Friday, December 19, 2008

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

Normally, I would not care about the choice of an inauguration speaker. In fact, I rarely even watch inauguration ceremonies. I am pretty sure I watched Clinton's inauguration in 1993; I am more certain that I did not watch either of the Bushes'. But the more I listen to Rick Warren's anti-gay positions and to Obama's and his supporters responses to Warren's critics, I become increasingly troubled by his role at the inauguration.

True to form, Obama defends picking Warren on the grounds that he wants to end divisions and provide a seat for everyone at the table despite differences. In the abstract, this sounds like a great operating principle. Reduced to a simplistic maxim, the argument says: "I want to reduce strife and enmity." This goal is as unassailable (and vague) as wanting to improve the quality of schools, prevent crime, and end hunger. It is one of those ideas that people of all political perspectives can embrace, at least in the abstract.

But one's ability to feel safe extending his or her arm across the metaphorical aisle depends upon the level of vulnerability that person experiences in society. For some people, forging a particular link could feel dangerous rather than noble.

Consider, for example, the many ways Obama could have used the moment of his inauguration to reach out to people who do not share his stated viewpoints. Instead of picking Warren, Obama could have chosen one of the many otherwise benevolent ministers who believe that "a woman's place is in the home" or who subscribe to conservative views on race and racial justice. If Obama had invited an outspoken opponent of racial and gender equality to speak at his inauguration, the choice would have raised outcry from a broader share of the population. And knowing that Aretha Franklin would entertain the masses after a racist opened the ceremony would not provide sufficient cover. The two things do not cancel out each other.

I am also certain that many of the white liberal heterosexual males who have rushed to defend Warren would likely have taken a different view if the choice undermined their own comfort level. Suppose Obama had picked Minister Louis Farrakhan instead of Warren. Farrakhan, like Warren, has engaged in outreach to poor people. Nonetheless, many of Warren's defenders would probably view Farrakhan, who has made insensitive comments regarding whites and Jews (and gays), as a substantial departure from Obama's message of "change." Because Warren's ideological positions do not threaten the well being of most white heterosexuals, however, many of them view gay and lesbian criticism as mere "whining." But this is a classic response to criticism by disparaged social groups.

Ultimately, Obama's positions on gay and lesbian rights matter much more than Warren's five minutes of fame. But if Obama's election warrants celebration and attention due to its symbolism, then Warren's role at the inauguration matters (although less significantly) due to its message as well. Warren, to use the analogy Obama applied to Reverend Wright, represents the nice, caring and giving uncle who, during family meals, makes "interesting" arguments about gay rights, such as the assertion that same-sex marriage is the moral equivalent of incest, statutory rape and polygamy. Most of the family tries to downplay the comments by remaining silent or rapidly changing the subject, but the gay or lesbian person at the table cringes in discomfort. Although Uncle Good-But-Homophobic has offended the very essence of the gay family member, the rest of the table demands silence for the "greater good."

Warren's defenders are playing the role of the straight family members who enable the homophobic (or racist or sexist) uncle. They are asking GLBT people to look at the bigger picture and to accept a good guy with troubling politics because there is room at the table for everyone. Perhaps this is the best course of action. But these types of deals ultimately require that some groups make sacrifices not shared by the whole. The stakes become even greater and more volatile when the situation involves concrete policy and not mere symbolism. I cannot stop wondering whether Warren's defenders would demand the same type of sacrifices by other groups -- or whether they would make the same sacrifices themselves.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?


janine dunmyre said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. For putting into words why I am OUTRAGED with the Warren choice. I know what it's like to sit at the table with the "good uncle," except my good uncle usually spews forward about "the blacks (whispered)." If I speak up, everyone rolls their eyes, like, can't you just let it drop. While I would love to see social justice-focused evangelicals come under our tent, they do not belong until they stop discounting my humanity, anyone's humanity.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Janine. Thanks for dropping by. My readers have seen my anger accelerate. I could almost have let it go, but then I played his interviews over and over again. Then I listened to the explanations and just could not believe what I was hearing. Anyway, I guess it's on to developing an agenda and seeing what we can get passed into law. I am not going to spin out of control on this, but we really need to offer commentary and let history record dissenting viewpoints.

G. said...

Warren compares abortion to the Holocaust, so that would make women (among others) Hitler. But who cares, right?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, G. That's a pretty intense comparison.

msakel said...

Thank you for a great commentry on "Embracing Uncle Good-but-homophobic". Reaching the aisle is slapping the proverbial face of human rights for both gays and women. I do not agree with Darren Hutchinson on one point, though, when he states that inviting a minister who "feels a woman's place is in the home" would provide friction for Obama. In fact, he did indeed invite such person: The good Rev. Warren! Warren feels that a woman's place is to be subjugated to the wishes of her husband and should obey her husband! I believe that Obama's insulting gesture to the gender that propelled him to his election 'win'--however slim it may have been and definitely not a landslide!--will eventually undermine the good will he's earned from both Women's and Gays' constituencies.

Barack's misogynist agenda is clear through his promotion of his sexist punkish Director (now) of speechwriting Jon Favreau! His homophobic agenda is also very clear. But I fail to see why some women and gays who voted for BHO now feel 'surprised' that he had pushed them under the Bus of Obama's political expediency. Why shouldnh't he? His typical white grandma, then Rev. Wright.

Remember Rev. Wright's words at the Press Club in the summer? Well, the good rev. was not wrong:

"Barack is just another typical politician. He'll say anything and do anything to get what he wants..."

Bush's regime was disastrous. There is no indication that Obama's sexist, homophobic 4-year-term will be anything other than Bush-lite. BHO is just an empty suit who's lost his moral compass. To find it, he'll have to resign and start writing novels and speeches for a living--to which both he's marvelously suited.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Msakel. Can you post a link on some more of Warren's anti-feminist statements. I am aware of his anti-choice language and the gay issues, but have not seen much commentary beyond that (although I link choice and gay issues with feminism).

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