Perhaps you read my Jan. 17 column on the outcry over evangelical pastor Rick Warren being chosen by Barack Obama to deliver the invocation at Tuesday’s presidential inauguration. In short, I said Obama made a good choice because Warren’s views on gay marriage and abortion are shared by many Americans, and Obama’s administration serves everyone.
Below are edited excerpts from my interviews with two religious scholars on Rick Warren and the Obama inauguration. The scholars are Joe Pickle, a former religious studies professor at Colorado College, and Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College in New York.
First interview: JOE PICKLE, former religious studies professor at Colorado College
MARK BARNA: What is your view of Obama’s choice to have Rick Warren deliver the invocation at Tuesday’s inauguration?
PICKLE: He would not have been my first choice. Even people who are not pro Obama found this choice outrageous. But I think this is an acknowledgment that there are many dimensions of the evangelical community.
Obama couldn’t ask his former pastor (the Rev. Jeremiah Wright). He is clearly interested in people who are not noncontroversial. He’s got a willingness to accept people who speak sharply and clearly even when he doesn’t agree with them. He demonstrates a willingness to talk across the aisles. He knew the choice was a symbolic bombshell.
BARNA: What is your opinion of Warren?
PICKLE: He’s very smooth and interesting.
BARNA: Evangelicalism seems to be moving away from the wedge rhetoric of the Christian right.
PICKLE: There is an attempt within the evangelical community to move on.
Second interview: RANDALL BALMER, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College in New York.
BARNA: What do you think of Obama’s choice of Warren?
BALMER: It is a brilliant move on his part politically. He has a genuine willingness to engage with people of different points of view. That makes him an unusual politician.
BARNA: What is your view of Warren, who is a friend of yours? You disagree with him on the gay marriage issue.
BALMER: Yes, but he has been unfairly pilloried on that. He endorsed Prop 8 (the California measure to outlaw gay marriage) but he was not on the front lines. He represents a broadening of the evangelical approach. He is not part of the religious right, not in the same box as Dobson and Colson. Obama sees Warren as embodying a new approach.
BARNA: What is the future of the religious right?
BALMER: The 2008 election finally discredited the religious right. It’ll thrash about for a while, but it is in its death throes.