I fell asleep last night thinking, again, about Rick Warren. A question in this week’s Savage Love brought it back to the surface of my mind, a girl asking how she could visibly but respectfully protest while Warren is speaking next Tuesday. But this time, lying in bed thinking about it, I was feeling optimistic. Mostly because my sister pointed out to me a few days ago that Obama has chosen the Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, to pray on Sunday at the kickoff event for the inaugural festivities.
It seems to me that this means a couple of good things. The first is that Obama is listening. People were loudly, persistently furious about his choice of Warren to give the invocation, and that seems to have had an effect. We are getting to have a voice that’s loud and powerful enough to demand change, to point out when we are injured and disregarded so that people have to actually listen. That’s important stuff. And I still don’t know what moved Obama to choose Warren in the first place, but including a gay voice in the festivities as well lends a lot more credence to his claim that he plans to give everyone a voice, rather than selling out the people who supported him in order to court those who, most likely, never will.
The other thing I find promising about this choice is actually Warren’s reaction to it. Look at that quote from the end of the article:
In a statement late Monday, Warren complimented Obama’s decision to invite Robinson. “President-elect Obama has again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground,” Warren said. “I applaud his desire to be the president of every citizen.”
It’s pretty faint praise, and he never says the word “gay.” But it combined in my head with the way the anti-queer rhetoric disappeared from Saddleback’s website when all of this furor started. Many evangelical Christians were as furious with Warren for accepting this invitation as queers and progressives were with Obama for issuing it. And since he accepted, Warren has toned down his railing against homosexuality and taken it off his church’s website. He’s praised Obama’s choice of a gay bishop to share the weekend’s religious duties with him. He’s made nice to Melissa Etheridge, and apologized to her for comparing homosexuality to incest and pedophilia, denying that he ever meant that. It seems like he’s making some compromises and risking some standing of his own here, like that’s the price of accepting the spotlight Obama offered. If this is a meaningful trend, it could be a really good thing. If the price of being included in Obama’s search for common ground is that one gets called on one’s hateful behavior and has to tone it down and focus on the good one can bring to the table…I think I can live with that. I think people who can make that compromise are people I can start to have a conversation with. Think of a world in which the queer community aren’t the only ones being asked to give ground, of compromise regaining its original meaning of an effort made on both sides. If that’s the unity Obama keeps talking about bringing, I can live with that. It’s a start.
I’m not saying that we should settle for this. While I think it’s progress, I also acknowlege that there’s a lot farther to go. And I’m not willing to let Obama, Warren, or anyone else get away with meeting us halfway when “halfway” means “not being so vocal about thinking we’re perverts and don’t deserve rights.” I know that what Warren is doing is backpedaling to avoid the heat. But I think it’s meaningful that he has to, and that he’s willing to. It’s not Warren I’m excited about here, but the idea that this might be what will be expected of those “across the aisle” who want a place in this conversation. I want to pause and see this as progress. Progress that gives me hope that religious homophobia is getting less acceptable, that we can make it the rest of the way.
Of course, now that I’ve said all of that, I’m going to contradict it by endorsing the contest to redefine the word “saddleback” in that same Dan Savage column (ever since the whole “santorum” brouhaha, Dan’s readers have been asking him to turn the name of anyone who offends them into a sex act). I’m pleasingly amused by the logic behind the idea that, if “barebacking” is anal sex without a condom, “saddlebacking” should be anal sex with a condom. But that’s nothing compared with my delight at the potential definition of “saddlebacking” as “the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities. E.g., ‘After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she’s saving herself for marriage.’” Come on, that’s seriously brilliant and hilarious and awesome. You know you want to go vote for it. Instructions in the second half of the column.