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Obama keeps promise with Warren

During my recent two-week vacation, a great deal of controversy erupted over President-elect Barack Obama's selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the upcoming inauguration.

Warren, the evangelical author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life and the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., is openly opposed to gay marriage — as are many ministers — and has made comments in that regard that don't sit well with those who support gay rights.

Warren actively supported California's Proposition 8. The November ballot measure outlawed gay marriage.

A great many gays and lesbians vehemently oppose Warren's participation in the inauguration and continue to fault Obama, calling him a traitor to their cause.

Recently, Michael Newdow, an atheist, joined in the controversy, filing a federal lawsuit against Warren and others to block Warren's prayer and any mention of God at all during the inauguration.

But gay activists have been the most fervent in their dismay.

In a recent interview, Warren is often quoted as equating gay marriage with incest, polygamy and an older man marrying a child.

And while he did say that, Warren was talking about his opposition to any change in the definition of marriage, which has been in effect across religious and cultural boundaries for thousands of years.

I'm not trying to defend the man by any means. He is quite capable of doing that himself. But I have a problem with the way a person's words are distorted sometimes.

In that same interview, just before those controversial words, Warren also said divorce in America is more of a threat to families than gay marriage.

I agree, but we don't hear about that.

Admittedly, I was surprised by the furor.

I can see how gays might be fearful that Warren's selection is a crack that might lead to Obama opening the door to bigotry. But how would excluding people bring unity?

Throughout his campaign, Obama said he would include all viewpoints in the discussion at hand. Now that he is putting actions behind his words, he's taking heat.

He has said that in order to move America forward, in order to make this a better nation, we all need to sit down and have a civil conversation. Communication, he said, is the key to unity.

I always assumed that at that table there would be people I would just as soon avoid. Never once did I think they would all share my views.

Warren will offer a prayer for this nation and for the new president just as all other religious leaders have done in the past. He will get five minutes, tops.

Warren, along with his wife and their church, has done more to fight AIDS with money and deeds than many other ministers in this country. He opposes the type of politics that pits one culture against another. And he has challenged other churches and ministers to do more to conquer poverty in this land of plenty.

In the same often-quoted interview, Warren said he was in favor of equal rights for all as well as partnership rights for gays.

Obama himself stopped short of calling for gay marriage, favoring civil unions instead.

But Obama has promised to push for anti-discrimination laws in employment for gays, to extend hate crime legislation to include violence against gays and to enhance federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples who are married or in civil unions.

I think that says more about Obama's agenda for gays than his choice of clerics to give the invocation.

But if Warren's selection is controversial, folks should take a gander at the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights warrior, who doesn't have a lot of faith in this government's compassion for minorities or the poor.

I wonder whether Obama ever thought he would be taking more criticism about Warren than he would about his choice of Lowery to deliver the benediction.

The twists and turns surrounding the recent political campaigns apparently won't stop with Obama's election.