Obama to Gays and Lesbians: Go to Hell

December 18, 2008

Photo credit: Flickr user All About You God

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church

Rev. Rick Warren, the popular evangelical pastor and best-selling author, has been selected to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

That’s Rick Warren, the guy who campaigned on behalf of Prop. 8 in California.

That’s Rick Warren, the person who has compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

A gay friend of mine, who grew up in a religious household, e-mailed me this morning when he heard the news, expressing his outrage. He said that he had spent his childhood and teenage years growing up listening to preachers condemning him and other gays, assuring him he would burn in Hell because of who he is.

Now he gets to see a minister who endorses the same irrational bigotry on the inaugural platform, prominently juxtaposed with the new president—a president who promised “change.” I suppose it confirms once again that the more things “change,” the more they stay the same.

The lame excuses from Obama and his spokespersons defending the choice of Warren are unacceptable. They have talked about being “inclusive.” They have pointed out that the civil-rights activist Rev. Joseph Lowery will be delivering the benediction, so there will be “balance.”

So I guess it would be OK to invite a vicious anti-Semite to deliver the opening prayer, as long as a rabbi delivered the benediction.

Most secular humanists, of course, find the whole notion of inaugural prayers ridiculous, if not offensive. (Arguably, it’s a violation of the Establishment Clause as well, but you’re not going to win that legal battle.) Similarly, most of us believe in the dignity of all individuals, gay or straight, and unequivocally reject the notion that a person is immoral or evil just because of her/his sexual orientation. Perhaps it is fitting that absurd beliefs are expressed in an absurd ceremony.

Still, the choice of Warren is disheartening, to say the least. Based on anecdotal evidence, humanists voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Many of those who did so had as one of their primary motivations concern over the future of the Supreme Court. Now Obama will be starting his administration with a supreme disappointment.



#1 dougsmith on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 11:36am

Obama has recently commented on this issue:


His decision doesn’t surprise me terribly; notwithstanding the brilliant rhetoric of change, Obama ran on a subtly centrist plank of inclusion. He agreed to debate McCain at Warren’s church. And both Obama and his VP are on record as being opposed to gay marriage.

I think it an unfortunate decision as well. While I can understand the political message that Obama wants to give, it is not necessary to have Warren attend the inauguration to give such a message.

#2 Michael (Guest) on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 1:08pm

The issue is not what Obama thinks.  The issue is with whom does he associate.  Ayers and Wright almost sank his boat, and now he has the association game figured out.  He needs the right wing to help him make major reforms that are not exactly right-wing-ish.  I think we may just need to chill on the church-state issue, and hope he can successfully wrestle with Congress to improve health care, the economy, and reduce green house gasses.  If he can fix any of these things, then his presidency will be a success.  I hate to say it, but this term will not be the term for atheists, gays, etc.  This is the term to undue the harm that Bush did to the country.  Maybe in 5 or 6 years there will be enough stability to address civil rights concerns.  And remember, the Supreme Court appointments coming up.  Remember that and be happy.

#3 George (Guest) on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 1:26pm

Dude!  Come on!  That is a TERRIBLY irresponsible headline…you are now officially part of what you claim to despise.  Take a class.

#4 dougsmith on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 1:34pm

I think George is on to something here. The headline is too inflammatory.

#5 mckenzievmd on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 1:36pm

I agree that it is a shame to see a bigot like Warren given any kind of even tangential endoresement by the new president. But as always in politics, patterns of behavior are often more revealing than individual symbolic acts. As a member of Human Rights Campaign, I see a lot of discussion about Obama’s actions so far, and his stated positions. He’s not the dream president the gay and lesbian community have always dreamt of, by any means, but he’s a damn site better than the alternative, and he’s likely to do more good than harm to the cause of equality for people of all sexual orientations. So criticism of the move, I approve, but I think it’s too soon to despair.

