Strange Bedfellows: Rick Warren, Melissa Etheridge and MPAC
This past weekend Rick Warren, in what has got to be one of the most unexpected combinations ever, was keynote speaker at the Annual Dinner of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Entertainment for the evening was Muslim artist (and On Faith panelist) Salman Ahmad singing a duet with Melissa Etheridge as part of the Ring a Bell for Peace project.
That a woman, who not only is openly gay, but lives with her wife and kids and is a strong advocate for gay rights, sang at a Muslim conference is mind-blowing enough. Large majorities of the American Muslim community believe being gay is a sin. Likewise, many believe that women should not sing in public. Some Muslims organizations do not even let women speak from their stages; others will not invite women who do not observe hijab. Further, many American Muslims believe that stringed instruments (like Melissa's guitar) are forbidden, and the most hard-line believe that all music is sinful. My kudos to MPAC for having her on their stage. Lets hope this is the beginning of a much needed thaw.
To team her up with Rick Warren, who actively worked for Prop 8, and whose evangelical pedigree might lead one to believe that he wouldn't exactly be a friend to Muslims just makes the whole event all the more surreal. Warren declared that he loves gays and he loves Muslims during the event. He acknowledged that, "Al-Qaeda no more represents Islam than the Klu Klux Klan represents Christianity." And he stated that churches and mosques have to work hand in hand to combat ills of poverty, disease, corruption, illiteracy, and spiritual emptiness.
The unlikely pairing of Warren and Etheridge at the MPAC dinner gives me hope that maybe we are entering an era where even the most staunch opponents can find the common ground that unites them and work there, rather than cutting themselves off into smaller and smaller ghettos of like-minded activists. As much as some of us on the left heard Obama's call for change as a progressive horn of Gabriel, Obama himself has always framed the change he seeks as bringing people together, eliminating partisanship, mitigating racism, bridging ideological divides and getting us all working together.
As such, Obama's choice of Rick Warren for his inauguration is hardly surprising. Warren and Obama differ on a variety of issues, but Warren invited Obama to Saddleback to talk about AIDS. There are plenty of evangelical leaders who would never have done such a thing, because of Obama's positions on abortion. As a builder of bridges, with MPAC, with Etheridge, with Obama himself, Warren is an example of Obama's vision for the future -- one in which differences in opinion do not create rancor, but are set aside to work for a better future in the areas we do agree upon.
Nonetheless, even though I can see why Obama chose Warren, I have to say I'm dismayed. Warren may say he loves gays, but in an interview with the Wall Street Journal where he explained his opposition to gay marriage, he compared homosexuality to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. He may say he loves Muslims, but he also teaches that people don't follow his brand of Christianity are going to burn in Hell. He said on Hannity and Colmes that he thinks America should "take out" Iranian President Ahmednijad because the Bible teaches us that God put government is on earth to punish evil doers. Now, I have no love lost for Ahmedinejad, but I certainly don't sanction assassination, especially not of more or less democratically elected heads of state!
On other issues he uses the same kind of polarizing rhetoric. He is "pro-life" (so long as your name isn't Ahmedinejad...), but it is not enough for him to advocate against abortion, he compares women who have gotten abortions to Nazis and the pro-choice position to Holocaust denial.
I believe part of the issue is the way the word "love" is being used. An awful lot of Christians talk about hating the sin not the sinner. That is an appealing notion, appearing to provide a doorway to being non-judgmental and welcoming to all. But in reality, more often than not, it is turned on its head, and loving the sinner becomes trying to convert them, to change them. True love, this vein of thought runs, wants for everyone what you want for yourself, and that is understood as being Christian, as receiving God's grace though faith in Jesus and his death on the Cross to atone for human sins.
It is not love as we think of it between friends and spouses -- that genuine respect, liking and caring about someone for who they are. But rather a love which seeks to homogenize us all into one vision of the Divine-Human relationship. When Warren says he loves Muslims, or gays, I suspect he is using love in this evangelical manner, not to mean he really likes Muslim people, our diversity of cultures, or that he thinks being a Muslim is one way to harmony with the Divine. I think he means he loves us so much he hopes we all discover faith the way he did.
Either way, Warren is one more nail in the coffin of progressive hopes for Obama to initiate the changes we would like to see. I would have been much happier to see the equally controversial Reverend Wright, who had so much influence on Obama's spirituality, at the inauguration.
Posted by: msmarymagdalene | December 29, 2008 9:29 AM
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