not just indulging in a bit of religion bashing I'd like to talk about what is pretty much the flip side of the coin, because whilst Warren's bigotry and intolerance are firmly based in his religion there are other, equally devout, Christians who disagree with his opinions. One such man is the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery. From Blogger Interrupted:

If I were Rick Warren, I’d have the nuts to turn down the invitation to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, simply based on decency. But even further, if I were Rick Warren, in the interests of my own ego, I’d be smart enough to avoid comparison of my Celebrity Driven Life with that of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who’ll be giving the benediction after Barack’s speech.
That comparison fails on one mere fact.

In 1965, King named Lowery to deliver the demands of a planned Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights to then-Alabama Governor George Wallace. In an event that shocked the nation, police tear-gassed and clubbed the peaceful marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge.

For those, like me, not familiar with that protest here's a video of the brutal events that unfolded at what was a peaceful gathering:

The main point I would like to make is that this is a fine and great leader, a person who is able to see beyond the differences between individuals and fight against injustice not matter who it falls upon. he is just as devout as rick Warren and yet treats his fellow humans in an entirely different way. This is the kind of person that should be endorsed, and I'm glad that Obama has done so by including him in the proceedings..

He spoke at the memorial service of Coretta Scott King (Another wonderful individual) and what he said resonates with me:

Thank you, Coretta. Didn't she carry her grief with dignity? Her growing influence with humility? She secured his seed, nurtured his nobility she declared humanity's worth, invented their vision, his and hers, for peace in all the Earth. She opposed discrimination based on race, she frowned on homophobia and gender bias, she rejected on its face. She summoned the nations to study war no more. She embraced the wonders of a human family from shoulder to shoulder. Excuse me, Maya.

She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abound. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.

Well, Coretta had harsh critics. Some no one could please. But she paid them no mind. She kept speaking. As we get older, or so I'm told, we listen in to heaven like the prophets of old. I heard Martin and Coretta say, "do us a favor, Joe, those four little children I spoke of in 1963, they are fine adults now, as all can see. They already know but tell them again. We love them so dear. Assure them we will always be near. Their troubles to bless and sanctify to them their deepest distress. Tell them we believe in them as we know you do. We know their faith in god and their love for each other will see them through. Assure them at the end of the tunnel awaits god's light and we are confident they will always strive for the right. Tell them don't forget to remember that we are as near as their prayer-and never as far and we can rest in peace because they know who and whose they are."

Now that is the kind of message that I want and expect from Barack Obama, and that's the kind of leader I want him to be. I believe in diversity, but if diversity in one direction curtails diversity in another we have to make a choice. In the case of gay rights that choice is between men like rick Warren who wish to curtail rights, and people who merely want to live their lives with the same freedoms as everyone else.

I don't think that that's a difficult choice.

I'd really like to hear what everyone else has to say, whether you agree or disagree please comment.

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