Friday, December 19, 2008

Message to Obama: Explain Ethics of Choosing Rick Warren

I've been worrying to myself about Obama's choice of people he will rely on try to stitch our economy back together. I've been perplexed about his retention of Gates at the Pentagon. But I, like a lot of other people have been taking seriously Obama's statement that he will be the one setting policy and that he has good political and managerial reasons for his picks.

But selecting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Inauguration causes me to wonder if I, and others like me, have mistaken Barack Obama. I voted for this man because he seemed to be the moral antidote to George W. Bush, an individual of ethics and integrity with a vision of an all-inclusive America.

Instead we will have the sad spectacle of someone who fought against the civil rights of gay people filling a role of great honor when Obama swears his loyalty to the Constitution of the United States.

I can't but help feel that I, we, deserve an explanation of the ethical thinking that went into this choice. I don't mean a superficial answer, I mean one worthy of Obama's education, which is so broad that I have no doubt that it included reading the wisdom of philosophers from Plato on who have probed what it means to be ethical. 

With ethical questions, there is not necessarily a single right or wrong answer as there is, for example, with the decision not to kill another human being. (War situations excepted, for most people.) Making an ethical decision most often involves assessing the harmful consequences a choice might cause. It involves imagining the reaction of those with a stake in your decision, and then weighing all these negatives against the positives of those choices.

Mike Madden in Salon writes that "cozying up to Warren has been one of Obama's favorite ways of showing evangelicals that he might not be so scary." Obama himself has offered the explanation that  choosing Warren as his Inaugural Day preacher is about making the point "that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable."

This comment implies that Obama does not understand or perhaps empathize with the deep hurt that California's vote to ban gay marriage has caused. Because preacher Warren supported that effort, choosing him is like further opening the wound, an action far beyond a loss of civility. This offense to the gay community is ethical consequence that Obama should have weighed. Did he?

Did he consider his duty to those who supported him? Not just gays themselves, but all those others, like me, who consider expanding gay rights part of the change we expect from Obama. Don't all who have been oppressed rise and fall together?

A spokesperson for Obama claimed the decision was not political. Well, if that's true, then what did justify it? Are there not a sufficient number of clergy members who could appropriately, passionately, deliver words of spiritual transcendence in honor of his Inauguration?

Obama prides himself on being a straight talker; indeed, one of his favorite phrases is, "I want to be perfectly clear." Well, now's the time for a perfectly clear explanation of the ethical calculation that will put Rick Warren in the face of gay people on a day when they thought they would be celebrating.


andrewblechman said...

He's going to need everyone on board to accomplish what needs to be done during a very trying time. He's going to have to reach out to people he disagrees with and may not even like. And this Rick Warren thing puts the whole Jeremiah Wright thing to rest once and for all. I think his choice of Warren, while personally repugnant, is beautifully pragmatic. It's time to start the healing and one way is to bring the haters into the fold where they can grow up.

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