#6 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 3:31pm

Must respectfully disagree with George. Is my headline more irresponsible than Obama’s decision to invite Warren? Obama could have had anybody give the prayer at his inauguration. The suggestion he made at his news conference today that he felt some obligation to invite Warren because Warren had him speak at his church is laughable. Warren had Obama and McCain at his church to increase his own prestige. (In my view, Obama should have declined that invitation.) And now Obama is again lending prestige to Warren. Obama clearly values his attempt to court the evangelical vote more than he does respect for the gay and lesbian community. In other words, as far as he is concerned, to use the colloquial way of expressing contempt, they can “go to Hell.” By the way, not clear which class George wants me to take. A class in political maneuvering, dissembling and doublespeak? Sorry, not interested. (And since I’m a lawyer, probably not necessary anyway.)

#7 dougsmith on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 4:27pm

Just to clarify, my understanding of Obama’s comments about his being invited to talk at Warren’s church referred to a talk he gave there in December of 2006, not to the one he had with McCain:


Presumably the earlier invitation would not simply have been a matter of Warren’s attempting to increase his own prestige. Indeed, he appears to have gotten himself into some hot water for it, as Obama has done now.

#8 Occam on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 8:59pm

I’m appalled at the decision, not just because it demonstrates a kind of thinking by Obama that worries me, but also because it is both a major advertisement and a statement of approval for Warren’s views.  One could argue against the latter, but I think that would be ingenuous.

I disagree about the criticism of the headline.  Headlines are supposed to be dramatic and motivate one to read the text, not to present all the nuances in three or four words.  A mild, wishy-washy headline is the surest way to have potential readers go on to the next headline without bothering with the article.


#9 Fat Man on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 10:04pm

The continued expansion of openly accepted religious association and involvement by politicians looking for public support in elections must be of growing concern to all atheists.  Obama has chosen to highlight his religious involvement from the beginning and this choice of Warren is simply another piece in the widening definition of Obama’s faith (albeit a very disturbing piece).  He will continue the Bush “faith-based” program funding (although he has said he will change it), and he will have religion advisors in the White House.  His decisions will be tainted by his beliefs, as were Bush’s.

My decision to vote at all, and for Obama, particularly, were not based on his emerging faith-based involvement, indeed, it was one of many things I despise about the man, but as has become my habit in these latter years, I chose to vote for the one I considered the better of two evils. 

Obama lies a lot.  He has built his entry ticket on a pack of lies.  Why should it seem strange that he would choose a religious bigot for his ceremony?  When Obama and McCain visited Rick Warren’s church and his questioning of them was televised, it was clear that Warren violated the IRS regulations governing tax-exempt churches by promoting political figures in an election from his church stage.  I sent an objection (the form was available online from the IRS) to the IRS to get his Saddleback Church removed from tax exempt status (I’m not naive enough to think it will happen) but the question has to be - what did you do? 

I hear a lot of complaints about Obama’s involvement in questionable religious practices, including Rick Warren’s invitation to the inauguration, but what are you going to do about it?

#10 Chris Crawford on Friday December 19, 2008 at 9:07am

Since no one else has offered the obvious rebuttal, I shall do so:

Obama’s decision to invite Mr. Warren is an excellent political decision. It has lots of symbolic value and absolutely zero substantive value. It mollifies the right wing while doing nothing to compromise with their values in matters of policy. As such, it is the perfect way to deal with the problem.

I’d like to expand on this point. A lot of people seem to think of politics as a football game. Since we have the football now, we can do anything we want, and compromising with the opposing team is stupid. If we’ve 50% + 1 of the votes, then we should cram everything we want down their stinking throats. Rah, rah, rah!

That may be the way the Bushies feel (actually, it IS the way the Bushies feel), but the result will be the same thing that the Bushies got: political impotence, a badly polarized country, and failure. In politics, you need to weaken the opposition to your policies, usually by co-opting them in some fashion. If your plans set off a firestorm of protest, you lose. A perfect example of this was the Clinton decision on gays in the military, which backfired badly. It cost Mr. Clinton enormous political capital and he did not achieve his objective.

So let’s set aside the ideology and think in terms of getting things done. Mr. Obama’s decision to invite Mr. Warren does not in the slightest weaken any social programs he may be preparing—it strengthens them by co-opting the right. The moral of the story is simple: if you want to get things done in the world of politics, check your ideology at the door and start thinking in terms of pragmatism.

