Pastoring in Pragmatism
Warren, Obama, and an open door.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

Editor’s note: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact: Carmen Puello at [email protected].

There was something brilliant about Barack Obama’s choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration. The bestselling preacher is pro-life and anti-gay marriage, making Obama, who leans considerably to the left on one or more of these issues, look like a uniter, not a divider. He must have a keen enough radar to know that religious folks have been feeling marginalized from politics of late; Obama’s choice caps off an election season that hit religion hard.

Proposition 8, the successful California initiative limiting the legal definition of marriage to a state entered into by a man and a woman, has been the most obvious example. Churches have been threatened. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a prominent supporter of the initiative, has been made a scapegoat by 8’s angry and vociferous opponents. And the media are leading the intolerance campaign.

Yes, I know: The conventional wisdom has it that the opponent of gay marriage is the intolerant one. But can “tolerant” really be the right word to describe this excerpt from a recent Newsweek cover story on religious conservatives and the gay-marriage debate?

Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel — all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. . . . The apostle Paul . . . regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple . . . turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Is such an insultingly simplistic view actually worthy of a national magazine’s cover? Does anyone read the Bible and not understand that Abraham was doing wrong there? The overall message of the Bible is clear, if you place Old Testament practices in the light of the whole Bible.

Catholics this year are celebrating a Pauline year, so I hope most would come to Paul’s defense. St. Paul happened to have written:Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” And, yes, for the record, couples do turn to faith . . . even in the bedroom. Well-integrated religious folks — who don’t compartmentalize their religious practice, and relegate it to Sabbath obligations — want their faith to inform their entire lives: at home, at work, in the bedroom.

I happen to be a Christian who opposes gay marriage, but I have never tried to make a case for, say, a federal marriage amendment based on the Bible. Nor, to my knowledge, has a leading proponent of traditional marriage, Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage. She herself is a Christian, but her arguments focus not on the Bible, but on natural law, family, and the future.

For years now, once the weather turns cold, we Americans have had a debate about Christmas. Is there a “war on Christmas”? Attacks on Nativity scenes and silly prohibitions on religious symbols have long drawn the most attention. But there’s something more serious afoot. The hostility is not necessarily toward religion itself, for many on the Left are regular churchgoers, and some oppose abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds. But the Newsweek conventional wisdom suggests that there is something downright unacceptable about allowing voters to submit to a higher power who probably isn’t going to change with the times. At some level, true faith demands obedience to a rock-steady core of beliefs and rules, despite the efforts of some religious temporizers who pretend they can legitimately rewrite doctrine on Sunday morning talk shows.

In his editor’s note regarding the controversy over his magazine’s gay-marriage piece, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham explains, “History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.” Newsweek and supporters of gay marriage ought to keep that in mind. We’re ending 2008 with a major news magazine demonizing mainstream voters whose faith leads them to one political conclusion the editors of said magazine deem outrageous. Similarly outraged, in California, where voters went the anti-Newsweek direction, is that state’s attorney general: Jerry Brown has outright decided to ignore his obligation to enforce Proposition 8. At the same time, right-leaning columnists and politicians are turning on their religious allies, for one reason or another.

This is not a good place to be. Dare I say it? God help us if preying on prayers is in. And although it is born in nothing but political pragmatism and obfuscation, Barack Obama’s choice of inaugural pastor does what Jon Meacham didn’t do: It welcomes all, even those on their knees who have the right to be Right.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online. © 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


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