Obama Defends Call on Invocation

By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 19, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama yesterday defended his selection of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, saying that he disagrees with the minister's opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but that there should be room for "dialogue" on such difficult social issues.

Liberal groups and gay rights activists were outraged at the choice of Warren, one of the country's most prominent evangelicals, who has spoken out in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage in California.

Although Warren's views are not far from those of other clergy members who could have been asked to deliver the invocation, Obama found himself emphasizing his own record as "a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans."

"It is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues," Obama said.

He emphasized that Joseph Lowery, a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will give the benediction and has "deeply contrasting views to Warren on a whole host of issues."

The focus on Warren is another sign of the increasing political controversy surrounding ministers who use Internet technology to promulgate their views in sermons that once would have reverberated only as far as a church's stained-glass windows.

Thanks to best-selling books, YouTubed sermons and blogs, some pastors have become such media personalities that their pronouncements often enter the popular culture and feed the political fray.

Warren's book "The Purpose Driven Life" has sold 40 million copies, six times as many as Obama's three books combined. He has called attention to hunger and illiteracy and is credited with expanding the evangelical agenda beyond such issues as abortion and gay rights, even though he sticks to his Southern Baptist roots in opposing them.

"There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2% of our population," he said in a recent mass e-mail.

His vocal support of the gay marriage ban approved last month by California voters is what has drawn the most intense criticism from gay rights proponents and other liberal supporters of Obama.

Kathryn Kolbert, president of People For the American Way, called Warren someone who has "actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans."

A few years ago, "most Americans did not have a clue" who did the invocation for the president, said David Domke, author of "The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America."

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