#11 Luke Vogel on Friday December 19, 2008 at 10:37am

As to the headline, I apologize up front for continuing to make what is essentially a non-issue an issue. However, it is not only inflammatory and irresponsible, it’s just stupid. It is done with an idea that what Obama has done is a kind of retreat, which it is not. How shall I frame headlines for those that speak at the Center for Inquiry whose ideas fall out of bounds of most humanist, for example some comments made by Jack Davis (btw, enter “youtube, center for inquiry” into google). “CFI to Mexican’s: Don’t Bring Your Civil War”

#12 David R. Koepsell on Friday December 19, 2008 at 11:12am

It’s a silly and hurtful decision on Obama’s part, but like everything else that must lead up to his attaining the actual presidency, symbolic only.  It’s still a shame that liberal politicians especially must pander to the faithful in the US, but I’m still quite hopeful that where it matters, in foreign and domestic policy, the progressive agenda will be more likely to be realized than any time in the last few decades.

Let’s keep our powder dry for real battles, when policy is on the line.  There’s plenty of voices expressing disdain for the Warren choice, and we’re another voice that should speak up, while keeping it in perspective, but let’s remain hopeful that the agenda we generally seek is ultimately achieved by the new White House come January.

(on a side note, I am curious to hear about the “lies” that Ecrasez l’infame! refers to above)

#13 Chris Crawford on Friday December 19, 2008 at 11:27am

Here’s one bright side to all this: with all the moaning, hair-pulling, and outrage on the leftist side of things, the fundamentalists get to feel that they won a big victory, that Mr. Obama really can’t be so bad if he’s got the leftists so upset. Then Mr. Obama can proceed with his progressive agenda less hindered by fundamentalist opposition.

That line of reasoning suggests that we should all fake our injuries, bemoaning the end of civilization, beating our breasts, and otherwise giving the fundamentalists a sense of winning a big victory.

#14 DebGod on Friday December 19, 2008 at 2:43pm

I agree with the general thrust of Chris Crawford’s comment, that there has to be some maneuvering and appeasement for any politician or political agenda to succeed.  I also believe that our political system is such that we have to cheer when the “lesser of two evils” wins the election.

However, I wonder—if Obama had invited a minister to deliver the invocation who, say, raises money to build schools in low-income areas and engages in other positive humanitarian activism, but also just happened to be a vicious and very public anti-Semite, would we be so blasé?  This is not to say that I think that publically supporting Prop 8 and speaking out against gay marriage are equivalent to being a public anti-Semite, but I do question the idea that gays and lesbians and atheists should feel okay with or ignore the import of Obama’s choice.  To many people, it’s more than a minor slap in the face; it’s a message that it might be a long time before we see real “change” or progress on those fronts.

#15 Gene (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 5:38pm

I just want to register my strong agreement with Chris Crawford. Obama wants good relationships with everyone he can, and he’s a good politician.  I applaud this move, while holding my nose.

#16 diogenes99 on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 9:12am

P and not P.  I think Ron Lindsay’s response is correct.  I think his critics responses are correct.

We need to protest to let Obama and the Religious Right know we are out there.  Then we need to draw back and let him dance with the enemy, for this is a necessary courtship.

Democracy is messy.

#17 Madison (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 8:17pm

In my opinion, Obama blew it again! The first time was when he accepted the Warren invitation. The second time is when he has Warren doing the invocation at the inauguration.

I thought he mwas supposed to be a university lecturer, and taught Constitutional Law? He could have simply replied to Warren that “My faith is so personal I do not wish to discuss it.”

Moreover, why couldn’t he have honorably taken a lesson from Thomas Jefferson?  By doing so, Obama could have shown himself as a superior statesman, in the best tradition. Instead, he quailed, when he had an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and statesmanship by example.

Of his religion, he owes account to no person, Warren or anyone else. Shame!

Jefferson wrote:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God,that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers
of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

—Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802

#18 Teamonger on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 10:44am

Being an atheist who voted for Prop 8, I’m more concerned that Obama has invited a creationist cult leader to speak at his inauguration.  On the other hand, being a social moderate, I’m pleased that Obama is attempting to reach towards the middle ground.  I agree with Obama that civil unions for gays are the way to go, that this is “the right balance to strike in this society”.  I believe the traditional institution of marriage contributes greatly to social stability and family values, and it’s a mistake for secular humanists to allow supernaturalists to be the sole purveyors of such values.

