Obama Makes Healing Gesture, Can Pastor Rick Warren Do the Same?

Scott Swenson

President-elect Barack Obama makes a genuine gesture toward healing divisive social issues by inviting Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Will Pastor Warren grasp the potential for genuine healing and lead conservatives to a new middle ground?

I continue to be impressed by President-elect Obama’s efforts to bring people together in the spirit of healing many deep wounds in this country. His selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration is certainly in that spirit, but does raise a question or two.

Since Obama is being true to his word and reaching out to people who can respectfully disagree on issues like abortion and homosexuality, as well as the proper strategic public health response to HIV/AIDS — isn’t it time Pastor Rick Warren demonstrate the same good spirit of healing and use his invocation to embrace all God’s children and the journey they are on? To demonstrate as much movement in his own words and calls to action that day as Obama demonstrated with his invitation to this particular messenger.

My soul is no more or less a part of God’s plan because I am gay than Rick Warren’s is. A woman who has an abortion has no less or more free will than Rick Warren in God’s eyes.  Rick Warren should pray, on January 20, that our government will use the brains God gave us to put together smart, proven public health strategies to combat HIV/AIDS and put an end to ideological waste, fraud and abuse as we’ve seen in abstinence-only programs. He should pray that fewer women die in childbirth because with compassion we’ve used modern medical science to reduce maternal mortality and made good reproductive health options available to the women of the world. He should pray for compassion for the sick and needy and a government that will see health care as a right, not a privilege. He should pray for more common ground to be sought to help people of all ages better understand sexuality and reproductive health, so that people are making wise choices for their families and their lives. Lastly he should pray for peace — in the form of respect for the rich diversity of life and the many expressions of love and family — and he should lead conservatives to re-evaluate how they "love thy neighbor" without judgment.

The President-elect could have done so much to elevate voices of faith that are less well known and already embrace all God’s children without reservation or stigma. Too often the media and politicians only highlight voices of faith on the right.  I’m not suggesting that Obama should choose someone from the left, furthering the division, but he could have picked someone less political altogether.

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But as a healing gesture I understand the reach across the ideological spectrum and the symbolism is strong. I just wish Pastor Warren didn’t have blinders on when it comes to gays, women’s health, and being strategic about responding to HIV.

We’ll find out just how interested Pastor Warren is in genuine healing and in leading more conservative people of faith into a new place of acceptance, genuine dialogue and smart public policy that respects each individual. President-elect Obama couldn’t possibly do more than give Pastor Warren this tremendous opportunity to follow Obama’s leadership and move toward genuine healing.

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