Amid a firestorm of criticism from pro-choice and gay marriage supporters, Pastor Rick Warren has called President-elect Barack Obama courageous for taking the risk of choosing him to deliver the inaugural invocation.
“I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic inaugural ceremony,” Warren said in a statement Thursday evening.
“Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.”
Liberals and gay rights activists have hammered Obama for giving someone who openly opposes gay marriage and abortion such an important position at his inaugural event. They accused Obama of being insincere in his commitment to the advancement of the homosexual agenda.
Likewise, Warren has also faced his fair share of criticism from the liberal camp. He has been accused of being a “homophobe” and has been equated with the religious right, which he has worked hard to distance himself from, preferring a more moderate public personality.
Kathryn Kolbert, president of the liberal rights group People for the American Way, said Warren “doesn’t need or deserve a position of honor at the inauguration” of a president who many Americans hope will reject the “politics of division,” in her column posted on CNN.
She took offense at Warren’s comparison of same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia in his recent interview with Beliefnet.com.
“There is no substantive difference between Rick Warren and James Dobson,” Kolbert said to CNN. “The only difference is tone. His tone is moderate, but his ideas are radical.”
Warren, in response to the protest, has refuted accusations that he is a homophobe, noting that he has many gay friends, has donated millions to help AIDS victims that contracted the disease through same-sex relationships, and that his church gave water and donuts to anti-Proposition 8 protestors.
“So they can’t accuse me of homophobia. I just don’t believe in the redefinition of marriage,” Warrens said in the Beliefnet.com interview released just days before the invocation announcement.
Some Proposition 8 opponents and pro-choice advocates, however, has defended Obama’s selection of Warren.
Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist, disagrees with Kolbert that Obama was wrong to choose Warren to give the invocation.
He believes the president-elect has the right to exercise “his prerogative to choose whoever he wants to deliver the blessing at his inauguration.”
“It’s about recognizing that – for those who feel like protesting Warren’s appearance – there is an ocean’s worth of bigger fish to fry,” Navarrette wrote in his column.
“Many of those raising a fuss are talking about respect, demanding respect, insisting they’re not given respect, etc.,” the columnist wrote. “Well, that works both ways. If they want respect, they have to give it. They can start by respecting the wishes of the president-elect to plan his inauguration as he see’s fit.”
Obama has stood firm on his decision to select Warren to give the invocation, noting his inauguration will feature “a wide range of viewpoints.”