#19 Chris Crawford on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 11:30am

Interesting point, teamonger. I fear that people may jump all over you here. Before that happens and you start getting defensive, let me ask you a question that might head off such a catfight: are you thinking of civil unions as the legal equivalent of marriage, the distinguishing factor between the two being only 1) the label; and 2) the performance of a religious ceremony?

#20 Teamonger on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 11:44am

Yes, I’m aware my comment might get heat, I’m prepared to don my asbestos suit

To answer your question, I think of civil unions as a way of establishing legal rights between partners.  However, I believe that families with children are best served by a home with traditional mother and father, that human families have evolved naturally to best thrive in such a setting.

#21 Chris Crawford on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 12:08pm

Please, not an asbestos suit—asbestos is carcinogenic. But yes, I fear that this discussion will be overwhelmed with flames before we can delve deeply into the subject. I believe that I can learn more from those I disagree with than from those I agree with, so I want to jump at this opportunity to discuss in a respectful manner our differences—which may not be that great after all.

For example, I agree whole-heartedly with your statement that the healthiest environment for bringing up children is the semi-stay-at-home mom plus day-job dad. In fact, I go even further: I think that the healthiest overall environment is the extended family, especially with a grandma or two to help take care of the kids when mom goes out gathering nuts and berries. That’s the ideal.

Unfortunately, we don’t get that ideal in modern society. Grandma is often too far away to do more than show up for the holidays. And mom often has to have a job of her own to make ends meet. And there are loads of single moms with jobs—we can both agree that that situation is simply unacceptable even though it’s unpreventable.

So the question, I think, becomes this: while a pair of same-sex parents isn’t quite as good as a pair of heterosexual parents, is the decrement in quality so much greater than, say, working moms, that we can afford to dismiss it as unacceptable? I would argue that a same-sex pair of parents is superior to a single working mom. Would you agree?

#22 diogenes99 on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 2:20pm

I wish the government would just offer civil unions, and let places of worship and other private groups, like CFI, call the union what it wants.  They do it like that in Sweden.

#23 Teamonger on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 8:24pm

Chris, I’m sure each case is unique, but in general I’d have to vote for the single mom.  Children already have enough to be confused about.

#24 Chris Crawford on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 9:09pm

Well, OK, if you think that a single working mother will provide a better upbringing for children than a pair of homosexual parents, then we have identified our fundamental difference. Fair enough, and thank you!

#25 Oren Glick (Guest) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 at 1:54pm

Teamonger: Let’s not assume that children are as easily or similarly confused as are many of us
adults and let’s not foist our confusions on them and then decide that we need to protect them from being confused. Surely, most children will be sensitive to the differences between growing up in an environment shared by two loving adults (of whatever biological sex) vs. that of a single adult. Given the likely accompanying circumstances of those two conditions, the choice is a hands down, no brainer.

#26 Teamonger on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 5:42am

That children with homosexual parents will be confused is the no-brainer.  They will grow up among peers who say “that’s gay!” as a ubiquitous term of derison, the new equivalent to “that sucks!”  The tendency of many such children is to keep their parents in the closet. Peer issues are tough enough already…

There needs to be more objective scientific study of such children, research that is less tainted by battling agendas.

#27 Oren Glick (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 9:53am

Youth peer groups can be brutal, to be sure. I suppose it has always been so. But I think you’ve got it wrong here, starting with some basic and relevant facts. There is less homophobia within our childrens’ generation than within ours. There is a sea change in motion. Thankfully, “That’s gay” = “That sucks” is falling by the wayside. Our youth are leading the way on this, not our generation. Let’s let it happen and feel good about it. We’re the “hangeroners”, perpetuating the agenda battles.

#28 Teamonger on Friday December 26, 2008 at 4:45pm

I’m not so sure about that sea change, Oren.  I suspect what you call “homophobia” may be largely an evolved trait; a natural revulsion towards homosexuality, ingrained in humans for its obvious survival value.  If so, it may be rather difficult to educate away in the long run; trying to do so may turn out so polarizing as to be counterproductive.

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