Joseph Lowery to deliver inaugural benediction

There are actually two preachers speaking at the Inauguration, though you might not know it. One is Rick Warren, which everyone knows. The other is Joseph Lowery, a Methodist preacher who was a leader in the civil rights movement, who will be giving the benediction at the inauguration. He’s known as a progressive voice that, as Ben Smith of Politico notes, serves in combination with Rick Warren to provide a look at the kind of political coalition that Barack would like to put together, with people from both sides.

Here’s a video of Lowery in action, delivering the eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral in rhyming verse. You’ve got to see it to appreciate it.

Rick Warren to deliver inaugural invocation

After every quarter, I usually (need to) take a few days off to regroup, recuperate and get out of the school mindset, so that I can relax a little more. It’s been a wonderful few days, chilling out with friends, shopping for Christmas (well, shopping at all, really!), getting more rest, watching great movies (of which there will be some mention over the next few days). I’ll offer some thoughts on Christmas soon. But for today, some news …

In the last few days, in case you weren’t aware, Barack Obama tapped Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the multimillion-selling Purpose Driven books, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20. This has raised the ire both of those on the left and those on the right.

On the left, they lambast Barack for picking someone who disagrees most vehemently with them (and him) on issues of same sex marriage (in a recent interview, Rick equates it with incest, pedophilia and polygamy), abortion (Rick calls abortion reduction efforts mostly “a charade”), and the social gospel Protestantism of the 20th century (Rick labels this “just Marxism in Christian clothing”). Rick also comes under fire for not pressing President Bush on matters of torture because, he says, “I never had the opportunity”; some would view such a comment skeptically.

On the right, conservative Christians decry that Rick is associating himself with a man who does not stand for the same values (at least where gay marriage and abortion are concerned). They might also take umbrage at the interview in which he also offers his thoughts that Christian leaders sometimes focus on gay marriage because “we always love to talk about other people’s sins,” or where he says that he nonetheless supports abortion reduction approaches as a sort of Schindler’s list, a way to reduce the harm of overall evil.

But as several commentators have noted, they do share in common a concern for seeing the AIDS crisis resolved and for social justice. Rick Warren has, because of his conservatism, been one of the catalysts in the expansion of the evangelical agenda, from a two-issue platform to one that seeks to bring faith to bear on all of life; and it has been because he is a social conservative on so many staple evangelical issues that he has influence to bring to bear on these other (I would argue, equally important) issues.

I think this is vintage Barack; he is who he says he is. He says he wants to find common ground, he wants to work with those who disagree with him, he wants to get things done. This is symbolic of who he is, as was the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. During the campaign, he said he wanted to expand our politics, to rise above the pettiness and divisiveness of the last few decade. And now he’s showing it: he doesn’t surround himself with yes-men (or women), with those who will agree with every word he says and every opinion he holds. I believe this makes him a better leader. And I think that if this is the tenor for the next four years, this is something I can stay on board with, and not be disappointed about.

P.S. Rich Cizik resigned as vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals last week because he’d said in a radio interview with NPR that he supported civil unions for gay people. Rich also played an integral part in expanding the agenda to include the genocide in Darfur, global warming, AIDS, malaria, poverty and religious repression. Prominent conservative leaders on the right weren’t too happy with this, and the interview was the trigger. Here’s Nicholas Kristof’s comment on it. As for my comment, I’m disappointed and angry that this happened, and I hope that this doesn’t signal an undoing of Rich’s work.