by Sunsara Taylor
When Barack Obama invited Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback mega-church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, some raised their voices in protest. But all too many told people to just calm down, drink the Obama’Laid of “common ground,” and reach out their arms to this pastor who is nothing more than a Christian fascist in a Hawaiian shirt.
Rick Warren is no “moderate” and he is not progressive. He may be the “new face” of evangelicalism, but he doesn’t represent a new content.
First off, Warren is a biblical literalist. If you’re foggy on what that means, flip open the Bible to Leviticus 20:13 where it commands the killing of homosexuals, or to Exodus 21:15 where children who hit their parents are condemned to death, or Deuteronomy 13:13-19 where God requires his followers to “attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock” if even one person among them worships the “wrong” god. Does any of this represent “common ground” you want to be standing on?
Second, in line with Biblical scripture, Warren is working to criminalize homosexuality. Not only does his church refuse membership to gays, but he campaigned against gay marriage in California and lent his support to a pastor in Uganda who published the names and home addresses of gay people and advocates measures that would lock them in prison. Exactly what part of this murderous bigotry should progressive people find “common ground” with?
Third, Warren unapologetically demands the subordination of women, that is half of humanity, to men. His church’s web site quotes 1st Corinthians: “[T]he head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” But that’s not all. Rick Warren actually compares abortion to the Jewish Holocaust! The fact that anyone can morally equate women who choose abortion with the Nazis—who systematically demonized, terrorized and then exterminated millions of Jews—is astounding. But the fact that pro-choice and progressive people can advocate “common ground” with this is deadly self-delusion.
Fourth, Warren also promotes the biblical story of creation as the literal truth, and denies Darwin’s theory of evolution. This, again, legitimizes a powerful and stubborn anti-rational movement that is trying to suppress both evolutionary theory and a scientific approach to the world more generally. What “common ground” can there be between the promoters and the suppressors of rational thought and science?
As for Warren’s much-touted “concern over HIV in Africa, ” this has got to be the biggest sham yet! In the name of “fighting AIDS,” Warren has lent his prestige and his resources to dismantling the very programs that had begun to reduce AIDS infections. In Uganda, for instance, through broad-based sex education and condom distribution, the rate of AIDS was reduced by 10% through the ’90s. But, after Bush’s PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] program—which Rick Warren is heavily tied into—was implemented, those trends quickly reversed. Warren and his religious allies disparaged the distribution of condoms in favor of promoting the widely discredited “abstinence only” policies. One of his pastor friends actually took condoms away from college students and set them on fire “in the name of Jesus.” The real effect in Uganda has been that HIV has started to rise again, causing massive unnecessary suffering, stigma and death. Any takers for “common ground” on killing Africans who have sex?
Stop drinking the Obama’Laid! The “common ground” being brokered by Obama is doing nothing to bring Rick Warren and his ilk closer to the interests of humanity. Rather, this “common ground” approach is about legitimating and normalizing Warren’s deadly religious bigotry. Standing on this “common ground” is leading progressive people who genuinely care about women, gays, science, and AIDS in Africa to capitulate, to give up principle, and to accept things that they never would’ve accepted from someone like Pat Robertson or George Bush.
The fact that Rick Warren is the best that Obama can come up with to speak about “purpose” and “morality” reveals the utter moral and ideological bankruptcy of not only him, but the whole imperialist system he represents. Time is up. Humanity needs liberation and we need morality and purpose that correspond to that; to overcoming grinding poverty and exploitation, establishing equality and mutual respect between men and women, ending racism and national oppression throughout the world, fostering critical thinking and science among all people, and unleashing art and the imagination unshackled from religious ignorance and superstition. This is communist morality and revolutionary purpose, the exact opposition of compromise and conciliation.